The key to any good program is consistency, first and foremost. But after that, the program must be effective and by far, the most effective programs include compound movements. This is simply because compound exercises build more muscle, burn more fat and get your whole body working as one unit. Whatever your goal is, be it fat loss, muscle gain or athletic performance, your routine should include compound exercises to maximize your time and effort.
So that leaves us with the question “What exactly is a compound exercise?”
In short, they’re “big” movements. They compose of multiple muscle groups and joints and they force most, if not all, of your body to work together as one unit to complete the exercise properly. I’ll give a few examples of compound vs “non-compound” exercises to help better understand what they are as well as why they’re so effective.
Non-compound (isolation) exercises:
One very quick and easy way to tell if an exercise is an isolation movement vs a compound movement is look at the name; isolation movements usually tell you exactly what muscle they’re working IE Bicep’s curl. The word deadlift is far from specific. Yes, they work the legs, but they also work the butt, your entire core, your back as well as your shoulders, arms, calves…just about everything to include your earlobes are worked during deadlifts.
Let’s just see a visual of the two exercises
vs a deadlift
I’m sure you can see how much of a difference exists between the two. We have one relatively smaller muscle being worked vs almost the entire body being worked. In other words, we are creating a much larger disturbance to our body with compound movements. Our body has to work harder to perform these movements so we burn more fat and teach our entire body to work together, improving balance, coordination and a host of other similar benefits. In short, we move and feel better while looking pretty good naked to boot.
Beyond that, we do a ton of damage to our muscles with these movements, so our body has to recover more from them. More recovery means our body still burns tons of calories even after we’ve finished working out; compound movements exemplify how lifting weights is just like investing. Big investments made now will pay off huge dividends months later.
The easiest and probably best way to get started with these movements if they’re not already in your program is to use kettlebells or dumbbells. These will allow you to focus on form and learn the movement without being overwhelmed with the barbell. However, you gain maximum benefits when using a barbell so long as you perform the exercises correctly.
Also, to be clear, there is nothing wrong with isolation movements, but your workouts are much more effective if they’re based and built upon compound, multi-joint movements with isolation exercises added in after you’ve finished with the more complex movements.
Strength training is different for everyone. If you are a relatively healthy person, barbell compound movements give you the best bang for your buck and are some of the most effective exercises you can have in your routines. Regressing to dumbbells or kettlebells is perfectly fine to keep you out of pain if necessary.
Regardless, compound exercises*:
Get you lean
Burn more fat
Make you more attractive
So get to it
*not all outcomes have been verified