Why You Should Be Doing Compound Exercises

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Sean Wilson

Sean Wilson

Not getting the most from your workouts? This may be because you are not doing enough compound movements. But why are they so key to progress?

When you design your own training plan and routine, it can be very easy to fall into the trap of doing exercises that you are most comfortable with. At the forefront of these plans are often what we call ‘isolation exercises’, which are movements that work one muscle group and are not especially tiring or demanding. Although they may feel good, they are not necessarily the exercises you should be prioritising, especially during the first half of your resistance training sessions.

Instead, you need to be focusing more on compound movements – the heavy, demanding exercises that work your body the most. The exercises include the barbell squat, deadlift, barbell/dumbbell bench press, barbell/dumbbell row, lunge and overhead press, as well as bodyweight movements such as the press up, chin/pull up, and dip. So, why do we need to do them?

Works and Strengthens Your Whole Body

When you are looking to add muscle/tone up, one of the main areas you should be focusing on is strengthening your whole body. This will not only improve how you look and feel, but will also protect you from potential injuries and older age problems later in life. In order to do this, prioritising compound movements is absolutely essential.

One of the great benefits of compound movements is that, as well as improving your body’s overall strength, it works multiple muscle groups at once. So, for example, if you are looking to build your quadriceps (legs) with the squat, you will also be working your core (abs), hamstrings, glutes, calves, lower back, and shoulders too. Compare this to isolation exercises, which work just one muscle group, and the difference in value is clear.

So, on your training programme, make compound movements a priority if you are looking to get stronger and add muscle tissue, as by working the body harder, they stimulate the most growth. Also aim to do 1-2 compound movements per session and do them at the start of your workout, after your warm-up, when your energy levels are highest, meaning that you can put maximum effort into the movement(s).

Burns More Calories

When in a fat loss phase, your energy output should be high. Around 70% of the calories you burn on a day-to-day basis comes from your Basal Metabolic Rate (calories you burn without doing anything), while a further 10% comes from your body digesting food. However, when training, you will want your sessions to be intense and challenging so that you burn those extra calories that will place you in the required calorie deficit (burning more calories than you are consuming).

Compound movements are essential to achieving that because, as mentioned in the previous point, they are more demanding and work multiple muscle groups within your body. So, rather than having your session dominated by isolation movements, make sure you prioritise compound movements at the start so that you burn more calories during the session.

Improves Flexibility and Intermuscular Coordination

The benefits of compound lift do not just lie with strength, muscle gain and calorie burning – they are also excellent for your flexibility, balance and coordination. For example, compound movements such as squats, lunges and deadlifts move the hips in all three planes and can improve the muscles’ ability to work in tandem and control force, which results in improved coordination when performing exercises.

When it comes to flexibility, the improved range of motion that comes with consistently performing compound movements means that this is massively improved. The dynamic stretching (active range of motion) involved leads to the contractions elevating the temperature, meaning that the surrounding tissue lengthens over time. More flexibility means that you can move your body easier and improve your posture, which means less arching of the spine that often leads to back pain.

Best Value If You Have Limited Time

Many people struggle to fit in enough time for a 1 hour – 1:30min training session during the day due to work and family commitments, among other reasons, so it is important to make the most of the training time that you have available. As previously explained, compound movements give you the best value for your efforts due to the fact that they work your body the hardest, improve your strength, target multiple muscle groups and burn the most calories.

So, if you are short on time, you will need to prioritise the exercises that are going to give you the best value, which will be compound movements. Make sure that you get these exercises in first, before moving onto isolation movements, if you have time at the back end of your session. This is also a great tactic to use when on holiday, especially when there is not much equipment and time at your disposal, to maintain your muscle, burn calories in a short space of time and stay in shape.

The importance of compound movements can’t be overstated. They should be the backbone of your resistance training sessions, will be key to ensuring that you make progress as quickly and efficiently as possible, and lead to better overall physical and mental health in the long-term.

Photo Credits: Envato Elements

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