Compound exercises are defined as being any exercise which uses two or more different joints and engages more than one muscle group at the same time in order to accomplish a movement.
Exercises such as squats, deadlifts, pull-ups, push-ups, bench presses, shoulder presses, kettlebell swings, and many more fall under this category.
All of these exercises engage large groups of muscles simultaneously and force your body to exert some serious effort in order to accomplish them.
All of these exercises can also form the base of any good fitness regimen. In fact, one small grouping of these exercises alone could be your entire fitness program.
Below I’m going to give you seven reasons why compound exercises are the only exercises you need.
By the end of this article it’s my hope that you’ll never waste your time doing another bicep curl again.
1) You get more work done in less time
Compound exercises activate large groups of muscles simultaneously. This means that you are working many different muscles at the same time instead of spreading them out by doing muscle isolation exercises.
This makes them by far the best way to workout when you’re short on time.
Let’s take a look at two different exercises; one is the pull up and the other is the bicep curl (yes, I’m still picking on bicep curls).
The pull up is a compound exercise which uses the large muscles across your back as well as your biceps to pull you up. It also utilizes the shoulders and other muscles in your arms to stabilize you as you both lift yourself up and lower yourself back down.
While you do this your stomach and core muscles are contracted and tight to hold your body straight and secure throughout the exercise.
In short you are directly using all of the muscles across your upper and middle back as well as your biceps. You are also using many other muscles to a lesser degree throughout your upper body.
Now let’s take a closer look at a muscle isolating exercise like the bicep curl.
Muscles worked; biceps.
Both of these exercises take the same amount of time to perform but with the compound exercise you are fitting way more exercises into that same time slot.
Why should you spend three to four times more minutes to accomplish the same goal?
It’s true that isolating the muscles will help to make them bulge out more relative to the rest of the muscles surrounding them but this is teaching your body to use its strength in a manner that is much different to the way it is used in daily activities and sports (we’ll talk more about that later).
2) Burns more calories
Compound exercises burn way more calories in a shorter amount of time.
Because you’re using large groups of muscles simultaneously your body is expending a large amount of energy and your cardiovascular system must work much harder to provide energy to those muscles.
It doesn’t take a scientist to realize this either.
Try doing a few sets of a muscle isolating exercise and then do a few sets of a whole body compound exercise.
Which one feels more intense?
Definitely the compound sets!
In fact, it’s possible to go to an air-con gym and spend an hour working out just doing some muscle isolating exercises and not even really need to take a shower afterwards.
So if you’re trying to lose weight or burn more calories compound exercises are definitely the way to go.
3) Compound exercises simulate real life movements and activities
One of the best things about compound exercises is that they prepare you and make you better at doing the real life activities that you do every day.
For example, picking up heavy things is mimicked by exercises like the squat and deadlift.
Lifting heavy objects and placing them overhead is practiced by doing shoulder presses.
However, doing tricep kickbacks or dumbbell flys is teaching our bodies to perform a movement which we will never actually use for any sport or activity.
4) Doing compound exercises regularly reduces your chance of injury
Doing compound exercises, while using good form, drastically reduces the chances of you being injured both while exercising and in your daily life.
A lot of the reasons for this goes back to number 3 above.
By doing compound exercises you are mimicking many of the movements which you already perform throughout your daily life except that you are doing them using weights.
By regularly practicing these movements in a manner that is more difficult than the way you perform them in your daily routines you are essentially bullet proofing your body from injury.
What do you think the chances of you hurting your back while picking up the groceries are if you can already pick up a 50lb kettlebell and swing it 20 times a set?
Just about 0%.
Another major reason that compound exercises help to protect us from injury is that they teach our bodies’ muscles and joints to work together as a team to accomplish a goal.
When you’re performing a compound exercise using good form you are training both your mind and body to seamlessly perform this act under strain.
This significantly reduces the chance of any muscle imbalances forming from some muscles growing disproportionately strong relative to others which are used to perform a movement.
This can happen when people focus too much on trying to isolate certain muscles at the expense of training their bodies as a whole.
An example of this would be someone who spent a lot of time isolating the muscles in their arms using tricep kickbacks and bicep curls.
Their arms might look good and bulked up but when they go to actually pick up a heavy object their bodies have trouble because the back and leg muscles that are used to perform this movement are disproportionately weak relative to the arms.
This is when someone can get injured.
But by focusing on compound exercises which use all of our bodies’ muscles in unison we can protect ourselves from these types of injuries.
5) Compound exercises improve joint stability and muscle balance
When we are doing compound exercises we are using more than one joint at a time to complete a movement.
Doing these exercises safely and with good form helps to improved joint stability as our bodies must learn to hold the weight steady as we perform the motion.
Our joints must grow strong and the supporting muscles around them have to develop in order to support the burden which we are placing on them.
Now, at first this might sound a little bit scary but the truth is that this is what exercise is all about.
We put our bodies under more strain than they have during our day to day life in order to have them grow stronger.
This is exactly what happens to our joints as we are performing compound exercises.
The supporting muscles that surround them will grow and develop allowing us to exert steadily more and more force while under pressure.
This, in turn, will also help to further protect us from injury no matter what activity we are doing.
Whether it’s throwing a baseball or gardening in our backyards.
6) Many compound exercises require only minimal equipment or none at all
Another great aspect of compound exercises is that they require very little to no equipment to do.
Unlike many muscle isolating exercises, which involve Nautilus machines or benches, compound exercises only require something heavy or just your bodyweight to perform them.
Exercises such as push-ups, dips, pull-ups, and squats only require your own weight.
If you just did a few sets each of pull-ups, dips, and squats three times a week I’m pretty confident that you would be in better shape than about 80% of modern civilization.
As you grow stronger you can start to add weight with either kettlebells or dumbbells.
I personally prefer kettlebells as they work your stabilizing muscles and improve your grip strength more when doing the same exercise as opposed to dumbbells.
Kettlebells also open up a new range of ballistic style exercises, such as the kettlebell swing, which are fantastic for building a bulletproof body.
7) Compound exercises train your body to apply tremendous real world strength
Last, but certainly not least, exercising in this manner teaches and trains your body to exert serious force.
By learning how to use the largest and most powerful muscles in your body together you can safely use your bodies’ strength to its fullest potential.
If you spend your time strengthening your quads and hamstrings separately while sitting on a machine you are not only spending more time than you have to but also not teaching your body how to move properly.
Sure, the front and back of your legs will indeed get bigger but your joints and muscles will not be as balanced and this will translate into less real life strength and having an increased chance of injury than someone who just practiced squats.
By real life strength I mean that if your goal is to be able to jump higher, run faster, and lift heavier things then compound exercises will deliver significantly better results in far shorter a period of time.
So the next time you’re at the gym and trying to decide what to do peel your eyes away from all of the fancy machines and just focus on doing the basics well.
I promise that you won’t be disappointed.