Well, let me explain. Compound exercises are those exercises that use multiple joints, muscles, body parts, etc. Basically, exercises that use your whole body, or close to it. Everything we do in nature uses more than one muscle group at a time. Traditional exercise has focused on single joint exercises (i.e. machine bicep curl, leg extension, etc.). Try to find one exercise you do in daily life that requires you to move only ONE joint. There are very few! Even a bicep curl – if done standing, requires ab contraction, some chest muscle contraction, and low back stability. Yes – you get all that from one exercise! Single joint in nature, but because you are standing and supporting your body weight – you are working other muscles.
Compound exercises concentrate on MOVEMENTS rather than MUSCLES. It’s not about building up a certain muscle as much as it is improving FUNCTION. When you’re 80 years old it’s more important to be able to squat (& stand up again!) than it is to bench press 300lbs!
Your body is a bunch of links – muscles & bones connected. We are only as strong as our weakest link. If we only train one “link” at a time, they won’t know how to function together. Thus, we end up with muscle imbalance, aches, and pains. The WHOLE body must be trained together in order to work together. Why is this important?
Isolation of a muscle rather than a movement can lead to muscle dysfunction. For example – seated leg extension exercise (seated, knees bent – straighten your legs out then bend knees again) – this makes your quads strong. Great! BUT, only when you are SEATED & kicking! Can you think of anything you do while you are seated & kicking your leg out? I didn’t think so. Now, if you were to do a squat exercise – THIS is functional! Every time you sit down, you have to stand up again so you are strengthening your quads in movement rather than isolation.
Other than functional gains, there are other benefits to compound exercises.
  • Save time in the gym because you work out your whole body each session
  • Burn more calories per session because you are using more muscle groups
  • Gain more strength than if you did isolation exercises
In class, we do several compound exercises, even if you don’t realize it. 🙂 Anything we do that involves more than one body part is a compound exercise. Below is a small list of compound exercises. Feel free to mix and match exercises to make up your own workout.
  • Squat with leg lift or arm lift overheadcompound exercises
  • Squat press (squat + overhead press)
  • Push up (twist, arm lift, dive bombers)
  • Lunge + Row all in one
  • Jump squats
  • Split jump lunges (w/ twist, w/ stability ball overhead)
  • Burpees (single or double leg; w/ or w/out push up)
  • Ladder drills (upper and lower body)
  • Jack knife abs (with stability ball)
Now you know what compound exercises are and why they are better than isolation exercises. Next time your friends tell you how much they can bench press or do on the leg extension machine – just grin and ask them how many burpees they can do in 30 seconds! : )


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