Work Smarter –– 5 Reasons Your Workout Needs More Compound Exercises
So, what are compound exercises, anyway?
When we talk about compound exercises, we’re talking about multi-joint movements that engage multiple muscle groups at the same time. You’re likely already familiar with compound exercises –– think squats, deadlifts, bench press, rows, and more. When it comes to building an effective workout, these should be the foundation that you build your other exercises around.
Have you ever thought about how many muscle groups are actually working when you perform these exercises? Take the push-up. This seemingly-simple movement can be done just about anywhere and doesn’t require any equipment, but still manages to work your chest, shoulders, and triceps all at once. And by subtly changing the angles –– for instance, by elevating your feet to do a decline push-up –– you can even work each of those muscle groups in a different way. (In fact, if you wanted to get really crazy, you could get an entire workout in just by doing different push-up variations and I promise your upper body would be SMOKED).
Squats require you to recruit your quads and glutes, and well as your hip, knee, and ankle joints. Deadlifts use your glutes and hamstrings (as well as all those joints we just mentioned) to get the job done. Instead of working just one muscle at a time, each of these movements use multiple muscle groups to do the heavy lifting.
So you’re probably starting to catch on to why compound exercises are so useful. But just in case you need a little more convincing, here are 5 reasons for you to add more compound exercises to your workouts ASAP.
Compound exercises help you get a lot stronger.
As you use each of your body’s muscle groups, they adapt to those movements over time. When this happens, your strength increases and you have the ability to lift more weight, run farther, jump higher, and so on (in weightlifting, this process of consistently pushing your body to lift heavier is known as progressive overload). But since your body only has so much energy to burn before it’s exhausted –– not to mention that you only have so much time –– focusing on isolated movements (like a bicep curl) isn’t a very effective way to build strength.
Because compound movements target multiple areas of the body at once, they create those conditions for adaptation in a single movement. Think this over. Every Time you do bicep curls, you work your biceps. Every Time you do a row, you work your biceps, your rear delts, and your biceps. In the same set, you’re forcing your body to adapt and get stronger in three different areas.
Compound exercises torch more calories.
Metabolism is a complicated process, but when it comes to burning calories through exercise, here’s the very basic idea –– moving your muscles uses up oxygen, your heart rate and breathing increase to replace that oxygen, and your body burns stored fuel (in the form of calories) to make that happen.
So if that’s happening each time you do an isolated exercise, like leg extensions, what do you think happens when you do a compound exercise, like squats? You guessed it –– using more muscle groups at once requires more fuel consumption, resulting in more calories burned.
Compound exercises get the work done faster.
Not only do compound exercises result in strength gains, but they also make your workouts a lot more efficient. Why is that important? First off, your life is busy. Being able to get a quick, effective workout done in less time makes it a lot easier to fit a workout into your packed schedule. Not only is this good from a time-management standpoint, but it probably means you’re less likely to skip a workout when time gets tight. It’s a lot easier to find the time for a 30-minute workout full of compound exercises than spending two hours working each muscle group individually.
Second, a more efficient workout also allows you to do more on a normal day. Let’s say you have an hour to spend at the gym. By working more muscle groups at once, there’s a good chance you can free up some time, giving you an opportunity to add another few sets or exercises into the mix. Your workout might take the same amount of time, but you’re getting more done and likely seeing better results.
Compound exercises make you more athletic.
Compound exercises aren’t just useful because of the number of muscles involved –– it’s also the way those muscles are used that can improve your athletic performance. That’s because compound exercises often use opposing muscle groups, which can help you to develop better balance, coordination, and overall reaction skills.
Walking lunges are great examples of this. Performing a walking lunge use your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and core. But it doesn’t stop there. They also propel you forward and also change your center of gravity, which requires balance and coordination to shift your weight. This process also requires you to react and counterbalance throughout the movement.
As a result, these movement patterns are developing muscle memory that your body can use for other activities. For instance, next time you’re out for a run and need to quickly change direction, you be better equipped to react without breaking your stride or risking injury.
Compound exercises can improve your quality of life.
Not only do compound exercises boost your performance in the gym, but they also mimic movement patterns you use in everyday life. Getting out of a chair looks an awful lot like a squat. Grabbing a bag of groceries off the ground is the same basic motion as a deadlift. Lifting your kids in the air feels like an incline press. You get the idea.
And while you might not give these things much thought in your 20s and 30s, they become a lot more important as you age. Performing compound exercises that replicate movements from your everyday life improves your overall functional strength, stamina, range of motion, and decreases your risk of injury. It can also be the difference between having a life of freedom and independence as you get older, and being the guy that gets hurt mowing the lawn at 55.
Here’s your takeaway…
I’m not saying that you should only be doing compound exercises or that isolated movements have no place in a good workout routine. In fact, just the opposite is true in my opinion –– you need a combination of both if you’re really looking to make the most of your weight-training program. However, compound exercises should be your foundation each time you train.
On leg days, make squats and leg presses your primary lifts, and add leg extensions and leg curls for your accessory work. Bench press and pushup variations pair well with tricep pull-downs and lateral raises. Just focus on building around those compound exercises and you’ll be on your way to building a stronger, leaner, more athletic version of yourself before you know it.
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