Compound exercises are those that involve more than one joint and more than one muscle group throughout the range of their motion.
Examples of compound exercises are:
- Squats (with barbell and dumbbells)
- Leg Press
- Barbell Bench Press, Dumbbell Bench Press (flat, incline, decline)
- Close Grip Bench Press
- Pull ups/Chin ups
- Military Press/Shoulder Press
- Dips (triceps and lower chest version)
just to name the most common and effective.
Compound vs. Isolation
I personally say that squats is the king of all the exercises and should be present in your workout program, no matter what.
It involves several muscle groups, including the biggest muscle in your body: your quads.
Beside quads, when you perform squats you work on your core, abs and back, because you need to keep them tight in order to perform the exercise in the correct form.
You use your glutes, hamstrings, calves as well.
You can see that with one exercise only you work out all your lower body muscles, and part of your core.
We will discuss each of the major compound exercises separately, but what I want to explain here is that you should focus on these if your goal is to gain strength and build muscle mass.
The more fibres you involve and stress during your workout, the more mass you will build.
The reason is simple, if you focus on one specific isolation exercise that involves one muscle, your body will work to make that muscle grow. If you work out more muscles your body will make all of them grow.
Bodybuilders choose these types of exercises because they know that they produce RESULTS.
Imagine the difference between squats and leg extensions. They both train your quads as primary muscle group, but the big difference is in the secondary muscles that are involved.
Full body exercises that train secondary muscles can effectively replace isolation exercises and save you lots of time at the gym.
You can leave isolation exercises as complementary exercises, if you have time.
You have probably heard somebody saying that if you do squats regularly then your biceps will get bigger too.
That might sound crazy and you probably asked yourself "How is that possible since biceps are not involved in squats?". If that wasn't you, for sure it was me. I thought it was a stupid joke.
Years after, when I started studying how hormones work in our body, I realized that it wasn't a joke, but a fact.
Compound exercises stress a huge amount of muscle fibres, much more than several other exercises together.
Your body, as a result, always tries to adapt to the changes and therefore starts a process that has the purpose to increase the strength and the mass of those muscles by increasing your testosterone level (testosterone is the male hormone responsible of sexual and muscular/bone development).
A higher level of testosterone results in an increased development of muscles in your whole body, even if you don't work out certain specific muscles.
When you have a decent mass you can then opt for isolation exercises to work on the shape of your biceps, triceps or whatever you would like to define more.
Every 3 months I use to follow a program that consists of these multi-muscle workouts only. I end up with fewer exercises per session, I save time and especially I don't get bored.
Trust me, sometimes it's nice to go to the gym and have only 3 or 4 exercises to do.
I call it psychological recovery time.
Man, if you go to the gym too often or if every time you give 100% you will end up hating the gym.
Take a recovery week once a month, a week where you just use weights that are 60/70 percent of your usual sets. You will avoid stressing your joints too much which results in avoiding bad injuries later.
Plus, you'll come back to the gym the following week with the same excitement that you should always have!