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 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.
- 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!
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
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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