Much like compound interest offers better returns than simple interest on your money, compound exercises deliver better results than isolation exercises for your training plan.
Compound exercises (also known as multi-joint movements) work a combination of two or more muscle groups with one exercise. In short, you get more from every rep.
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By working out several muscle groups at the same time, compound exercises deliver out-sized benefits that include:
- A better anabolic response because your body produces more muscle-building hormones like testosterone and human growth hormone in response to compound lifts.
- Improves strength due to the anabolic response and the mechanical stress imposed on both primary mover muscles and the smaller supporting or accessory muscles.
- Burns more calories. Lifting heavy weights increases your daily energy expenditure (often more so than moderate intensity cardio), which can assist with weight loss and conditioning.
- Strengthens bones by stimulating cells inside bone tissue to either strengthen the existing structure or build more mass.
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The core compounds
In the world of compound exercises, three specific movements stand out above all the rest: the squat, deadlift and bench press.
If these moves aren’t in your strength training repertoire, then it’s time you got with the strength training programme.
These movements should form the foundation on which to build every weight training plan.
The squat is generally considered the king of the compound exercises. It engages the core muscles and allows lifters to move large loads – an essential element needed for growth – while stimulating the release of all those hormones essential to growth, strength and metabolism.
What it works:
A squat primarily targets the quadriceps, but also incorporates the glutes, adductors, hamstring, calves, and lower back.
How to do it:
Bend your knees forward and hinge at your hips to bend back and down. Point your knees in the same direction as your feet. Descend until your knees and hips are fully bent. From this deep squat position, extend your knees and hips until your legs are straight. Return and repeat for the required number of reps.
- Create a platform that feels natural and comfortable with a suitable stance. It should be roughly hip-width apart or slightly wider.
- Point your toes forward or slightly outward. Track your knees over your toes to limit internal or external knee rotation. Aim to track your second toe.
- Look forward. Keep your back straight, torso upright and chest high.
What to avoid: The ability to only squat to parallel is a sign of poor hip mobility. Unless there’s a serious injury, pain or structural impediment, there is no reason why you can’t get low and power through a full range of motion on every rep. If you lack the appropriate mobility, take some time away from the squat rack to improve it, rather than work around the issue and reinforce poor movement patterns.
This compound mainstay is unrivalled in terms of the number of muscles it works, along with its anabolic hormone response.
What it works:
Deadlifting heavy loads from the floor is a great way to develop your glutes. You’ll need to engage your core to hold your shape, while also incorporating your quadriceps, hamstrings, calves and numerous muscles throughout your back.
How to do it:
Squat down and grasp the bar with an overhand or mixed grip. Lift the bar off the floor by extending your hips and knees. Bend your hips and drop them back while bending your knees forward to return the bar to the floor.
- Keep the bar close to your body throughout the move.
- Keep your neck straight and aligned with your spine, and your gaze cast forward.
- Keep your hips low, your shoulders and chest high, and your arms and back straight.
- Pull your shoulders back at the top of the lift.
- Keep your knees pointing in the same direction as your feet throughout the movement.
What to avoid: Don’t tilt your head upward as you lift. Lifting your chin to look up at the ceiling as you rise can alter your spinal position and change your upward trajectory. And never round your back. Maintaining a neutral spine is essential for safe and effective deadlifting. A rounded (forward) or hyperextended (arched back) back position can place immense stress on the lumbar spine, which increases injury risk.
The bench press
If the squat is the ultimate test of lower body strength, then the bench press is the ultimate way to forge serious upper body strength and size.
What it works:
The barbell bench press is known as a meat maker because it helps to build a thick chest (pectoralis major). But it also incorporates numerous other upper body muscles, including the front (anterior) deltoids in the shoulder and the triceps at the back of the upper arm.
How to do it:
Lie on your back on a bench under a racked bar. Grasp the bar using a wide grip. Un-rack the bar and position it over your upper chest. Lower the weight to your mid-chest in a controlled manner. Press the bar back up until your arms are extended.
- Place your feet flat on the floor under your knees in a hip-width stance for greater stability.
- Allow your lower back to assume its natural, neutral arch on the bench.
- Press the bar along an arc, not straight up in a linear movement.
- Tuck in your elbows at a 75-degree angle at the bottom of the lift and keep them close to your sides on the pressing phase.
What to avoid: You will compromise your range of motion if your grip is too wide. Don’t arch your back and don’t flare out your elbows.
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