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The Power of Compound Movements

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There are two main types of movements in weight training, isolation exercises and compound movements. Isolation exercises target one specific muscle group and only involve movement in one joint and rarely challenge the cardiovascular system, a good example would be a bicep curl. The bicep is the target muscle, and the only movement occurs in the elbow joint. These are great exercises and should be a part of any fitness program. However, compound movements offer vastly greater returns on your efforts. Today we will explore the physiological benefits of compound movements.
A compound movement is any weight bearing exercise that involves movement in multiple joints of the body, hence recruiting multiple muscle groups. Some examples would be: the push up and bench press, deadlift, squat, overhead press, pull ups and all variations of cleans. If you’re already familiar with Crossfit, you’re probably realizing that compound movements are the backbone of our training philosophy. The same applies to many other styles of weightlifting, including Olympic lifting, Powerlifting, and Bodybuilding.

So why are compound movements so popular across different styles of training? First and foremost because they recruit vastly more muscle tissue. Rather than focusing on a singular muscle, compound movements require 2 or more major muscle groups to perform the exercise. Many compound movements involve much more than 2 muscle groups as well. Take the deadlift as an example. Arguably the king of compound movements, the deadlift’s major muscle recruitment occurs in the Hamstrings, Glutes, Core, and Traps. It doesn’t stop there though, grip strength is a necessity so the forearms are activated. Stability in your base activates the calves and stability in the core activates the abdominals, obliques, erector spinae and hip flexors. The result is a movement that reaps massive rewards.
The benefits of compound movements are not just limited to muscular growth. Recruiting multiple muscle groups to work together to perform an exercise requires a lot of blood and oxygen. That’s right! Compound movements are great for cardiovascular and respiratory health as well. VO2 max is a measure of the maximum volume of oxygen that an athlete can use. You guessed it, compound movements will help you increase your VO2 max, something that will improve your athletic performance in all other areas!
Whether your goals are weight loss, or muscle growth compound movements will help you achieve those goals. These exercises force your body to perform in incredible ways. As such, they burn massive amounts of calories. If your goal is to lose weight, lighter loads and higher rep volume should be your strategy. If you goal is growth or strength heavier loads and lower volume are more appropriate. Compound movements also help with hormone production. Both testosterone and growth hormone levels will naturally increase with a training program that focuses on compound movements. These hormones help burn fat, encourage lean muscle development, and anti-aging properties. Compound movements can also help prevent injury. When executed properly they will help build strong joints by developing the tensile strength of ligaments and tendons. There is also evidence that weight training can help with fracture prevention by increasing bone density and through skeletal muscle development.

Lastly, compound movements are highly FUNCTIONAL movements. They mimic things we do every day, like picking the kids up off the ground, putting things up on shelves, pushing a car or moving a piece of furniture, and climbing stairs. Most people aren’t training to look like Arnold, they just want to feel better about themselves, be healthier, and have a better quality of life. Compound movements can make that a reality!
So to wrap it up, whether you’re a casual beginner or an experienced athlete compound movements provide a wide range of benefits and should be a part of your training program. At Crossfit Preferred we can help you learn how to properly execute these movements and incorporate them into a regular training program to help you achieve your fitness goals!