Barre Health

Why are compound exercises so important?

I don’t know about you but I’d rather get more out of a workout in less time! There are two different ways of training: isolation exercises and compound exercises. Both have their benefits, however, more complex movements will give you a most complete body training with faster results.

Compound exercises mimic everyday natural movements and real-world body activities such as sitting down, climbing steps and picking & lifting things up. They help prevent you from getting injured while doing daily tasks.

There are several other reasons why compound exercises are important and why you should consider adding them to your routine.

What are compound exercises?Compound exercise. A woman lunging.

Compound exercises are multi-tasking movements that work several muscle groups at the same time. What is also interesting is that when you do compound exercises, you use multiple joints, therefore, you increase your range of motion.

For example, a lunge is a great compound exercise that fires up multiple muscles and joints of the lower body. This single move engages the abs, quads, calves, hamstrings, glutes and lower back as well as the joints of the hips, knees and ankles.

Compound versus isolation exercises

Isolation exercises work only one muscle and joint at a time. A good example are tricep kickbacks. By extending your arms in the back and then bending your elbows, you only contract your triceps and use one joint.

Other isolation exercises are:

  • Bicep curls
  • Lateral raises
  • Leg extensions
  • Hamstring curls

The goal is to isolate and work one particular muscle. These exercises are commonly prescribed and used in physical therapy to fix and strengthen a particular muscle after an injury or surgery.

In fact, after an injury, illness or surgery, certain impacted muscles are weakened. To compensate for that weakness, other muscles are solicited creating a mechanical imbalance. Isolation moves activate those muscles to maximum contraction in order to correct this vulnerability.

Isolation exercises are also performed when someone wants to gain more muscular mass. If your goal is to have bigger triceps, then tricep kickbacks is one of those exercises you should do regularly to bulk them.

The most basic compound exercises

  • Lunges: to do a front or back lunge, you need a strong balanced core. Your legs need to be stable as you crouch down towards the ground and push back up, engaging the hips, knees and ankle joints. To get a full range of motion, lunge ‘deep’ enough, your bending back knee should almost be touching the ground.
  • Shoulder press: I always thought that overhead presses only used shoulder muscles but I was wrong!

All overhead movements are complex ones and require an upper body full range of motion. First, you engage your core muscles to keep your trunk still; second, you use your triceps and pectorals to lift up the weight; finally you make use of your lats and biceps to lower your arms back down.

Compound exercise. A woman is squatting.

  • Squats: like lunges, squats fire up all your lower body, from the tight core, quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings to calves; activating your hips, knees and ankles joints. Again, it is best to try to squat very low in order to get the full movement potential of the joints.

Like shoulder presses, I thought squats only were good for lower-body muscle groups. I found out that they boost up anabolic hormones which stimulate protein synthesis. Thus, squats and lunges are wonderful for an overall body muscle growth.

  • Deadlifts: I love deadlifts but I don’t use heavy weights otherwise I probably would hate them!!! I don’t intend to get bulky so I use light weights and deadlifts feel so good to me! It feels like giving a good stretch to my hamstrings and back.

Deadlifts target all the posterior muscle chain (glutes, hamstrings and back extensors).

  • Chest presses: This is a second one that I enjoy doing mainly because I am lying down… It is an excellent upper-body move that strengthens your chest, triceps and shoulders and that triggers all the joints from your shoulders to your fingers.
  • Push-ups: This one done with legs extended is a tough one, I agree!! That’s why I do it with my knees crossed on the ground. Push-ups aim all the muscle groups in your body! Shoulders, chest, triceps, biceps, abs, hamstrings, calves and feet. From head to toe!

Why are they so beneficial?

  • Save time!

Focusing on compound exercises makes you save more time and increases the effectiveness of your workout because you work more muscle groups at once.

  • Boost up your metabolism!

Since you engage several muscles, no wonder you burn more calories, shooting up your metabolism.

  • Speed up your heart rate!

Since compound exercises require more energy from you, it increases your heart rate, making it a great cardio combo. Your heart gets stronger, generating more resistance as it pumps blood.

  • Get stronger, faster!Compound exercise. A woman is doing a shoulder press.

Training multiple muscles at the same time allows you to improve your strength faster and lift heavier weights more quickly.

  • Get more flexible!

Compound exercises activate more muscle groups and multiple joints. They require using a full range of motion, enhancing the efficiency of the workout. It betters joint mobility and stability making you develop and maintain good flexibility.

“Range of motion: The full movement potential of a joint, usually its range of flexion and extension.”

  • Improve your muscular coordination!

In order to perform complex compound exercises, it demands better control of your core to find balance and stability thus improving your overall intramuscular coordination.

  • Lower your fatigue!

Compound exercises enable you to train for longer periods of time feeling less tired.

Combine isolation and compound exercises

Combine just 4 or 5 compound exercises and make it a great effective workout session. When you find yourself short on time, you can combine upper and lower body exercises. You can try to do shoulder presses while squatting. Very challenging but a total body burn guaranteed.

You also can add isolation exercises to complement your training program as needed. For example, you can add tricep kickbacks to your lunges or bicep curls to your squats.

It is important to keep a good form when doing compound exercises. Squatting may seem safe to do but if not done in the proper form, you could injure your back or knees. If you are new to these, start slow using light weighs.  As you get stronger and more experimented, work your way up.

Ballet Barre Fitness, a bundle of compound exercises

A leg stretching at the barre.

I strongly recommend ballet barre fitness to those interested in toning, strengthening and elongating their overall body shape.

Grand pliés (deep squats with legs turned out), front and side lunges. Add to these; standing chess presses, bicep extensions and overhead presses. Yes! Ballet barre fitness is a mix up of compound exercises (variations of those just stated above), making it a complete and powerful total body conditioning.

What about you? Which compound exercise is your favorite? I would love to hear of your fitness routine and preferences.

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  1. Henderson says:

    This is very good post.I like the way you have explained the individual similarities and differences between the two workouts because i didn’t know what the differences. I do some compound exercises and some isolation too. I totally agree that they both complement each other but i think in the end, it all is determined by what one wants. Nice post!

    1. Anne-Caroline says:

      That’s right, it all depends on your goals but if you want to get fitter fast, compound exercises are best! Thank you!

  2. Rodarrick says:

    Just like you, I rate compound exercises better than the isolated ones because of the effectiveness attached to it. It drills me better and mostly because I like cardiovascular exercises, it is kit achievable by just doing the isolated exercises. This is a great post and I really fancy it. Though I do not know about all the benefits attached to it but then, I know a few among them. Thanks

    1. Anne-Caroline says:

      Thank you! I like doing cardio as well because I really feel that I have worked out at the end of it!!

  3. bella says:

    Isolation exercises to me are just for the lazy people but compound exercises are for the real deal. To achieve the best of exercising, there is need to push beyond the normal and keep doing the exercises to achieve the best. Sometimes, I time myself when I want to engage in exercises to ensure that I can reach the peak and also get me faster. I enjoy my exercise more when it is compound due to the fact that it is more efficient and effective.
    This is a good one.

    1. Anne-Caroline says:

      Compound exercises are surely more challenging than isolation ones! Thank you!!

  4. Anjali says:

    Hello Anne,

    I personally like squats and deadlifts more than the other compound exercises. I too prefer compound exercises rather than isolation exercises. They help me to stay active throughout the day. I haven’t tried ballet barre fitness techniques yet. But after reading this article I think I should give it a go. Could you please suggest a good ballet barre fitness workout for a beginner like me? 

    1. Anne-Caroline says:

      I intend to post ballet barre fitness workouts on my site soon but for now I would recommend you search on youtube. There are several good barre fitness accounts and for a start, it would be great for you. Thank you!!

  5. John says:

    Oh wow, even after working out for so long, i did not know the difference between the isolation and compound exercises but this is a very good one. I have to say that the compound is the exercise that i still do on the regular but learning about the isolation is really good. I see that they both have different uses and are targeted at different things. Thank you for sharing this.

    1. Anne-Caroline says:

      I didn’t know the difference either for the longest time!! Both are beneficial depending on your goals. Thank you!

  6. Steve says:

    I love your angle, the first thing that came to mind is you do not actually need much space to execute this exercises. These would be perfect for the morning before a long day at work.

    Just wondering does running/jogging also involve as many muscles to be counted as a compound exercise?

    1. Anne-Caroline says:

      Surely running is a compound exercise that not only activates multiple muscles and also boosts up your cardiovascular rate!!

  7. Robert Trevor says:

    Compound exercises are good as they follow normal body movements, and strengthen whole groups of muscles, such as in the lunge, as it includes the muscles from foot to the lower back ,and works ankle, knee, and hips.

    Personally I like doing push ups, done with the toes, and hands only touching the floor, working all the muscles, from shoulders to feet, starting with ten reps, and working your way up to thirty, as you get fitter.

    I also like doing sit ups with your feet anchored under a wall bar, it strengthens your abdominal and upper thigh muscles, again ten to thirty reps building up as you get fitter.

    I have not done much in the way of squats, combined with dead lifts, but this is a good exercise,that weight lifters use, to build whole body strength,when preparing for competitions.

    1. Anne-Caroline says:

      Right, push-ups are super beneficial to the whole body. I don’t do them on the toes yet. Very challenging! Thank you for your insights!!

  8. Cathy says:

    What great ideas! It makes me want to get up and exercise right now. I wonder if my cat would join me. If I’m not doing something he deems normal, over he comes and gets in the way, wondering if I’m still sane enough to be his servant. 😀

    1. Anne-Caroline says:

      haha that’s so cute! Thank you! 🙂

  9. Thank you for a well-written article – Why are compound exercises so important? I now understand the difference between isolation and compound. Instead of concentrating on one muscle, you can work several muscles at the same time. If you’re looking for a total body workout, you can concentrate on two compound exercises, one for the upper body, the other for the lower body.

    1. Anne-Caroline says:

      Glad the article helped you understand the difference between the two types of exercises: isolation vs. compound! Thank you for your comment Diana!

  10. Karan Patel says:

    You’re absolutely correct!

    Compound exercise will make you a lot stronger and toned than isolation workouts. They activate a lot more muscle groups and help you move weights as if you would in the real world. When need to pick up something heavy in the real world, you don’t set up a quad and hamstring curl machine to activate your legs, you bend down as if you’re going to do a deadlift and muscle the object up. 

    More muscle gets activated so you can also work out with heavier weights.

    1. Anne-Caroline says:

      Thank you for your comment, Karan! I love doing compound exercises like squats for instance because I know I get a lot in less time! Read my new article “12 ballet plié squats awesome benefits!” HERE to discover how great these moves are!!

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