Designing an effective functional strength training program, requires several key components to ensure you get the results you want. Compound movements engage multiple muscles groups and joints at the same time and provide a myriad of additional benefits as compared to isolation exercises, which put a specific emphasis on only one muscle group.
What Are Compound Movements
Functional strength training incorporates compound movements; multi-jointed movements, which require more than one muscle group to be used throughout an exercise. Common compound movements such as squats, deadlifts, and push press can improve mobility, strength, and functionality. Function translates to purpose, therefore, functional training and compound movements have a specific purpose of movement. These types of exercises, mimic specific movement patterns used for everyday activities such as hip rotation, muscle stabilizers, flexor muscles, and ensure your joints are moving through a full range of motion.
Compound movements require free weights. Machines are great for isolation movements, and do have their place, however the entire purpose of compound movements are to build more functional strength with intent.
5 Proven Compound Movement Benefits
The benefits of compound movement exercises have to do with how many muscles are targeted at once. Compound movements recruit several muscle groups and joints simultaneously, as you progress through the movements, providing additional benefits for functional strength, mobility, posture, and core strength. Compound movements specifically target the hamstrings, glutes, quadriceps, shoulders, chest, back, stabilizing muscles, as well as increase core your strength, total body strength, mobility, and hip flexor strength and range of motion.
1. Compound Movements Build More Muscle And Strength
Compound movements incorporate multiple muscle groups, therefore, providing more muscle fiber recruitment, to develop and build more mass. Compound movements recruit joints and muscles to work in unison of one another, optimizing more body function for further muscle protein synthesis. When building more muscle, strength will directly follow with a periodized strength training program incorporating these exercise movements.
2. Compound Movements Improve Mobility
It’s true that if you don’t move it, you will lose it. Mobility is an often-overlooked aspect of training and functionality. Mobility is crucial, especially as we age. If you incorporate functional movements into your training, you’ll strengthen your body as a collective unit, which will improve stability, posture, and balance. Isolated movements such as leg extensions, only work the quadricep, which in real life, rarely ever happens. Any movement with your legs, such as walking, squatting, or running utilizes multiple muscle groups such as your glutes, hamstrings, and core. Isolated movements, will only utilize that specific targeted muscle, without exercising your joints full range of motion. Squatting and deadlifting, will put your body into a position that utilizes your joints, stabilizing muscles, and core muscles, and improve total functionality.
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3. Compound Movements Improve Muscular Imbalances
Muscular imbalances develop over time as we progress through life. Small imbalances are created from certain lifestyle factors found in our environment such as sleeping on one side, working at a desk in a certain position, and carrying your bag on a preferred shoulder. They can also occur from rehabbing old injuries, poor exercise form, and only using weight machines, with no exercise variability. Your body is composed of several intra-operating components that are co-dependent of each other. If one component is slightly mis-aligned, it causes a disruption to the entire system, creating overcompensation of supporting muscle groups. For example, if your hip is tight, it will affect your quads, hamstrings, and distal knee, making it nearly impossible for your body to perform while running or walking putting you at risk for injury.
Compound movements require mental focus, core strength, stability, coordination, and balance. Compound movements are bilateral exercises, which use each side of your body independently, creating more force, and core stability, to develop strength, gradually correcting for muscular and postural imbalances. Isolated movements do not take imbalances into account. Exercise machines can actually exacerbate muscular imbalances, since a stronger muscle group can overcompensate for a weaker one.
Although isolated movements can increase muscular imbalance, isolation movements should be used in conjunction with functional training, to correct an imbalances by strengthening a weaker muscle group.
4. Compound Movements Burn More Calories
If the goal is body recomp and aesthetics, compound movements will burn more calories as compared to an isolate movement. Because compound movements incorporate multiple muscle groups, they require more muscle fiber recruitment, and energy, also known as calories, to complete. Burning more calories, will help you achieve a caloric deficit and burn more body fat, resulting in weight loss.
5. Compound Movements Reduce The Risk Of Injury
When your training has intent, you also reduce your risk for injury. Imagine that you are picking up a heavy piece of furniture. If you don’t use your legs, in a squatting or deadlifting motion to lift it up from the floor you’ll likely bend over and potentially strain your lower back muscles if you don’t engage and contract the proper muscles with the correct form. Improper lifting can also lead to more severe injuries, which can require surgical intervention and cause chronic lower back pain. Compound movements will prepare you for real-life scenarios by recruiting more muscle groups and stabilizing muscles to improve core strength and mobility to manage and maneuver through your day with better posture and better form.
8 Best Compound Movement Exercises
1. Back Squat
The barbell back squat is a bilateral structural movement that helps build full-body strength. Barbell back squats, and back squats in general, demand a strong posterior chain, hamstrings, quads, and a relative amount of midline stability as well as ankle mobility. Oh and let's not forget impeccable form in order to reap the biggest benefits.
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Deadlifts have many known full body benefits and are extremely crucial in the development of total-body strength, proper hip function, core strength, and spine stabilization (which can reduce the risk of lower back injuries). Since deadlifts recruit multiple muscle groups, joints, and stabilizing muscles, they also burn more calories and more body fat as compared to other exercise movements. With the proper form, the deadlift can add a ton of performance and health benefits, to your training program
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3. Push Press
The push press is a prerequisite to the Military Press aka the Strict Press. The push press uses the full body to move weight from the shoulder to overhead movement in a quick, effective motion. The push press is an effective compound movement that recruits the legs, core, and upper body which ends up driving the weight into the overhead position. While the push press movement does require the legs to bend, the completion of the movement has straight legs, straight arms, and the weight will be overhead in a full lockout position.
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4. Romanian Deadlift
The Romanian deadlift or commonly known as the RDL, is a functional compound strength movement and variation to the traditional deadlift. Most often used as an accessory lift, with a submaximal load, the Romanian deadlift has many applications in strength training, as well as high-intensity functional training programs.
The Romanian deadlift is slightly different than the traditional deadlift. Although both movements will increase strength and muscle hypertrophy in the posterior chain muscles, Romanian deadlifts emphasize and target the hamstrings, as opposed to the glutes [R]. Electromyography (EMG) studies show that conventional deadlifts target and recruit the gluteus and rectus femoris muscles more so than the RDL, due to the biomechanical differences in exercise technique as the conventional deadlift starts and finishes more in a sitting position than the RDL with significantly more knee and hip flexion.
The primary muscles involved in the RDL are the posterior chain muscles, including the erector spinae, trapezius, gluteus maximus, hamstrings, and adductors.
RELATED ARTICLE 4 Proven Benefits Of Romanian Deadlifts
5. Bench Press
Arguably one of the most popular and effective chest exercises, the bench press is a staple in the gym to build more push strength and increase muscle mass. Studies have shown that the bench press is an extremely effective strength-training exercise, eliciting a high-level of muscle activity in the pectoralis major. If your goal is to build a well-rounded physique, and more functional strength, then bench press needs to be in your training program.
Bench press is a compound movement that involves the pectoralis major, deltoids, triceps, and the upper arms. The bench press can develop and build more strength and size, and also improve balance in movements amongst athletes.
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6. Good Mornings
Often misunderstood, the good morning exercise is a neglected yet effective compound movement functioning as a mix between the squat and the deadlift. Also called a hip-hinge the good morning has earned a somewhat infamous reputation for being a bit on the dangerous side. When done correctly however, good mornings are an effective strength exercise that benefit the muscles in your posterior chain including the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back.
Training with intent or purpose, is always important to reach your goals. If you’re training to build more leg strength, improve hip mobility, or strengthen your posterior chain, the good morning can be extremely beneficial. Often referred to as training specificity, or how an exercise replicates functional activities to produce the greatest performance gains, good mornings are effective at increasing functional strength in the hamstrings and lower back, due to its specific training purpose.
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7. Overhead Press
If you want bigger and defined shoulders, then you need to include the overhead press in your training routine. Although you'll build more muscle and strength, the overhead press offers more functional benefits, than just isolated strength. Overhead press is a functional compound movement and engages multiple muscle groups, stabilizing muscles, and joints, which can improve mobility, core stability, and balance.
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8. Bulgarian Split Squat
The Bulgarian-split squat is a single-leg squat variation. Compared to a traditional barbell squat, it removes all the pressure and load from your lower back, and places it directly into your legs. The stabilizing leg of the Bulgarian split-squat is elevated behind you, which allows greater range of motion and depth, to achieve greater muscle hypertrophy, and strength gains in your glutes and quadriceps. The Bulgarian split squat benefits exceed beyond building a bigger barbell back squat, they build quadriceps and glutes, midline stability, and they offer an awesome range of motion movement for the hip flexors.
RELATED ARTICLE Bulgarian Split Squat: How To And Benefits
Compound Movements: Takeaway
Compound movements are vital to a highly effective strength training program. These exercises will provide functional strength, mobility, core strength, and improve your posture, elevating critical human movement patterns, while building more size and more strength. No matter what your goals are, compound movements have a role in your training.
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