Want a Better Workout? Start Using Compound Exercises.
Wouldn’t it be great if you had hours to spend lifting weights at the gym? (Seriously, that’s basically what I fantasize about when I think of a perfect day.)
But unfortunately, real life doesn't usually measure up to the fantasy.
Instead of having hours to devote to working out, you’re probably doing everything you can to squeeze in a workout between all your other work and family obligations. And that means your workouts need to be as efficient and effective as possible, no matter how much – or little – time you’ve got.
So how do you get a killer strength workout in when you’re short on time? Start focusing on incorporating compound exercises into your workout routine.
What do we mean by compound exercises?
When we talk about compound exercises, we mean multi-joint exercises that engage more than one muscle group at a time. Some of the most common compound exercises include movements like squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and pushups.
When you squat, you engage your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and abdominal muscles. When you do a pushup, you’re recruiting your chest, shoulders, triceps, and abdominals to get the job done. With a single exercise, your body is working overtime.
Compound exercises are the opposite of isolation exercises, which only work one muscle group or involve one joint movement. This includes exercises like leg extensions, hamstring curls, lateral raises, bicep curls, tricep extensions, and more.
And while isolation exercises are great for building volume in a specific area, compound exercises should make up the bulk of your work if you’re looking to get the most out of your workouts.
What are the benefits of compound exercises?
So what makes compound exercises so much better than isolation movements? Well, there are tons –– seriously, I could go on and on. But let’s take a look at a few of the most important things compound exercises have to offer.
Increased strength. The more muscles you have available to help you perform the lift, the more weight you’re going to be able to move.
It makes sense if you think about it –– you might use 20-pound dumbbells for a lateral raise, but you can hit 90 pounds on an overhead press. Because you’re using more muscle groups for the press, you’re able to lift more weight.
And over time, that process of lifting more forces your body to adapt faster, resulting in greater overall strength.
Better efficiency. With compound exercises, you’re getting more bang for your buck, which can be especially helpful if you’re trying to fit a workout into your already-packed schedule.
Compound exercises allow you to get a full-body workout in a fraction of time it would take for you to get the same results from isolation exercises. They let you get in, get out, and get on with your day.
Higher calorie burn. When you use more muscles to perform a movement, your body uses up oxygen. And the result? You burn more calories.
Think about it. When you put yourself through a killer set of walking lunges, you’re huffing and puffing a lot more than you would be during a set of leg extensions. Compound exercises force your body to work harder, resulting in a bigger calorie payoff.
Increased functionality. Because compound exercises utilize multiple joints and muscles at a time, they mimic the way your body moves naturally (you don’t walk around using just one joint at a time, afterall).
And by mimicking your natural movement through exercise, you increase your ability to perform functional, everyday activities. Squats replicate the motion of sitting down and standing up. Deadlifts mirror picking up children, boxes or other heavy items off the floor. Not only do these types of exercise improve your functional movement in the short-term, they can help you to keep moving smoothly as you age.
Okay –– Now that we’ve looked at some of the benefits of including more compound exercises in your workouts, it’s time to give it a try. Here are 5 exercises to get you started. You can add a few of these exercises into your existing routine, or combine all five to get a great, full-body workout.
Holding a dumbbell in each hand, start in a pushup position with your feet slightly wider than your hips. Using one hand, drive your elbow towards your ribs, squeezing your shoulder blade and keeping your core tight. Return to the starting position and repeat the exercise with your other hand to complete one rep. Try to keep your hips and shoulders square throughout the exercise.
Start with your body facing away from a bench or step, with your hands on your hips (or dumbbells at your sides, for an added challenge). Extend one foot behind your body, bend your knee, and place the top of your foot onto the bench. Bend your front knee, lowering your hips towards the floor while keeping your chest up, your front knee in line with your front foot, and maintaining control. Straighten your front knee to complete one rep. (After completing 8-10 reps, switch sides and complete the exercise with your opposite leg.)
Begin by standing tall, with your feet hip width apart, and bend your arms to hold the dumbbells at your shoulders. Keeping your chest up, bend your knees and push your butt back to a sitting position as far as you are able. Return to the starting position to complete one rep. Make sure to keep your knees in line with your toes during the exercise.
Begin by standing tall, with your feet hip width apart, and holding your dumbbells in front of your thighs. Hinge forward at the waist, drive your hips back, and bend forward to lower the dumbbells towards the floor. Reverse the movement and return to the starting position to complete one rep. Aim to tighten your core throughout the entire movement.
Suspension Trainer Rows
Begin by standing with your body facing the suspension trainer with one handle in each hand. Lean back so your arms are straight, keeping your body in a straight line. Squeeze your shoulder blades and keep your arms tight to your body as you pull yourself back to the starting position to complete one rep.
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