“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” said Leonardo da Vinci. When I plan my workouts for the day, I more than often choose the simplest yet effective movements (exercises) to focus on. Because, the demands of everyday responsibilities often put constraints on how much time I am able to allocate to exercising. If I know I have a very busy day ahead, but I still want to get in a successful workout, I will choose a compound exercise (a movement that utilizes more than one joint and muscle group).
I love the idea of doing an exercise that exaggerates a movement that I may have to perform in my daily activities. This approach to working out is often called functional training: choosing exercises that will prepare us for any physical demands we may encounter. For instance, I do the following exercises to condition myself to perform a specific type of movement:
- practice the ability of putting something above my head: overhead press
- practice the ability of picking something up/pulling something towards my body: deadlift
- practice the ability of pushing something away from my body: bench press
- practice the ability of moving resistance with control and balance: squat
The above are just a few of the movements I practice, in an exaggerated way with compound exercises. Now compound exercises are relatively simple (you cannot get more simple than picking something off the ground), but that doesn’t mean they are easy to perform. When I go to a commercial gym, I often find the ratio of people doing squats and deadlifts with a barbell or a pair of dumbbells to be significantly lower than the people using the cardio and exercise machines. The reason is that compound exercises performed with free weights (a barbell or dumbbell for example) are more physically demanding to do than working out with a machine that controls the resistance (and works out a muscle group in isolation) or doing a cardiovascular workout on a treadmill or elliptical.
How can compound movements benefit my day to day activities?
Now before I continue, let me be very clear, you can get in a great workout with any exercise (resistance) or cardio machines. However, when performing compound movements using free weights (barbell or dumbbells) your body is not only working out more muscle groups, but better simulating the scenario of the type of resistance you might encounter in your day to day activities. For example, if I am working a job that often requires me to pick something up (nurse, firefighter, police officer, truck driver), it would be a better use of my time to perform an exercise that mimics that movement. Therefore, if I am at the gym, I am better off doing squats and deadlifts, rather than spending time (or energy) on the leg press or leg extension machines.
Why are compound exercises so great?
Ideally, however, the best lower body workout routine (let’s say to mimic picking things off the ground) would include squats, deadlifts and the leg press and leg extension machines. Because in my opinion, lots of exercises (compound or isolation) and the numerous ways to perform those exercises (machines or free weights) are effective. The fact that you are working out in the gym or from home (most of my workouts are performed at my home) is fantastic. What I am suggesting, though, is that if you currently have a very busy schedule, the most effective and simplest workouts in my opinion are compound exercises (like I listed above) or combining those exercises like the clean and press, which joins the movements of picking something off the ground and putting it above your head.
Regardless of how you exercise, finding something that you truly love to do will help make ensure that your fitness routine is successful. For me, compound exercises like the squat or bench press are things I love to do. Very rarely does a workout day go by that I don’t incorporate one or more of these compound exercises. The next time you find yourself strapped for time and still wanting to get in a great workout, I encourage you to try one out.
Thank you so much for reading and cheers to your health!
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