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The case for compound exercise

Compound exercise versus isolation exercise? You may wonder which is a better option for gaining strength. They both have a place in building strength, but in different ways, depending on your goals. The trend today tends to lean toward functional fitness, which simply means movements that simulate what you would be doing in everyday life. You will perform a wide range of movements that involve more than one joint and muscle group at a time, as our daily body movements do not work in isolation. Think of picking something up off the floor and reaching up to put it on a high shelf. That movement involves the whole body. Or think of a squat, where you bend at the hips and knees, engaging many muscles in the lower body. This is where compound exercise enters the picture. Compound exercises are multijoint movements that target more than one muscle group at a time.

There are two styles of compound exercises. In one, you perform a single movement, such as a squat, that targets numerous muscle groups, including the quadriceps (front of thighs), hamstrings (back of thighs), calves, gluteals, lower back and core. The second type would be when two exercise moves are put together, such as a squat with a shoulder press.

Compound exercises have more to offer than isolation exercises. They:

• Give you the option of using heavier weights.

• Enable you to have a full body workout in less time.

• Increase calorie burn.

• Improve flexibility due to the active range of motion involved.

• Improve coordination and balance.

• Bring cardio benefits by keeping your heart rate up.

That said, isolation exercises are not to be neglected, as they have benefits as well.

They differ from the compound exercises in that they focus on isolated strength, working only one muscle or muscle group and joint at a time. A leg extension would be an example of an isolation exercise. There are times when you might want to add them to your workout. You may become aware while performing a compound exercise, for instance, that one of your muscle groups, perhaps your arms or shoulders, is too weak to perform the desired movement correctly. That would be the time to strengthen those muscles with an isolation exercise. They are often used to strengthen a specific muscle weakness after injuries or surgery. In a gym setting, weight machines provide a good opportunity for working isolated muscle groups. When sitting, just remember to adjust the seat height so that the exercise can target the muscles you are working.

Check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program. Sally Anderson is happy to hear from readers but can't respond to individual inquiries. Contact her at

These compound exercises work multiple muscles.

Reverse lunge with a twist: Strengthens lower body, arms and core.

Standing, hold a light to medium weight in each hand with palms facing inward, arms by your sides.

As you step back with your right foot into a reverse lunge, bend your elbows, bringing arms into a hammer (bicep) curl.

With abdominals contracted, rotate your chest toward your left leg, extending your arms out to both sides, shoulder height. Your palms will now be facing downward. Hold for a few seconds.

Return to standing, bringing arms back into a hammer curl. Do this eight to 10 times, then repeat on the opposite side.

Side lunge with weights: Targets the lower body.

Holding a weight in each hand, stand tall with your weights at your hips. Contract your abs to stabilize the back.

Take a wide step to the left, bending the knee into a lunge position by pushing hips to the back, keeping the knee behind the toes.

With the right leg stretched out and the back flat, lower weights toward the knee or ankle. Push off with the left foot and return to original position, hands at your hips.

Do this eight to 10 times, then repeat on the opposite side.

Tip: To make this a balance exercise, too, bring your left leg into a knee lift after you push out of the lunge.

Plank with a leg lift: Targets the glutes, lower back, abs and shoulders.

Begin in the plank position, resting your forearms on the floor and putting your feet together behind you. Your neck should be in alignment with your back, and your elbows should be in alignment with your shoulders. Raise yourself up on your toes.

Contract your abdominals and maintain a flat back throughout the movement. Lift one leg off the floor, keeping hips parallel to the floor. Hold for several seconds before lowering your leg to the floor. Repeat desired number of times, then switch to the opposite leg.

Tips: Do not lift your leg any higher than your hips, and tighten your glutes to help lift the leg.

The case for compound exercise 09/26/17 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 26, 2017 3:29pm]
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