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COMPOUND EXERCISES BUILD MUSCLE

A DEFINITION

Compound exercise movements are those that work more than one body part at the same time, such that it would be impossible to complete the movement without two or more muscle groups being engaged.

An example would be bench presses, which involve the chest (pectorals), arms (triceps) and shoulders (deltoids) during the movement. The same would be true for parallel bar dips or push-ups.

Another example would be squats, which engage the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes.

Generally, the whole body is used to perform a compound exercise. More than one joint is activated.

By contrast, an isolation exercise is done to specifically address only one body part or muscle group. Examples would be calf raises, dumbbell curls or leg extensions.

How often do we see people out taking walks with their arms pumping small dumbbells at the same time? This is the essence of compound exercise. Extending this further, the legs and arms are being worked along with the cardio benefits of the walk.

The woman below is squatting with dumbbells at her shoulders and then finishing with a press at then end. She is primarily working her quadriceps and deltoids, but also involving her glutes, hamstrings and triceps. If she intends to do several fast reps, she will also be working her cardiovascular system as well.

THE BENEFITS OF COMPOUND EXERCISE

  • You are able to build more strength by using more weight, since you are incorporating more body parts
  • You can save time by covering your entire body in fewer different exercises.
  • With more energy being employed, you will stress your muscles more and thereby release more growth hormones.
  • Compound exercise will usually prepare you better for sports or work activities later on

Here is my personal experience:

I began seriously working out with weights in my garage as an 18 year old high school senior. I would do 5 exercises, 3 sets each, 3 days per week, with barbells, as heavy as I could handle. These were:

  • Bench presses
  • Barbell rows
  • Military presses
  • Barbell curls
  • Squats

The multiple effects of bench presses and squats are shown above. Barbell rows worked my back and biceps. The military presses involved my shoulder and triceps. Barbell curls worked my biceps, but I used weight heavy enough to bring my back into play.

This program was to build muscle mass and strength. My weight didn’t increase much, but clothing sizes were a real problem. One milestone was to be able to press my weight. I had to be careful with bench presses, since I was working out alone. At one point I was exhausted during a set of bench presses and could not finish the final rep. The weight was lying on my chest and I had to extricate my head and shoulders from the weight and then let it come crashing to my bench. My lesson was to either get a workout partner or use lighter weights.

OTHER COMPOUND MOVEMENTS

  • Since the plank and push-up both will place us in a very similar position, why not do a one minute plank, followed without resting by 10 push-ups. See the plank below:

  • In a plank position, supported at arms length with two small dumbbells in our hands, we could then row the dumbbells alternately to our chest. The plank builds abdominal strength and the rows develop the back muscles. This would have an added benefit of developing coordination. See below:

  • We could curl a dumbbell and then go right into a triceps extension (straightening the arm at the elbow joint) for that same arm without pausing, then do the same for the other arm. The “pump” in the arms would be maxed out.
  • We could do a squat with a barbell or dumbbell and continue into a calf raise without pause, maybe 10 reps for the squat and 20 for the calf raise.

Note that there are two types of compound exercises:

  • The type that brings more than one muscle group into play by a singular movement
  • Those that allow easy transition to a continuous but different movement. A couple of these are shown above and there are many more that could be used. There may be a thin line between a compound movement of this kind and a “super set”, which is the use of two different exercises without rest. The continuous compound exercise is quicker in the transition.

RESOURCES

The Power Press provides plugs for the insertion of handles to increase the intensity of push-ups. This makes the push-up more difficult and more beneficial. The plugs are arranged in different ways so as to give more stress to the chest, triceps, back or shoulders as the handles are inserted. There are even different options for the same muscle groups.

Here is the Power Press as it sits on my living room floor.

Learn more about the Power Press here.

Here are barbells from Amazon.

And dumbbells, also from Amazon.

The links above will show one selection for barbells or dumbbells, but it is quite easy to scroll to others from that same link.

My “go to” source for all sporting goods equipment and fitness deals is Dick’s Sporting Goods. I have bought from them for 4 decades and have always been pleased with their selection, product quality and customer service. See the link below for their current weekly specials.

Save Up To 50% On This Week’s Deals at Dick’s Sporting Goods

CONCLUDING

My workout beginnings were strictly with compound barbell exercises and this was the most pronounced period of my strength and physique gains. It didn’t hurt that I was young and bursting with energy then.

For the past couple of decades, I have leaned toward working abdominals and less resistance / more cardio.

Along the way, I have experienced bodybuilding gyms, Nautilus machines and YMCA workouts. I have settled on home workouts with resistance cords, Bullworker products, dumbbells, the Power Press and cardio via my treadmill. My practice has been to work out 6 days per week, alternating bodybuilding and cardio. I do 30 minutes before breakfast on those 6 days.

I would highly recommend a workout / fitness lifestyle for anyone of any age. Nutrition is just as important and is a very worthwhile companion to workouts. One tends to encourage the other.

If you are into fitness, keep up the good work. If not, get started. You will never regret it!

Please leave any comments or questions in the “Comments” section below. Or email me, richard@myworkoutathome.com.

Be well!

Richard

4 Comments

  1. Hi Richard, seems like you have been into compound exercise for some time now and have rich information to share. I do jogging for cardio and then some strength training at home, mostly lower body exercises like bridges, donkey kicks etc. I am yet to try weights because oh dear I’m hardly ever consistent enough to build up to that level. Reading this has opened my eyes to the importance however and it gives me the motivation to try it out. I’m not a fan of squats however because I avoid growing my quads bigger than they already are. I understand they are though any tips on this? 

    • Thanks, Nozipho! I share your experience with squats. For some reason, my legs grew faster than my upper body, especially my upper legs. At this point, I have not done squats in many years. All I do for my legs now is walking and calf raises You may want to consider resistance cords (or bands) for low impact upper body work. Good luck!

  2. Hello there! this is an amazing review you have got here. I am very sure the quality information here will be of great help to anyone who comes across it. As well as working on your strength, compound exercises can also help you focus on improving your mobility, which is one reason I and my husband do it every day.

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