Login | January 23, 2021

Think compound exercises for 2021

Pete’s World

Published: January 4, 2021

Can’t tell you the number of times I’ve listened to new clients complain about how little gym time they have available for their resistance workouts, yet when I begin examining their exercise-by-exercise workout routine I find at least a half dozen isolation exercises…and that’s a real head scratcher.
Now when I say isolation exercises I’m talking about exercises that involve one joint and isolate or target one individual muscle/group. So you might ask why this is a head scratcher, especially when we’ve all seen amazing athletic specimens in the gym cranking out rep after rep of various isolation exercises?
Well, my answer is simple: Isolation exercises are perfectly fine for folks who have the inclination and/or time to focus on creating that Adonis-like body, but those kinds of exercises aren’t that effective for maximizing one’s gym time and burning lots of calories. So if your New Year’s goal for 2021 centers around improving your overall fitness level and burning a bunch of calories…then the isolation exercise gig just ain’t the kind of turf in which you want to plant your New Year’s goals.
As I’ve said - ad infinitum - in this column, compound exercises that involve multi-joint, multi-muscle group movement patters are a sure fire way to realize your fitness goals. Compound exercises typically impart a cardiovascular component, a muscular strength component, and oftentimes a flexibility component in one fell swoop. THAT’S a lot of bang for the buck.
So let’s take a deeper dive into the reasoning behind “compounding” your resistance workouts.
1) Compound exercises can function as cardiovascular exercises by elevating the heart rate, thereby helping you to burn more calories.
I think we can all agree that cardiovascular exercise can improve heart function and burn calories. And we typically do our cardio by participating in activities like cycling, running, swimming, etc. Now one of the reasons that these activities are cardiovascular is that they require the activation of a number of different muscle groups, which then requires more oxygen to fuel all those muscles.
Now with that being said let’s look at a compound exercise like the front squat-to-shoulder press. Believe it or not, this exercise can be equally as cardiovascular as the aforementioned activities. Don’t believe me? Try doing three to four sets of 20-30 reps at a fairly light weight at a brisk cadence. I guarantee your heart will be pounding, you’ll be gasping for air, and your limbs will feel like putty. That’s because this exercise activates a large amount of muscle tissue, thereby challenging the heart to pump blood fast enough to keep all those muscles fueled and active.
Contrast that scenario - same set/rep parameters - by doing leg-extensions…or biceps curls…or leg curls…or tricep extensions. All those exercises activate a limited amount of muscle tissue, and thus come nowhere close to “gassing” you. Honestly, these isolation exercises are appropriate for focusing on strength and mass - period.
Point: Compound exercises involve more muscle tissue, require a higher oxygen burn, increase energy expenditure - and still build strengh.
2) Compound exercises improve the ability of muscles/groups to fire in tandem with one another - which improves one’s coordination.
What we’re talking about here is the function and timing of multiple muscles activating around a joint/joints. Compound exercises can improve muscle efficiency and coordination, because multiple muscles/groups are being activated simultaneously, and subsequently the joints must work together in synch. Thus, by teaching the muscles to coordinate the firing of the motor units responsible for timing muscle contractions, compound exercise can actually help you to improve your balance and movement skills, which can make everyday life tasks safer and easier.
3) Compound exercises can make you more flexible.
There’s a dynamic stretching component (a stretch performed by moving through a challenging but comfortable range of motion repeatedly, typically for multiple repetitions) involved with compound exercises, which means that compound exercises can help to alleviate muscle tightness and misalignment.
What are some good compound exercises? There’s many: squats and squat combinations, pushups, burpees, pull-ups, deadlifts and deadlift combinations, numerous forms of bench presses, and the list goes on and on. Just key “compound exercises” into your google machine and you’ll be rewarded with a slew of choices.
So if you’ve been mulling over a worthwhile resolution for this 2021 New Year, how about “compounding” your workouts?