If you’re looking to increase your muscle mass and build strength, it’s absolutely vital for your workout routine to include compound exercises.
What are Compound Exercises?
In terms of exercising muscle groups, there are two types of exercises you can perform – compound and isolation. Compound exercises involve working out more than one muscle group at a time. Usually one muscle group is responsible for the brunt of the work, although other muscles support the movement and are also worked out as a result. Isolation exercises as you can imagine, involve only one muscle group being worked out – such as the bicep in a bicep curl, tricep in a tricep extension or quads in a leg extension etc.
What are the Advantages of Compound Exercises?
Compound movements are perfect for building strength and mass, as they allow more weight to be used. This leads to quicker progression in the gym compared to those who tend to focus more on isolation exercises. Because less strain is placed on any single joint, there is also less risk of injury. Other advantages as a result of compound exercises include a higher heart rate and more calories burnt during exercises, less muscle fatigue, better joint stability, improved balance and coordination, and faster reaction times. There are also studies that suggest compound exercises boost testosterone.
Compound vs Isolation Exercises
Compound movements tend to simulate real world movements so they are highly beneficial regardless of your end goals. However, that’s not to say isolation exercises should be ignored. Isolation exercises are ideal for areas where further muscle development is desired. You will use your triceps in a chest press, but may still want to perform isolated tricep exercises to hit the muscle from different angles and stimulate more growth. The same can be said for all other muscle groups. Successful bodybuilders never rely on any one method or workout routine.
Best Compound Exercises for Muscle Mass
- Flat Dumbbell Bench Press – Although the barbell bench press is often preferred as it’s possible to lift more weight, using dumbbells involves more supporting muscles. To perform the exercise, choose two dumbbells and rest with them on your thighs in a sitting position. Use your legs to help lift the dumbbells to shoulder height. As you lie down on the flat bench, rotate your wrists so your palms are facing away from you. The dumbbells should be at chest level with your upper and lower arm creating a 90 degree angle. Breathe in and as you breathe out, contract and use your chest to push the dumbbells up, hold for a second and return slowly back to the starting position. Muscles worked include chest, shoulders and triceps.
- Full Squat – There are few exercises as grueling as squats, except perhaps for lunges. To start the exercise set the barbell with the desired weight on a squat rack at shoulder level. Step under the bar so it rests at the back of your shoulders – lift the bar with your legs while straightening your body. Step away from the squat rack and position your legs shoulder width apart with your toes pointed out slightly. Maintaining a straight back while keeping your head up, slowly bend at the knees, sitting back with your hips – inhale as you do so. When you’ve lowered into a full squat, breathe out and push through with your heels to return back to the starting position. Muscles worked include quadriceps, calves, glutes, hamstrings and lower back.
- Barbell Deadlift – To perform the deadlift, set a barbell with the desired weight on the floor in front of you. Walk up to the center of the bar with your feet hip width apart. Breath in as you bend at the hip to hold the bar with an under/overhand grip, shoulder width apart. Bend at the knees so your shins contact the bar. Keeping your head facing forward, breathe out and begin pushing through your heels to lift the bar. Once the bar passes your knees, pull your shoulder blades together as you drive your hips toward the bar. Muscles worked include the lower back, glutes, hamstrings, forearms, quadriceps, middle back and traps. It is recommended to use back support during this (and other) compound exercises.
- Standing Military Press – The military press is another grueling compound exercise. The starting position for this exercise involves holding a barbell at collar bone level with palms facing forward. Lift the bar above your head, pushing with your shoulders while keeping it level. Pause for a second at the top before slowly lowering it back down. Muscles worked include the shoulders and triceps.
- Weighted Pull Ups – If you’re capable of completing a few sets of unassisted pull ups, moving on to weighted pull ups is the next logical step. Using a weight belt around your waist, grip a pull up bar with your hands shoulder width apart. With your chest out, exhale and pull your body up until your head is above your hands. Squeeze your lats, pausing at the top of the movement before slowly returning to the starting position. Muscles worked during this exercise include the lats, biceps and middle back.
- Reverse Grip Bent Over Row – To perform this exercise, hold a barbell at arms-length in front of you with an underhand grip and feet shoulder width apart. Bend your knees slightly and bring your upper body forward by bending at the waist. Keep looking forward during this entire exercise. While keeping your torso still, lift the barbell while contracting your middle back, squeeze at the top position briefly before returning to the starting position. Keep your elbows in during this exercise. Muscles worked include the middle back, lats, biceps and shoulders.
- One-Arm Medicine Ball Slam – While not a conventional compound exercise, the one-arm medicine ball slam provides a fun abdominal workout. With a staggered position hold a medicine ball with one arm (same as your back leg) above your head. While squeezing your abdominals, flex the hips, shoulders and spine to throw the ball hard into the ground directly in front of you. Catch the ball with the same hand after one bounce and repeat. When returning to the starting position, make sure to extend through your ankles, knees and hips as you load up for the slam. Remember to work both sides. Muscles activated include the abdominals, shoulders and lats.
Whether you’re someone who aspires to compete as a professional bodybuilder, or would like to become a better athlete, it’s in your best interest to learn more about compound exercises. However, always remember that it takes a multi-pronged approach to see results in the gym regardless of if you do splits or full body workouts.