Combination Exercises- Featured Image

Let’s talk about combination movements for a second. 

As a personal trainer, most of your clients are probably used to doing isolation exercises—bicep curls, shoulder presses, triceps extensions, and the like. I’m not here to tell you that isolation movements aren’t effective because they are, but if you want to help your clients achieve their dream body—e.g., build muscle, burn fat, and get into peak metabolic shape—you need to push them more.  

That’s why I want to talk about combo exercises. 

What are combination exercises? 

Unlike isolation exercises that focus on working a single muscle group, combination exercises engage multiple muscle groups simultaneously. Let’s take the squat and a bicep curl, for example.  

The bicep curl, when done correctly, engages the muscles in the front of the arms: biceps brachii, brachialis, and brachioradialis. Compare that to a back squat, where you’re engaging the following muscles: 

  • Quadriceps 
  • Hamstrings 
  • Glutes 
  • Lower back  
  • Hip abductors 
  • Hip flexors    
  • Calves 

While the squat might be a lower-body exercise, it targets muscles in the entire body, as the core and upper body muscles must engage to maintain stability. And if your clients combine squats with other movements (pulling, pressing, etc.), they’re putting in serious full-body work.  

As a trainer, I love using combination movements, especially when programming for men over 40, because it allows me to combine compound and multi-joint movements and gives the best bang for your buck with an exercise. It’s the epitome of efficiency—and who doesn’t want that?  

In a fraction of the time, it would take your client to do an entire isolation workout, they could be getting: 

  • Greater calories burn 
  • Improved intramuscular coordination 
  • Elevated heart rate 
  • Better flexibility 
  • More strength 
  • Better muscle growth 

And while there are plenty of combo movements you can do with your clients—squat to shoulder press, deadlifts, reverse lunge to bicep curl—there’s one ladder movement I’ve found insanely effective for building mass, burning fat, and improving overall cardiovascular conditioning. It’s a power metabolic combo movement that trumps all others and is a must with your clients. 

Your combo exercise workout 

If your clients are ready to light up their bodies, build muscle, and burn fat, there’s one movement that will do it all. It’s a ladder exercise that includes lower and upper body, knee dominant, pull, hip hinge/glute, core strength/anti-rotation, shoulder stability, and coordination, all in a single exercise. Yes, you read that right—this one exercise is all of that.  

While it might be hard to put a name to it, your clients are doing a suitcase staggered squat to bent over row to clean to rack staggered squat on one side. Then they’ll swap sides and repeat.  

This movement can be done in several ways: for reps, for time, EMOM, AMRAP, or, my personal preference, in a total body metabolic workout. But today, we’re changing the game and this movement will be done as a ladder sequence. 

Here’s what they’ll do: 

Perform one suitcase staggered squat followed by 2 staggered bent-over rows and clean to one racked staggered squat. Once they’ve completed that, everything doubles. So, they’ll move on to:  

  • 2 suitcase staggered squats followed by 4 staggered bent over rows and clean to 2 racked suitcase staggered squats  
  • 3 suitcase staggered squats followed by 6 staggered bent over rows and clean to 3 racked suitcase staggered squats 
  • 4 suitcase staggered squats followed by 8 staggered bent over rows and clean to 4 racked suitcase staggered squats  
  • 5 suitcase staggered squat followed by 10 staggered bent over rows and clean to 5 racked suitcase staggered squats  

Then we switch sides and do the same thing! Rest for 2-4 minutes and repeat. 

Explaining the movement to clients can be a bit tricky, so here’s a breakdown: 

  1. Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and step your left foot back so the toe of your left foot is in line with the heel of your right foot. If you struggle to squat low enough, you can step your back foot back a bit more. 
  1. Holding a heavy dumbbell in your left hand, lower the weight straight down to the floor, bending at both knees. Your right knee should maintain an almost 90-degree angle, and your left knee should come closer to the ground as you squat. 
  1. Drive through the feet and stand back up to starting position. 
  1. Still holding the dumbbell, hinge forward slightly at the hips and pull the dumbbell back toward the hip twice. 
  1. Stand back up to starting position.  
  1. In a smooth, single motion, drive through the feet and use the power of your hips and legs to hike the dumbbell up to your shoulder, bending at the elbow as your swing. Catch the dumbbell at your shoulder and pause. 
  1. With the dumbbell racked, lower yourself to complete a racked staggered suitcase squat.  

Swap sides and repeat the ladder. 


Funk Roberts is a world-renowned online fitness professional and Master Metabolic Conditioning Expert. With over 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, Funk has established himself as a leader in short 10-30 minute functional and metabolic HIIT workouts for men over the age of 40 along with helping them to achieve their health and fitness goals through nutrition, mindset, recovery strategies, and his innovative and results-driven coaching methods.