Compound exercises explored
Now that we have explored isolation exercises, we will go into what compound exercises are, what they do and how they can benefit you.
What are compound exercises?
Compound exercises are multipoint exercises, meaning that they use more than one joint movement in order to be performed as well as focusing on multiple muscle groups. This form of exercise targets more muscles in a shorter period of time and results in a more exhausting yet often effective workout.
What are some examples of compound exercises?
The target muscle groups: Quads, hips, buttocks, calves and hamstrings
The squat is known as the king of lower body exercises. It is one of the best compound exercises to ever hit the gym, targeting the majority of your leg muscles in just one movement. As well as your legs, it will also strengthen you back muscles and stomach as you use these areas for balance.
How it’s done:
You can do a squat with or without a weight, an air squat is a squat without a weight. If you want to use a weight, normally a straight bar (loaded barbell) is used. Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, having your toes pointed outward slightly, as your arms will either be loose by your sides or holding the weight resting on your shoulders.
You will then engage your core while pushing your shoulder blades towards each other, resulting in your chest pushing out slightly.
Then, bend your knees as you push your bum (buttocks) as well as your hips out behind you, imagine you are about to sit on a chair, make sure your weight is on your heels and your knees do not go beyond your toes.
Carry on pushing your bum down and out, going as low as you can, ensuring your back has a nice inwards curve to it, and that your knees do not fall inward. Lift your arms up in front of you if you are doing an air squat.
Then squeeze your glutes and begin to straighten your legs as you come back up.
Lunge (with or without weights)
The target muscle groups: Quads, hips, buttocks, calves and hamstrings
Like the squat, lunges are the holy grail of workouts. Activating your entire lower body in one big step, they are great for shaping the glutes and also working the lower back and abs for balance.
How it’s done: Start by standing with your torso in an upright position as you hold two dumbbells – one in each hand (you can also do this with a loaded barbell resting on your shoulders). Keeping your hands at your sides (or on the loaded barbell if you’re using one), feet shoulder-width apart, take a big step forward with your right leg, leaving your left leg behind you. Bringing your left knee as close to the ground as you can get it, both your knees should be at a 90-degree angle, as you then bring your left leg forward to be in line with your right. That is one lunge.
You can either follow suit in a continuous stepping movement or if you have heavier weights or need a break, bring your feet together before each lunge. You can also vary the workout in stepping out with each leg at a wider angle, this engages your inner-thigh more.
Dumbbell shoulder press
The target muscle groups: Triceps, deltoids (upper shoulder muscles), biceps and pectorals (chest)
How it’s done: The exercise begins seated or standing. It is advised that if you are lifting heavier weights, you do this exercise seated as you will need the back support. Start by holding a dumbbell in each of your hands, placing them upright as they rest on your thighs.
Then, begin to raise the dumbbells, one at a time, to shoulder height, if they are lighter you may be able to raise them at the same time. Rotate your hands so that their palms are forward facing – this is now your starting position.
Exhale as you move from your starting position to pushing the weights upwards, until your arms are extended and the weights touch above your head.
Pause for a second and then inhale as you lower them back to the starting position.
The target muscle groups: Lower back, glutes, quads, calves and upper neck muscles
Named a ‘deadlift’ as you are picking up a dead weight (even though all free weights are dead weights), it is known as a technical lift compound exercise and is often used in bodybuilding competitions. If you can get the technique right, it is a great way of strengthening your lower back and legs.
How it’s done: This can be done with either a straight bar (loaded barbell) or with a dumbbell in each hand, with the top of your hand facing forward as you grip the weight/s. The most important thing to ensure in this exercise is that you do not allow your back to round – this can cause serious damage to your lower back. For the sake of this explanation, we will explain the exercise using a bar, however, it is performed in the same way using two dumbbells.
Start by holding the bar with your hands, legs bent, it will be raised off the ground due to the weights on either side. Standing with your feet halfway under the bar or dumbbells, not letting the bar touch your shins. Grab the bar, bending your knees over it, gripping it shoulder-width apart. Keeping your arms vertical as you look ahead.
Begin to straighten your back as you raise/lift your chest. Keep your position. You can also keep your legs straight for this exercise and bend until you feel a slight pull on your hamstrings and return to standing straight.
Now, take a deep breath and breathe out as your stand up, pulling the weight with you. Keeping the bar in close contact with your legs as you pull. When you are in an upright position, do not lean back or shrug, lock your knees and hips. Then return the weight slowly by unlocking them as you inhale. As you move your hips back, lower the bar, lowering it passed your knees. At this point, bend your legs more. Lower the bar to the floor. This was one rep.
Romanian single-leg deadlift with row
The target muscle groups: Same as deadlift, as well as abdominals, arms upper back
There are a number of ways in which you can vary a deadlift, such as the single-leg Romanian deadlift.
How it’s done: Here, you will have one dumbbell or kettlebell in one hand at a time. Start with feet shoulder-width apart, holding the weight in your right hand. Lift your right foot off the ground as you hinge at the waist and begin to lean forward with a straight back. Your right arm should fall naturally forward, when you are low enough, pull the weight towards your chest, keeping a straight line with the movement. Return to standing position.
Plank with leg lift
The target muscle groups: Glutes, abdominals, lower back and shoulders
This compound exercise is great because you can do it with no weights or equipment and therefore it can be done in the comfort of your home. The infamous ‘plank’ is a workout that is simple yet effective, and when combining this with a leg lift, it makes the exercise all the more rewarding.
How it’s done: Begin in the position of a side of a plank. Using a mat, rest in your elbows and forearms which are on the mat, then extend your legs outwards as you position yourself onto your toes. Keep your back straight and do not let your stomach fall to the ground. Then, when you are comfortable with this, lift your right leg off the mat and engage your core. Hold this for as long as you can, preferably a minute, then bring your leg down and repeat on the other side.