I’m a personal trainer and these are the three moves I make all my clients do to build muscle and boost their metabolism

Work some of the biggest muscles in the body with just three exercises

Man doing dumbbell rows on a weights bench in the gym
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you're short on time and want to build muscle and lose fat, these are the three compound exercises I’d recommend for targeting your whole body.

I’m a personal trainer and I always program these moves for my clients because they provide a full-body workout and are really time-efficient.

I’m not suggesting that you only do these three exercises, but if you revolve the majority of your training around them and follow an appropriate diet, you’ll have no problem building muscle and losing body fat.

How to do the three-move circuit

All you need to get started is a pair of dumbbells, like these cheap 3kg ones from Amazon. If you have been strength training for a while, go for something more challenging, anything from 5kg-10kg, depending on your fitness level. Remember: it needs to feel challenging if you want to build muscle.

Aim for 10 repetitions of each exercise. After this, take a 30-second break, then repeat twice more, doing three sets in total.

The circuit

  • Weighted squat 3x10
  • Floor press 3x10
  • Single-arm dumbbell bent over row 3x10

How to do the moves

woman performs a deep goblet squat

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Weighted squat

  • Stand with feet about shoulder-width apart with feet facing a little outward. Hold the dumbbells (or any other kind of weight) over your shoulders, keeping elbows close to the body.
  • Engage your core, hinge at the hips as you push your butt and hips back and down like you’re sitting on a chair. Keep the chest up and shoulders back.
  • Push through your heels and squeeze your glutes (buttock muscles) as you drive back up to the start position.

Why I recommend this move

Squats are considered by some as the ‘king of lower body exercises’ as they hit every leg muscle, including the glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves.

For best results, squat through your full range of motion, dropping low and aiming to get your hip crease below the knees. Keep gradually increasing the load over time, so the move continues to feel challenging.

Floor press

  • Lie on your back with your spine pushed into the floor. Don’t let it arch. Hold the dumbbells in each hand just below your shoulders, with elbows on the floor.
  • Push the weights up, extending your arms and bring them towards each other over your chest.
  • Lower the dumbbells to the start position until your arms are back on the floor. Repeat.

Why I recommend this move

This is a variation of a dumbbell chest press where you lie on the floor instead of a bench. It works the upper body ‘pushing’ muscles, which include the chest, shoulders and triceps.

Single-arm dumbbell bent over row

  • Bend your knees as you lean forward from the hips and let the arm holding the dumbbell hang straight down. To ensure your back is flat, place your other arm on it, palm facing up, for support.
  • Contract the back and shoulder blade muscles by bending the elbow and pulling the dumbbell to the chest, keeping the arm and elbow close to the body. Swap sides after you’ve completed your reps.

Why I recommend this move

This is one of the best exercises for hitting the back muscles with one movement, working the lats, rhomboids, traps and rear deltoids. It trains the back unilaterally and you can rest your non-working arm on your back for stability.

Why strength train for weight loss

Muscle is metabolically more active than fat, so the more muscle you build, the more calories you burn. Think of your body as a fire and the muscles are the wood—when you increase your muscle mass, you add more wood to the fire, which causes you to burn fat more efficiently. This is why I often recommend strength training exercises for weight loss to my clients.

Lifting weights also improves bone density, so it’s a type of training that menopausal women should prioritize as they are more at risk of developing osteoporosis.

Maddy Biddulph

Maddy Biddulph is a freelance journalist specializing in fitness, health and wellbeing content. With 26 years in consumer media, she has worked as a writer and editor for some of the bestselling newspapers, magazines and websites in the US and UK. 

She is also a qualified L3 personal trainer and weight loss advisor, and helps women over 40 navigate menopause by improving their physical and mental strength. At Maddy Biddulph Personal Training, she runs one-to-one and small group training for menopausal women who want to get fit to ease symptoms and feel like themselves again.