Gym addicts eagerly spend countless hours pumping iron and exhausting themselves on weightlifting machines, all in the hope of gaining a muscular body worthy of so many magazine covers. Although they will see changes in their body and enjoy boosted strength and endurance, few people realise that a typical gym workout is ineffective compared to other exercises. Compound exercises are key to building pure strength and creating a natural, lean looking body. Incorporating them into a workout session will reward fitness enthusiasts with noticeable gains in strength and muscle.
What Are Compound Exercises?
Many weightlifting exercises only target one joint and one muscle or muscle group. Popular exercises like the bicep curl are guilty of this, as are many weightlifting machines in gyms. This type of exercise is called an isolation exercise. Few joint movements are required, and the range of motion is small. Those who have workout routines that consist entirely of isolation exercises will find it difficult to train every muscle in their body, and it is an inefficient way to exercise. Conversely, compound exercises work several muscles at a time. Entire muscle groups are engaged, and the movement is not constrained to one joint or muscle. Compound exercises are a better way to build strength and train the entire body when exercising.
The squat is perhaps the most effective of all compound exercises, but it is also one of the most difficult to perform with correct technique. The squat is an extremely powerful full-body exercise, training the hips, buttocks and leg muscles such as the thighs, hamstrings and quads. The exercise is vital to building core strength.
To perform a squat, load a barbell onto a squat rack, just above shoulder height. Grasp the bar with a wide grip and dismount it so it rests on the back of your shoulders. Facing forward and keeping the back straight, descend slowly toward the floor as if you are sitting down on a chair. Your knees should be pointed forward in the same direction as the feet. Descend until you are past parallel with your thighs and then push upwards to stand up straight, keeping your heels on the floor at all times. It is best to practice the technique with a light weight at first, and observe your form in the mirror if possible.
One of the most common upper body exercises, gyms are typically full of people performing some sort of bench press. It is an excellent compound exercise, as it trains the shoulder and arm muscles, as well as the chest.
Lying flat on a bench looking upwards, place yourself underneath the bar so it is positioned above the chest. Keeping your feet on firmly on the ground, grasp the bar with a wide overhand grip, with your arms at an angle of about 45 degrees to your body. Push up to lift the bar off the bench, and inhale as you bring it down towards your chest. Exhale with a deep breath as you extend your arms straight up, pushing the bar toward the ceiling.
Another core compound exercise, the deadlift is excellent for training the lower back and core muscles, as well as the legs and hips. It will feel like your entire body is being used to lift the weight off the ground.
To perform a deadlift, position your feet under a barbell that is resting on the ground. The barbell should have large plates on, to minimise the distance between the bar and your grip. Squat down and grab the bar with a shoulder wide, overhand grip. Keeping the bar close to your body, lift it by extending your hips and knees so that they are straight. Your back should also go straight as you stand up out of the squatting position and the bar comes up past the legs toward the hips at waist height. To perform another repetition, squat down and place the barbell in the starting position.