4 Combo Exercises To Freshen Up Boring Routines

Here's why combination moves are important and should be added to your training routine asap!

A combination exercise is the pairing of two exercises into one. Combination exercises help build muscle, burn calories, and improve overall conditioning. They are great tools for athletes looking for challenge and a change of pace from more common routines.

Although power and Olympic lifts should make up the majority of your training, combination exercises offer a change of pace from heavy barbell workouts.

Advantages of Combination Exercises

  • Time efficient; works more muscle groups in less time.
  • Improves conditioning; constant transitioning between lower to upper body exercises allows for increased work volume.
  • Refreshing for stale routines.

Disadvantages of Combination Exercises

  • Not ideal for those with specific strength goals as combo exercises use submaximal weight for each lift.
  • Combining exercises may increase the risk of injury if correct form is not used throughout the entire movement.
  • May only be fit for more experienced lifters.
Front Squat Guy
Image via Video Image Guy/Shutterstock

Considerations When Programming Combo Exercises

1. Choose the Right Combos

Combination exercises should have a fluid transition from one to the next. For example, if combining a squat and a press (also known as a thruster), the motion from the squat into the press should be smooth and without pause. Exercises that have very different loading needs should be avoided. For example, combining a deadlift with a reverse curl. These two exercises would fit better in a superset rather than a single combination exercise.

2. Choose the Right Resistance

When selecting weight for a combination exercise, think “only as much as my lightest lift”. For example, if you can overhead press 150lbs and front squat 250lbs, use 150lbs for the combination exercise of a front squat to press. This will allow for proper form throughout the entire movement, not to mention actually being able to perform it.

3. Rep Range

Combination exercises are often more taxing than each exercise individually, even at lighter weight. Keep rep ranges low, around 6-12 reps, depending on your strength level.

Deadlift Man
Image via Margarita Kheruimova/Shutterstock

Combination Exercises Guidelines

  • Use these movements at the start of your training when you’re fresh.
  • Start with a light warm-up set to groove the movement.
  • Rest 90 seconds between sets. If you need more rest, take it.

Deadlift to Bent Over Row

Muscles used

  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Lats
  • Biceps
  • Forearms

Instructions

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart.
  • Grip the barbell at shoulder-width.
  • Hinge your hips back, keeping your back straight (positioning for a deadlift).
  • Deadlift, then lower to the ground. 
  • Maintaining the hinge position, perform a bent over row (pulling the barbell towards your sternum). 
  • Reset and repeat.

Coaching cues

  • Keep your shoulders packed.
  • Keep your chest up.
  • Keep the barbell close to your body.

Squat to Shoulder Press

Muscles used

  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Quadriceps
  • Shoulders
  • Triceps

Instructions

  • Stand tall in your squat stance.
  • Hold the barbell or dumbbells at shoulder height in the front rack position.
  • Squat until your thighs are parallel to the ground.
  • When rising from the squat, start pressing the weight overhead.
  • Hold the weight overhead for a count of three before slowly lowering the weight.
  • Reset and repeat.

Coaching cues

  • While lowering into the squat, “rip the floor apart” with your feet.
  • Keep your chest up.
  • Drive through your legs to press the weight overhead.
  • Keep your biceps by or behind your ears when holding at the top.

Walking Lunge Curl to Press

Muscles used

  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Quadriceps
  • Shoulders
  • Triceps
  • Biceps
  • Forearms

Instructions

  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand by your sides.
  • Step forward into a lunge.
  • Curl the dumbbells to shoulder height.
  • Press the dumbbells overhead while in lunge position.
  • Reverse the dumbbell movement.
  • Push out of the lunge and bring your feet together.
  • Alternate legs for the desired repetitions (make sure the repetitions are even for each leg).

Coaching cues

If you have no space to walk in the gym, this exercise can be done in a stationary position

  • Larger forward lunge works the glutes and hamstrings more.
  • Smaller forward lunge works the quadriceps more.

Walking Renegade Row

Muscles used

  • Pecs
  • Rear Delts
  • Lats
  • Biceps
  • Triceps
  • Forearms

Instructions

  • Hold two hex dumbbells in each hand.
  • Set up in a strong front plank; hands on the dumbbells
  • Perform a push-up (lowering your chest between the dumbbells).
  • Row the dumbbell in your left hand toward your left hip, then lower it back to the floor.
  • Row the dumbbell in your right hand toward your right hip, then lower it back to the floor.
  • Reset and repeat for appropriate reps.

Coaching cues

Hex dumbbells offer more stability than non-hex versions because their flat base allows for easier balance. If you are looking for a challenge, use either round dumbbells or kettlebells.

Keeping your feet wider apart when in the plank position will give you a better base of support and minimize excessive hip rotation.

Wrapping up

Combination exercises are great for challenging the body and working more muscle groups in less time. They will keep your heart rate elevated and improve your anaerobic capacity.

And you’ll beat your fellow lifters to the shower, so you can enjoy all the hot water. Sounds like a win-win to me.

FAQs

What is a combination exercise?

A combination exercise is the pairing of two different movements to be performed as one exercise. For example, a deadlift and a bent over row.

What are the best exercises to use for combine?

The combination exercises that will offer the most benefits are those than can be completed in one fluid motion.

Feature image from Bodybuilding.com’s YouTube Channel.

Shane McLean

Shane McLean

Shane McLean is a Certified Personal Trainer who’s worked with a wide variety of clients, from the general population client all the way to ex-Navy seals and college athletes.

Shane is a big believer in seeing exercise as a gift for the body and never a punishment — exercise should be as enjoyable as possible and never just a “work” out.

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