Then you need to stop wasting your time with isolation exercises and base your weight training program around compound exercises.
What is a compound exercise?
A compound exercise is one that targets more than one muscle group.
Take the deadlift for example. This mass gaining exercise is wrongly thought of a back exercise. It’s not. Yes your back muscles are put under immense strain and are probably the major muscle group used, but the deadlift requires a herculean effort on your ENTIRE posterior chain. Your calves, hamstrings, glutes, lower back, lats, deltoids, traps and core are all responsible for heaving that weight off the floor.
Compare that with a traditional isolation exercise such as the bicep curl. The bicep curl is an effective exercise, there’s no denying that. You can get some serious lactic acid burn going in your guns with 10 reps of these bad boys. But it only works one muscle – your biceps. A tiny amount of work when compared to the full body workout you get from the deadlift.
Imagine a straight line with the label ‘Isolation’ at the far left and ‘Compound’ at the far right. All exercises fall along this scale. The more muscle groups used in the exercise, the further it is to the right along the line.
A bicep curl would be at the far left – purely isolation. The deadlift would be pretty much at the far right – one of the best compound exercise you can do. A dumbbell row, which is mainly a back exercise but also works the bicep would probably fall somewhere near the middle.
You should be doing compound exercises if…
Isolation exercises will probably get you to your goal quicker if you:
- Are a competitive body builder
- Are taking steroids
- Are a competitive athlete and need to work on one aspect of your game.
- Already have as much muscle mass as you want but need to speed up development and fine tune a lagging body part.
However, I suspect you do not fall into any of the above categories and you still have over 10 pounds of muscle to gain, and/or have a body fat percentage higher than 10% and are trying to lose fat and lean out. If that’s true then compound exercises should make up the majority of your training program.
What makes compound exercises so effective?
1. More muscle damage
Compound exercises stimulate more muscle fibres than isolation exercises. In a 30 minute workout you can stress many more muscles than with 30 minutes of isolation work – and more damaged muscle fibres means more growth potential when your body repairs them.
2. Strength building
You can lift more weight in a compound exercise. More weight means more strengh. And you want to be big AND strong, don’t you?
3. Stimulate growth hormone
Putting immense stress on your body by recruiting many motor neurons to lift heavy weights forces your body to adapt. Your body releases HGH (human growth hormone) into your bloodstream, which is responsible for…well, growth. Not only will this make the muscles your working bigger, but the ones you don’t work too. Hence the famous quote “If you want big biceps, you have to squat”.
4. Burn more calories
One rep of a compound exercise uses more energy than an isolation exercise (due to larger forces involved). This is perfect if you want to lose fat because we all know getting lean is about creating a daily calorie deficit. Performing compound exercises mean you won’t have to go for a run or sit on a bike like a cardio junkie to get a six pack.
5. Reflect real life
How often do you do a bicep curl outside the gym? Very rarely I’m guessing. But how often do you have to pick something up off the floor, or climb stairs, or lift a heavy object onto a shelf? Those are all examples of compound exercises in the real world. Building FUNCTIONAL strength in the gym will not only make you look like you were an extra in the movie ‘300’ but is also USEFUL in the real world.
6. Future proof yourself
Compound exercises use the little muscles you wouldn’t normally train in isolation. They build strong core and stabiliser muscles that will keep you healthy and active into old age. No knee pain, no back ache, even when your peers start suffering.
7. Train you energy systems
Compound exercises develop your anaerobic and ATP-PC (phospohgen) energy systems. These are the two energy systems designed to provide you with energy when no oxygen is present – or more precisely – when you body cannot produce energy quickly enough due to lack of oxygen. That’s why you reach failure after just a few reps when using heavy weight. As a by product of using these energy systems during weight training, you increase your VO2 max. When you go play sports or even do low intensity activity that uses your aerobic energy system, you’ll perform better.
Caveats of compound exercise training
Like everything, you must do things in moderation. Be careful of over training when you are doing multiple full or half body workouts that consist of compound exercises. Your body takes longer to recover between workouts. Limit them to 3 per week, giving yourself 48 hours to recover.
Also, keep the number of exercises you do low. Three compound exercises per workout is enough to grow big and strong. Obviously you must get the training volume correct by playing with set and rep schemes – but that’s a whole other article.
It’s OK to throw in a few isolation exercises here and there – just make the MAJORITY of your exercises choices are compound.
I highly recommend that you start out with a training program designed by a professional. Chad Waterbury has never failed me in the past and I really respect his work. His programs are designed around compound exercises and you’ll get great results if you follow them. You can find a list of all Chad Waterbury programs here.
Get started today with your exercise and diet regimen and watch your body transformation happen. You won’t regret it.