Why are compound exercises so effective?

by connor whittall in Nutrition

Why are compound exercises so effectives? Well here’s the reasons why;

The resistance exercises you do in the gym can largely be divided into two different types: isolated and compound. Compound exercises are any movements that involve more than one joint, and use a large number of muscle groups, whereas isolated exercises only use one joint, and tend to focus on one muscle group. Take training chest as an example, where a compound exercise would be a bench press, as you are using your shoulders and elbows so you will be working your chest, as well as your anterior deltoid and triceps.


  1.  Burn more calories: Compound exercises will be using some of the biggest muscles in your body, and in order for these big muscle groups to keep working, they will need more energy than if you were using smaller muscle groups. Compare a deadlift with a hamstring curl, both exercises are targeting your hamstrings, however a deadlift will also require activation from your glutes, back, biceps, shoulders, forearms and your core.
    During your session all of these muscles will require blood flow so your heart rate will increase more than should you just be working a single muscle group, and then after your session during recovery, they will still be demanding more energy, which your body can get from food and fat stores.

       2. Compound exercises improve intermuscular coordination.
This is the function and timing of multiple muscles around a joint or joints. Consider, for example, the gluteal complex (gluteus maximus, medius and minimus), which is responsible for controlling motion of the hip. Compound exercises such as squats, lunges or steps that move the hips in all three planes can improve how all of the muscles work together to produce and control force.

3. Improve Muscular Balance; Isolation exercises are great, but sometimes you can easily over-train some body parts in relation to others, and this results in strength imbalances. With large compound movements, it helps ensure that large muscle groups are doing the hardest parts of the movement, and they are supported by secondary muscle groups.Take a bench press for example, you are mainly using your pectoral muscles, however your triceps are also being trained during the movement, as is your anterior deltoid to some extent.
With every day movements your muscles and joints need to work together, but isolation exercises they tend to work individual muscle groups only. For this reason large movements are crucial for every day strength and balance, and minimising injury risk as you strengthen your muscles appropriately in relation to one another.

4. Stimulate Greater Hormone Release: As these movement will be recruiting more muscle fibres than isolation exercises, your body will consequently release greater levels of hormones, particularly growth hormones such as testosterone. These hormones are responsible for repairing your body to help you improve the way you can deal with similar stimuli next time they occur. In this case, these hormones can help you to increase muscle mass and get stronger, than if you were training with isolation exercises alone. This is one of the reasons that training legs is so important, as they are huge muscles groups, the hormone release during leg sessions can help you to experience greater body changes all over.

5. Compound exercises elevate the heart rate and provide a cardiovascular training benefit.
The purpose of cardiovascular exercise is to improve the ability of the heart to function as a pump. This can be accomplished through activities such as running and cycling, or by doing exercises that involve a significant amount of muscle tissue. Sitting in a leg-extension machine doing knee extensions or performing biceps curls with dumbbells uses only a limited amount of muscle tissue; these exercises are more appropriate for focusing on isolated strength. Squats to shoulder presses, medicine ball chops or burpees are all examples of compound exercises that involve large amounts of muscle tissue, which challenges the heart to pump blood to keep the muscles fueled and active.

6. Compound exercises improve movement efficiency.
Have you ever noticed that body builders move robotically? This is because training only one muscle group at a time does not teach multiple muscle groups to coordinate their contractions and firing rates, which is how muscles actually contract. Compound exercises that involve large groups of muscles teach the muscles how to coordinate the firing of the motor units responsible for timing muscle contractions. Compound exercises can actually help your clients improve their movement skills and dynamic balance, which can actually help improve overall quality of life.

When to Use Compound Movements
Compound exercises depend on several muscle groups working together, so for this reason I will normally start my workout with compound movements. This is because I want my large muscles to be doing the work, and not be limited by smaller muscle groups failing first.

Having said that, a common technique used in resistance training is the ‘pre-exhaust’ method, which involves supersetting an isolation exercise prior to the compound exercise.

An example to hit your chest would be completing a set of flyes, and then benching immediately after. This will ensure that your chest will hit failure before your triceps do. Or if you alternatively wanted your triceps to reach failure first, you’d simple complete a set of cable pushdowns before your bench press.