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Ditch Isolation Exercises for Compound Moves

December 12th, 2009 No comments

Build more muscle in a lot less time

I've been thinking about my criticism of isolation exercises and I think I should say something more about a better way. Below are some ideas on compound exercises.

When you’re in the gym, moving monotonously from one machine to the next, you might be wondering if there’s a faster way to get fit. All you have to do is ask - any personal trainer worth his or her salt will tell you there is. Incorporate compound strength training exercises into your routine and you’ll soon find out why multi-joint moves are favored by the enviably fit.

What is a compound exercise?
Instead of working just one muscle, as an isolation exercise does, compound exercises often work two or more at the same time. They also take the body through more than one joint movement. A bicep curl is considered an isolation move, because it targets only the biceps. The clean and jerk (a very advanced move) on the other hand, works almost every muscle and joint in the body.

Which is better, compound or isolation?
Isolation exercises are great for bodybuilders and fitness athletes, or for anyone wanting to target a specific muscle. When rehabbing an injury or dealing with a muscle imbalance, isolation exercises may be what’s required.

But most people don’t have the same goals as bodybuilders, so why should they follow the same strategy? Compound exercises help us build strength evenly over our entire bodies. They let us work more muscle groups in a shorter amount of time, which is great for the average person who has to juggle a full-time job, family life and fitness.

Why compound exercises are better
They save time - If the length of your typical strength training session allows you to complete 10 different exercises and you choose all isolation, you’ll only be working about 10 muscles total. If your 10 moves are compound you can easily work 30 or more muscles in one session!
They allow you to build more muscle - The more muscles you work, the more new muscle you’ll gain when they repair themselves. And as I’ve mentioned, more muscle equals a higher metabolism.
They burn more calories - The calorie burn you get when doing one-muscle exercises, such as bicep curls (biceps) or leg extensions (quads), is nothing compared to an exercise that requires you to use your legs, butt, abs and arms all at once.
They mimic real-life movements - When you bend down and pick up one of your kids, or reach up to a top shelf to pull down a heavy box of Christmas ornaments, several of your muscles and joints are working together. Compound exercises better prepare you for these tasks because they also require simultaneous movement in more than one joint and draw strength from more than one muscle group.

Examples of compound exercises
Squat - This, my favorite of all the compound exercises, works the glutes, lower back, hamstrings and calves. To step it up a notch try to barbell squat which involves even more of your body’s muscles.
Lunge - Not only does this lower body move really hit your quads and glutes, it also requires balance that can only come from a number of stabilizer muscles working together.
Push-up - There’s a reason push-ups are hard, they work a lot of muscles. For the upper body push-ups hit the chest, shoulders and triceps. When you do full push-ups (on your toes) your lower body is also getting a workout. Core stabilizer muscles hold your body steady throughout.
Bench Press - Your upper body will thank you for this one, which along with squats and deadlifts is considered one of the three kings of bodybuilding. But don’t worry, the amount of weight you’ll be lifting and the amount of time you’ll be performing it isn’t nearly enough to make you actually look like a bodybuilder. It works the pecs, delts and triceps.
Deadlift - This one works the upper and lower body, and it’s one of the best for targeting the butt as long as you make sure to squeeze your glutes. Deadlifts work the back, shoulders and legs.