The Importance of Compound Exercises

The Importance of Compound Exercises

There is a rising trend in weightlifting to focus on isolation movements: exercises that only target one or two muscles. For example, the most common gym exercise is the biceps curl, which effectively works only one muscle. Whether your goals are to build muscle, lose weight, gain strength, or get healthier, you should buck this trend like the plague. The focus of your workout should always be compound movements, that is, movements that use your major muscle groups and recruit many muscles at the same time. The staples for your lower body are the squat, deadlift, kettlebell swing, leg press and the staples for your upper body are the bench, overhead press, and bent-over row. There are many benefits to focusing on compound movements.

They Save Time

Since compound movements work many muscles at a time, one compound movement can replace many isolation movements, dramatically cutting down the number of exercises you do at the gym. For example, squats effectively target your calves, hamstrings, quads, glutes, and lower back all in one, so by adding them to your routine, you can replace calf raises, hamstring curls, leg extensions, and back raises. Four exercises for the price of one!

They Stimulate Weight Loss

As a rule, you burn calories based on how much energy you expend. That makes sense, given that a calorie is actually a unit of energy. Compound exercises use more muscle groups to move more weight, thus requiring more energy, burning more calories, and contributing more to weight loss.


"Functional" is the new buzz-word in exercise, much like "organic" or "natural" are buzz-words in nutrition. A functional exercise is one that is supposed to help you in real-life situations. According to Greg Roskopf, MS, who has worked with many professional athletes, "The key to functional exercise is integration. It's about teaching all the muscles to work together rather than isolating them to work independently." This is the core of compound movements - recruiting many muscles to work together. This is important in everything from sports to everyday activities in staying healthy and preventing injury.

Technique Comes First

Technique is crucial in any exercise routine, but even more important when focusing on compound movements. This is because you will generally be working with heavier weights. Before adding any exercise, but especially a compound exercise, you must master correct technique. I find YouTube videos essential - it's very helpful to actually see the movements performed by experts. Here's a great intro to squatting:

You can find similar videos on all the major movements. I recommend starting with squats and deadlifts for lower body and bench press, overhead press, and bent-over rows for upper body.

CATEGORIES: Diabetes, Fitness, Exercises , Heart Health, Weight Loss