Have you spent hours in the gym doing isolation exercises and yet don’t seem to be making any progress? There’s a simple reason. You’re doing it wrong.

Though isolation exercises have gained a lot of popularity, mainly because they are fairly easy, they are really only good for supplementing the true champion exercises: compound movements.

Though isolation exercises are beneficial for targeting specific muscles they do not create the same kind of systemic stress that compound movements do. Stressing a system of muscles creates a hormonal release that stimulates muscle growth.

Compound, or multiple-joint, movements also work more muscle overall, which eliminates the need to perform excessive isolation exercises. This means you can maximize gym time and avoid wasting precious hours in the gym.

Because multiple-joint movements closely resemble how muscles function in real life, they help build practical strength. This leads to greater efficiency of movement in everything from work to sports.

For those concerned with losing fat, compound movements aid with that goal. They require abundant energy and force the heart to work harder. With shortened rest time, this turns resistance training into high-intensity interval training, and metabolic rate is elevated.

Now it’s time for some examples. The five compound exercises that I am going to share with you are not the only ones that exist. There are many compound exercises worth incorporating in your workout.

First up is dips. Dips are one of the oldest and most effective compound movements. They are also often overlooked. That’s a shame because they target shoulders, chest and triceps simultaneously.

They can be adjusted to emphasize chest or triceps, though both muscle groups get worked either way. However, a forward lean with elbows flared out will place more stress on the chest while keeping elbows tucked into the body will work the triceps harder.

Reverse-grip bent-over barbell rows are a mouthful to say are a key component in building a thick, muscular back. The lift incorporates all the back muscles, from traps to lower back muscles.

It’s effective because it creates tension through the entire body. Legs and stabilizer muscles are engaged even though they are not involved in the dynamic portion of the exercise.

Bench press is the king of upper body movements. This is because the compound exercise doesn’t just target muscles in the chest. It also develops shoulders, triceps and even back muscles.

When focusing on lowering the weight with slow control, bench press promotes upper body muscle growth than any other exercise. It’s might not as easy the fly machine, but it is far more efficient.

Squats are king for the lower body. Total systemic stress in the legs is accomplished, front and back. The muscle building benefits for lower body can’t be replicated by any other exercise.

Squats also involve core development more than any other compound movement because of the stabilization required. Even upper back, chest and shoulders are worked while performing barbell squats.

Finally, the reigning total body exercise is the deadlift. Deadlifts literally work the body from head to toe. With total body systemic stress induced, muscle growth is easily stimulated. The lift is often left out because it is difficult, but avoiding it directly hampers the ability to make progress.

For instruction on how to perform these compound movements with proper form, as well as other compound movements that can benefit you, I recommend consulting a personal trainer. For more information on personal training, contact Kylie Holley at the Hamilton Recreation Center.

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Chris DeLeon
Chris DeLeon is a certified personal trainer and military veteran. He is in his second year at CMU, working towards a bachelor of science degree in exercise science before going towards a doctorate in physical therapy . Chris began writing seven years ago, penning four published novels under the name Lee Daniel, but only recently brought his love of the written word to journalism. He joined the Criterion staff in the fall of 2016 and accepted the position of News Editor for the fall of 2017.

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