Compound Exercises

Why Compound Exercises Are Important

Compound exercises aren't really a special exotic exercise format. Most of the time when we exercise, we do compound exercises. When working on a specific muscle, or muscle group, for example doing biceps curls to strengthen the biceps, the exercise is called an isolation exercise. Isolation exercises are important when trying to strengthen a particular muscle, such as when recovering from an injury. A weakened muscle often has to be worked and retrained to restore muscular balance, since when a muscle is injured or weakened other muscles attempt to compensate, and will continue to do so until the weakened muscle is built up again.

One could in theory work every major muscle and muscle system in the body by doing isolation exercises. Though effective, this would be extremely time consuming and not terribly efficient. Body builders do many isolation exercises, for a purpose, but do compound exercises as well.

Compound exercises are exercises that work several muscle groups as the same time. Walking or jogging are compound exercises. Swimming is an excellent example of a compound exercise, as is most any gymnastic routine.

Athletes in training, usually rely mostly on compound exercises, but complement them with at least a few isolation exercises to work specific muscles. When setting your own training regimen it's a good idea to ask a personal trainer what combination of compound exercises and isolation exercises might work best for you.

Squats - In classes devoted to stretching, flexing, and balance, compound exercises are often done very slowly, which serves to give a variety of muscles and joints a powerful workout. Consider the simple squat. If done slowly, the slower the better, the quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and calves, as well as the major abdominal and lower back muscles all come into play, and are all exercised. Twenty squats done rapidly may leave one a little short of breath, but the muscles aren't working hard as momentum is assisting the upward movement. Twenty squats done very slowly will probably be felt the next day, especially in the legs and abdomen.

Here are three compound exercises that can form the basis for an excellent workout, adding the squat as a fourth exercise:

The Lunge, which is a giant step, usually done while holding light weights, such as dumbbells at the sides. Lunges are done by taking a giant step forward (like Simon says), bending the knee in the process and bending the back knee as well by balancing on the toes of the rear foot. The forward knee should never extend beyond a line down to the toes, as this is unnecessarily hard on the knee. One can then either step back to the starting position and then move the other leg forward, or simply bring the other leg forward in another giant step, and continue "walking" with giant steps. If you haven't done lunges before, you probably won't walk too far the first time. In time you can go farther, using heavier weights, but start light and don't overdue it.

The Lunge with a Twist is a variation of the above exercise. Instead of holding weights, hold an exercise ball with both hands and lunge, taking a giant step as before. After completing the step, twist your torso. This gives the abdominal muscles a terrific workout. Don't twist before the step is completed, as you want to twist from the hips, not the knee. When first doing the lunge with a twist, use the lightest exercise ball you can find, or none at all until you get the hang of it.


Push Ups are one of the best total body exercises, and there are a number of variations one can do. Push ups are sometimes done rapidly and other times excruciatingly slowly, both ways serving a purpose.

Start with a standard push up. With your palms flat on the floor and fingers facing forward, straighten your arms until your body is in an incline or plank position, with your weight equally on your palms and your toes. To give your arm muscles a different workout, do push ups with your wrist twisted so your fingers point outward to the sides, or point inward towards each other, or if you are flexible enough, point backwards. If you want to be a bit macho, raise up on your knuckles instead of on the palms of your hands.

Exhale through your mouth or nose when pushing up, and inhale through your nose when lowering your body. Raise your body slowly and lower it slowly as well. You'll find lowering slowly is more difficult, usually much more so. Remember not to lock your elbows at the top position. Keep them slightly bent.

If you want to work upon balance a bit, and give your abdominal muscles a more varied workout, do pushups on a stability ball or exercise ball. The ball doesn't have to be large; a soccer-ball size would be about right.

These basic compound exercises will take you a long ways.