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Workout Smarter With Compound Exercises

Written by Gabriel Pisanu, Exercise Physiologist at Croydon Park. Article published October 2018

Compound Exercises and Exercise Efficiency

Compound Exercise

Within the last few weeks, I have decided to reflect on some of the outcomes of my clients’ goal reviews. It made me realise that people exercise for so many different reasons. Some people exercise to lose weight, people exercise to reduce chronic pain, people exercise for aesthetic purposes. Whatever the reason, with the majority of clients that see an Exercise Physiologist through Optimum Health Solutions is due to the fact they need help to manage their lifestyle. One of the major barriers people bring up to exercise adherence is a lack of time. Below I will explain one exercise related strategy to help make exercise more efficient, by reducing the total time it takes to hit every major muscle group in your body through compound movements.

A compound movement can be defined as a movement that requires the use of multiple joints to perform it. For example, during a squat, the hips, knees and ankles all play a major role. Another form of movement that you might have come across is an isolation movement. This type of movement only requires one joint to perform. For example, a bicep curl only requires you to flex at the elbow. No other joint here is required to be a prime mover to perform this exercise.

So why am I telling you all this? Well, the main reason is to enhance workout/training efficiency. If we can hit most muscles in the body with 3 exercises, why bother spending 2 hours in the gym for 15 exercises? It is possible to burn through a similar amount of calories through compound movements in a much shorter time frame.

Your muscles work together to move joints through a range of motion to perform a compound movement. Unless you are a bodybuilder or undergoing specialised rehabilitation, there is no major need to isolate individual muscles in order for them to become stronger or grow. The main compound movements that research has shown to improve all physiological aspects associated with resistance training are:

  1. Vertical Push: For example a seated shoulder press. The major muscles worked being those in your shoulder and triceps (back of the arm).
  2. Horizontal push: For example a bench press. The major muscles worked being your chest muscles, front shoulders and triceps.
  3. Vertical Pull: For example, a lat pull-down. The major muscles worked here are your upper back and biceps (front of arm).
  4. Horizontal Pull: For example a seated row. The major muscles are very similar to a vertical pull, however, due to joints moving at different angles, you are recruiting muscle fibres in a different way.
  5. Hip Dominant: For example a hip hinge. The major muscles being worked are the glutes, hamstrings and lower back.
  6. Knee Dominant: For example a squat. The major muscles being worked are the quadriceps (thighs).
  7. Single Leg: For example, a single leg sit-to-stand. By going onto one leg, it requires far more proprioception by an individual and as a result, many of the smaller stabilising muscles in the lower limb must be recruited to stabilise the movement which adds an additional benefit of improving balance.

The next instance where you think time is the main barrier for you not participating in a bout of exercise, have a think about the exercises you are doing and whether you are getting the biggest bang for your buck, especially when time is limited. For a free initial assessment and other ways to implement these principles, contact your nearest Optimum Health Solutions studio today.

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