Multi-joint exercises are those that involve the movement of two or more joints at the same time. In contrast, isolation exercises work a single muscle group and involve the movement of a single joint. An example of a multi-joint, or compound, exercise is the squat, whereas leg extensions are an isolation exercise. Both types of strength-training movements have benefits, but training with multi-joint exercises is more time-efficient.
By adding more compound exercises to your workout routine, you gain more benefits from a training session time since you’re working many muscles with only a single exercise. Plus, multiple-muscle movements like deadlifts are better for developing functional fitness because they enhance whole-body coordination and teach your muscles to work together as an integrated unit. Compound movements also burn calories faster than single-muscle workouts. For example, a single set of squats or deadlifts burns more calories per minute than leg extensions or biceps curls.
Now that you know why you need compound exercises in your strength-training routine, here are five that will give you the best return for your time investment.
Is the squat really the king of exercises? Some trainers think they are because few exercises work more muscle groups in the lower body than any other exercise. The squat is a multi-joint movement that targets the quadriceps in the front of the thighs, the hamstrings, and glutes muscles in the back of the thighs and hips, along with the calves.
As effective as they are, you shouldn’t make squats the only exercise you do for your quads. Include lunges, leg presses, or step-ups into your training routine to strengthen your quadriceps and work your lower body in a more balanced manner.
When you do lunges and lunge variations, you work multiple muscles in your lower body, including your quads and hamstrings. Lunges are more effective for building quadriceps strength than hamstring strength, but both muscle groups activate when you do a standard lunge. You can increase the activation of your hamstrings by slightly bending your torso as you lunge.
The walking lunge also shifts more focus to your hamstrings and increases the calorie burn. There are a number of lunge variations you can do to work your quads and hamstrings in a slightly different way. After mastering a standard lunge, try some lunge variations for increased challenge.
Deadlifts work more muscle groups than most other strength training movements because your upper and lower body muscles are active when you do this exercise. Also, when you deadlift, it boosts the release of fat-burning hormones, including growth hormone and testosterone that stimulate muscle growth and speed up fat loss. Since you work so many muscle groups, deadlifts are the biggest calorie burner of the strength-training exercises, especially if you use a heavy resistance. If you have back problems, do this exercise with caution or choose a deadlift variation that’s easier on your back, such as the sumo deadlift.
Don’t neglect your upper body muscles They need strengthening, too, and push-ups activate most of the muscles in your upper body without equipment. You only need a mat to do one and to target your chest and triceps, the muscles in the back of your arms that extend your arm behind you.
Push-ups mainly work your chest and triceps, but you can shift the emphasis toward your triceps by placing your hands closer than shoulder-width apart. Doing this also makes the exercise more challenging since you have to lower your body more with your hands close to reach the bottom of the movement. To increase the activation of your pectorals, the muscles in your chest, place your hands wider than shoulder-width apart.
Like lunges, there are push-up variations you can do too. When a standard push-up becomes too easy, elevate your feet on a platform or riser to make the exercise more challenging.
Although challenging when you first start out, dips are a highly effective movement for strengthening the triceps muscles in the back of the upper arm. To do one, simply place both hands on a bench to dip.
Once you master a basic dip, increase the challenge by elevating your feet on a platform or bench. If you don’t have the strength to do a standard dip, bend your knees when you first start out, but as with most exercises, increase the challenge over time by trying to straighten your legs while maintaining proper form.
Few exercises are as effective for building a firm, strong chest as the bench press. You can bench press using a machine or lie down on a bench and do the exercise with a single barbell or a dumbbell in each hand. Using a machine makes the movement easier, but your core doesn’t have to stabilize as much, so you won’t get as much core activation. Also, you won’t be able to work with as much weight if you don’t use a machine. Although the standard grip is a little wider than shoulder-width, bringing your hands closer makes a bench press harder while spreading them further apart makes it easier.
The Bottom Line
Add these compound movements to your strength-training routine. When you’re in a rush, compound exercises give you the most bang for your training buck. In fact, some trainers believe that you only need to do compound exercises.
However, isolation exercises, like biceps curls and leg extensions that work a single muscle group, are helpful when you want to isolate a muscle group. For example, your triceps muscles may lag the growth and strength gains of your biceps muscles. Therefore, doing biceps curls, an isolation exercise, isolates that muscle so it can catch up to your triceps. However, it’s more time expedient to focus the bulk of your strength-training time on compound exercises.
- On Fitness. September/October 2011.
- Front Physiol. 2017; 8: 1105.Published online 2017 Dec 22. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2017.01105
- com. “Bench Press Grip Guide: How Hand Placement Changes the Exercise”
- Sci-Fi.net. Scientific Recommendations for Strength and Hypertrophy Training from 150+ Studies”
Related Articles By Cathe: