7 compound exercises that will help you lose weight and build muscle
So you’ve started at the gym and you’re aiming to see some big changes over the next few weeks and months. If that’s the case, you’re likely to be building your workouts around exercises that’ll see you both losing weight and gaining muscle, either at the same time or in sequence – by bulking and shredding.
But what if we told you there’s a particular type of exercise that’s extra effective at achieving those goals?
Compound exercises are the best way to get the most out of time-limited gym sessions. But what do they involve, and why do they produce better results?
What are compound exercises?
Every exercise you do, whether that’s lifting a barbell or taking to the treadmill, falls into one of two categories. These are:
- Isolation exercise - any exercise which involves only one joint and one major muscle is trained in itself
- Compound movement – any exercise that involves 2 or more joints and more than one muscle group.
While isolation exercises are great if you’re wanting to target and see progress on a particular part of your body, there’s no doubting that compound exercises are more efficient, particularly since you’ve only got 45 – 60 minutes to make the most of the gym.
Take, for example, the squat and the calf raise. A calf raise is pretty much the best workout your calves can get, but they don’t do much – if anything at all – for the rest of your body. Meanwhile, a session of squats will see you work your core, glutes, quads, hamstrings and loads of other smaller muscles. By doing just a few different compound exercises, you could end up having trained your entire body, something that’s been proven to have a number of benefits, including:
- Improved muscle strength
- Increase in muscle mass, which in turn increases metabolism
- Greater increases in your growth hormones
- Maximal oxygen consumption
The benefits of compound exercises seem pretty clear cut. So, where to get started? The good news is that they’re really easy to do, requiring just a little space and a dumbbell or weight at most. Here’s our list of compound exercises for you to try.
The deadlift sits somewhere between back and compound leg exercises. It even works the back and shoulders which is why it makes for a superb all-rounder. You actually do deadlifts all the time in day-to-day life, every time you bend down to pick something up or tie your shoelaces. However, in the gym you’ll want to add a barbell or a pair of dumbbells in your hands to provide some extra resistance.
As we mentioned above, squats make for a great all-body workout. They’re excellent at toning the lower body and building strength generally, often referred to as “The King of Compound Leg Exercises” for their impact on the quads, glutes and hamstrings. But they’ll also work your core and back, particularly when you up the ante and hold a kettlebell in your hands as you perform them.
Compound exercises for arms don’t get much more effective than this. It’s certainly among the best uses for a barbell, and most of those experienced at these will you tell they’re pretty fun, as far as things go! Barbell thrusters combine a full front squat and an overhead shoulder press, you work all the major muscles in your leg and core first, followed by your upper body and shoulders during the press motion. The strenuous nature of this one makes it an excellent calorie burning exercise.
Yes – this fitness stalwart really is one of the best compound exercises you can do. Ideal if it’s compound bicep exercises you seek, press ups are super easy to get the hang of, and there’s a good chance you're familiar with them already. Using multiple muscle groups to perform, you’ll get a great workout with lots of calories burned and your blood pumping. Expect to see great results for your shoulders, chest, core and hips.
While they’re a real go-to if you’re targeting your legs and bum in general, add the extra resistance of a dumbbell and your lunges will give your glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves and core a real challenge. Lunges are what’s known as unilateral exercises, meaning they work one side of your body at a time. These come with the added bonus that they’ll help improve your balance and stability, boosting your effectiveness at other exercises and giving you better stability for day-to-day life.
Decline sit ups
Sit ups are considered a staple ab exercise many people are familiar and are great for working multiple ab muscles in one move but to give your sit ups a real compound upgrade, take it to the bench. By working on an incline with your head lower than your knees, you’ll make your sit ups much more challenging and involve lots of lower body muscles as you work to stabilise yourself on the slope.
Seated hammer curls
These are an excellent option if you’re interested in compound movements for arms. As you perform the hammer motion, you’ll give your biceps and forearms a tough workout, building strength and muscle mass in the process. However, by remaining in a seated position, you put pressure on your core for stability. If you have an exercise ball you can take this one further – with additional balance required, you can put the effort right down into your quads.