What Exercise Uses the Most Muscles?


If you're looking to get a full-body workout and engage the most muscles at once, you may be wondering: what exercise uses the most muscles? The answer might surprise you.

When it comes to working out multiple muscle groups simultaneously, compound exercises are the way to go. Compound exercises are multi-joint movements that involve multiple muscle groups working together to perform the exercise. This allows you to maximize your time spent training by working several parts of the body at once.

So what exactly is the best compound exercise that uses the most muscles? Let's take a look at some of the top contenders and why they make the cut.

What Exercise Uses the Most Muscles?

What Does It Mean to Use the Most Muscles?

Before diving into the top exercises, it helps to understand what it means to use the most muscles. Using the most muscles during an exercise means engaging as many large and small muscle groups as possible to perform the movement.

The more muscles involved, the greater the coordination and neurological activation required. This leads to bigger metabolic and muscular gains compared to isolation exercises that only work one joint and muscle at a time.

Compound exercises also burn more calories per movement compared to isolation exercises, due to the extra muscle activation required. So if your goal is to get a fullow-body workout while burning maximum calories, compound exercises are the way to go.

The Best Full-Body Compound Exercises

Now let's discuss some of the best compound exercises that use the most muscles in one movement.

The Squat

The squat tops many lists as the king of compound exercises, and for good reason. To perform a proper squat with good form, nearly every major muscle group in the body must be engaged, including:

  • Quadriceps
  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings
  • Calves
  • Core (rectus abdominis, obliques, transverse abdominis)
  • Lower back
  • Trapezius
  • Deltoids

The squat works all the major muscle groups of the lower body while toning the core and back. This makes it an extremely efficient compound movement for building strength and muscle mass.

Proper squatting form is essential to get the most out of the exercise while preventing injury. Some tips include:

  • Keep chest up, back straight and gaze forward
  • Initiate the movement by sitting back at the hips
  • Keep knees aligned over feet, don't let them cave inward
  • Go down until thighs are parallel or below parallel to floor
  • Drive through heels on the way up

There are many squat variations to choose from, including front squats, goblet squats, and sumo squats. Modifying foot placement and stance can shift emphasis to different muscle groups.

The Deadlift

Another exceptional total body compound exercise is the deadlift. Considered one of the best mass and strength building movements, it works the:

  • Posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes, calves)
  • Quadriceps
  • Core and torso stabilizers
  • Forearms and grip
  • Trapezius
  • Latissimus dorsi
  • Deltoids

The starting position of the deadlift utilizes many muscles simply to hold and stabilize the weight. As you lift the bar by driving your heels into the floor, nearly all the major muscle groups of the body must activate to complete the movement.

Like the squat, proper deadlift form is important for both safety and efficiency:

  • Start with bar over mid-foot, shoulders over bar
  • Bend knees until shins touch bar
  • Lift chest while keeping back flat
  • Drive heels into floor and extend hips to lift
  • Keep bar close to body throughout motion

Deadlift variations like sumo and Romanian deadlifts can shift emphasis to certain muscle groups. This exercise can be done with a barbell or dumbbells.

The Clean and Press

This unique full body compound lift deserves a mention. To perform this movement:

  1. Start with a loaded barbell on the floor. In one explosive motion, pull it up to shoulder height while dropping down into a quarter squat. This is the clean.
  2. From here, drive the bar overhead by pressing the weight straight up while rotating the wrists. This is the press portion.
  3. Finally, drop the bar back to shoulder height and return to starting position.

Nearly all the major muscles must contract forcefully to complete this sequence. Muscles worked include:

  • Quadriceps and glutes
  • Hamstrings
  • Posterior chain
  • Trapezius
  • Deltoids
  • Triceps
  • Core
  • Calves

The clean and press is a total body power exercise that improves strength, muscle, speed and athleticism when performed correctly. It takes time to master the clean technique and build up the shoulders for the overhead press. But once proficient, it provides an unparalleled full body workout.

Pull-Ups and Chin-Ups

Lastly, don't forget about good old pull-ups and chin-ups. They are some of the most effective compound upper body exercises. Muscles activated during pull-ups include:

  • Lats
  • Biceps
  • Rear deltoids
  • Rhomboids
  • Lower and middle traps
  • Core
  • Forearms and grip

By using an overhand grip you emphasize the lats more, performing a pull-up. A chin-up uses an underhand grip to shift focus to the biceps and brachialis. Both are fantastic compound exercises for the back, arms and core.

The Verdict: Squat is King

While the deadlift and clean and press come close, the squat reigns supreme as the compound movement that uses the most muscles. No other exercise activates and integrates as many major muscle groups at once. The deadlift and clean are both great full body moves. However, they involve slightly less total muscle mass than the mighty squat.

The squat hits the quads, glutes, hamstrings, calves and core in one movement. It also utilizes the upper back and traps to stabilize the weighted barbell. When performed through a full range of motion with good form, no other exercise works more muscle mass than the squat.

So if you're looking for the ultimate compound exercise to incorporate into your training, look no further than the squat. Just be sure to use proper form and start with a manageable weight before working your way up.

Hope this helps explain what exercise uses the most muscles! Let's quickly go over some tips for incorporating squats and other compound lifts into your routine:

How to Train Compound Exercises for Maximum Benefits

  • Stick to 2-4 sets of 4-8 reps per exercise to build strength and muscle
  • Focus on progressive overload by gradually increasing weight lifted over time
  • Allow 48-72 hours of rest between training the same muscle groups
  • Warm up properly and start with lighter weights to prep muscles
  • Use a challenging but manageable weight that allows good form
  • Increase weight and decrease reps to build strength
  • Decrease weight and increase reps for more muscle endurance
  • Maintain tension and control throughout the movement

Compound exercises form the core of many strength and hypertrophy programs for good reason. They check the boxes for muscle building, strength gains and metabolic conditioning with efficient, full body movements.

Hope this breakdown of the best compound exercises that use the most muscles helps you take your training to the next level! Let me know if you have any other questions.

Now that we have covered the best full body exercises, let's briefly discuss how CBD products may potentially support workout recovery and performance.

Can CBD Products Help With Exercise?

CBD, short for cannabidiol, is a compound found in the cannabis plant that does not produce psychoactive effects. CBD oil, cbd capsules and other products have surged in popularity in recent years among athletes and fitness enthusiasts. But can CBD actually help with workout recovery or performance?

Much more research is still needed to fully understand CBD's effects on recovery and performance. And CBD is not a replacement for proven recovery strategies like sleep, nutrition, hydration and active rest. But when used appropriately as a supplemental aid, CBD does show some promising benefits for athletes.

If you decide to try CBD, always purchase high quality products from reputable brands like Cibdol. Start with the lowest effective dose and monitor how CBD makes you feel during exercise recovery. And of course, check if CBD is allowed under your sport or employer’s drug policies.

Frequently Asked Questions on Compound Exercises and Muscle Activation

What are compound exercises?

Compound exercises are multi-joint movements that work several muscle groups at once. They involve movement across more than one joint, requiring coordinated activation of both large and small muscle groups. This allows you to train multiple parts of the body with one exercise.

How do compound exercises differ from isolation exercises?

Isolation exercises involve movement around only one joint, working just one or two muscle groups. For example, a bicep curl works mainly the biceps brachii muscle in the upper arm. Compound exercises work across multiple joints, requiring more muscles to contract together. A chin-up engages the back, biceps and shoulders together to perform the movement.

Why are compound exercises beneficial?

Compound exercises offer several benefits compared to isolation moves:

  • Work multiple muscle groups at once for greater total-body stimulation
  • Improve coordination between different muscles and joints
  • Increase metabolic costs - compound exercises burn more calories
  • Improve strength by mimicking natural movement patterns
  • Boost anabolic hormone levels more than isolation exercises
  • Enhance neuromuscular activation and coordination

What are some examples of compound exercises?

Examples of highly effective compound exercises include:

  • Squats
  • Deadlifts
  • Lunges
  • Push ups
  • Pull ups
  • Rows
  • Bench press
  • Shoulder press
  • Thrusters
  • Kettlebell swings
  • Clean and press
  • Snatches

What compound exercise works the most muscle groups?

The squat activates the most muscle groups of any exercise, including quads, glutes, hamstrings, calves, core, lower back and more. As a result, it is considered one of the most efficient total-body compound exercises.

How do I perform compound exercises with proper form?

Proper form is crucial with compound lifts to maximize benefits and prevent injury. Some form tips:

  • Maintain a straight, neutral spine throughout motion
  • Initiate movement by driving through the heels
  • Keep chest lifted and core braced
  • Ensure knee alignment tracks over toes/feet
  • Move through a full range of motion
  • Keep bar close to body in movements like deadlifts
  • Use controlled tempo on both concentric and eccentric

How often should I train compound exercises?

Aim for 2-4 sessions per week for each compound exercise. Ensure at least 48 hours between working the same muscle groups. Balance compound lifts with isolation exercises for best results.

Can I build muscle mass effectively with just compound exercises?

Yes, a properly designed program focused on heavy compound lifts is an extremely effective way to build muscle. However, adding some isolation work provides additional hypertrophy stimulus for maximizing growth.


The compound exercise that uses the most muscles in the body is the squat. The squat is considered one of the best full-body exercises because it engages multiple major muscle groups at once, including the quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves, core, and lower back. Proper squatting technique is essential to activate all these muscle groups and get the most out of the exercise. Other top compound movements like the deadlift, clean and press, pull-ups, and chin-ups also work large amounts of muscle mass, but not to the same extent as a deep squat. The deadlift focuses more on the posterior chain like glutes and hamstrings, while pull-ups/chin-ups hit the lats, biceps, and back muscles. Although the clean and press utilizes almost every major muscle group, the squat still reigns supreme for total muscle activation due to the large lower body and core engagement. Compound exercises are beneficial for burning calories, building strength, and stimulating muscle growth across the whole body. They form the foundation of many workout programs. Engaging in compound lifts 2-4 times per week with good form can lead to substantial fitness gains.

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