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by Pete McCall

originally published January 26, 2016, on

Two of the most common reasons people give for not exercising are lack of time and not knowing what type of exercise they should be doing. This is what leads many people to hire a personal trainer—they want an expert to tell them how to achieve their goals. Typically, they also want to know how to do it in the most time-efficient manner possible.  

While single-joint, isolation exercises are ideal for people who have the inclination or time to sculpt the perfect body, they simply aren’t that effective for maximizing the calorie-burning effects of exercise. If the goal is improving your overall fitness level, compound exercises that feature multijoint movements involving more than a single muscle group can be extremely effective for realizing benefits from all three categories of fitness: cardiovascular, strength, and flexibility. Knowing how to use compound exercises can give you specific strategies and techniques for helping your time-strapped workouts.  

Here are five benefits of compound exercises.  

1. Compound Exercises Burn More Calories.

The body expends 5 calories of energy to consume 1 liter of oxygen. Exercises that involve more muscle tissue require more oxygen, which helps the body increase its net energy expenditure. 

2. Compound Exercises Improve Intermuscular Coordination.

This is the function and timing of multiple muscles around a joint or joints. Consider, for example, the gluteal complex (gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus), which is responsible for controlling the motion of the hip. Compound exercises such as squats, lunges, or steps that move the hips in all three planes can improve how all of the muscles work together to produce and control force. 

3. Compound Exercises Elevate the Heart Rate and Provide a Cardiovascular Training Benefit.

The purpose of cardiovascular exercise is to improve the ability of the heart to function as a pump. This can be accomplished through activities such as running and cycling, or by doing exercises that involve a significant amount of muscle tissue. Sitting in a leg-extension machine doing knee extensions or performing biceps curls with dumbbells uses only a limited amount of muscle tissue; these exercises are more appropriate for focusing on isolated strength. Squats to shoulder presses, medicine ball chops, or burpees are all examples of compound exercises that involve large amounts of muscle tissue, which challenges the heart to pump blood to keep the muscles fueled and active. 

4. Compound Exercises Are a Form of Dynamic Flexibility.

When most people think of flexibility they picture static stretching. While holding a muscle in a lengthened position can be effective for reducing tension in a muscle, it also reduces neurologic activity, which is not recommended prior to dynamic activity. Any exercise that involves an active range of motion can be considered a form of dynamic stretching, which involves moving a joint through a range of motion to lengthen the surrounding tissue. As muscles on one side of a joint contract, the muscles on the opposite side have to lengthen to allow contraction to occur. Over the course of a number of repetitions, the contractions and activity in the involved muscles elevate the temperature and inhibit activity, which reduces tension and improves length. 

5. Compound Exercises Improve Movement Efficiency.

Have you ever noticed that bodybuilders move robotically? This is because training only one muscle group at a time does not teach multiple muscle groups to coordinate their contractions and firing rates, which is how muscles actually contract. Compound exercises that involve large groups of muscles teach the muscles how to coordinate the firing of the motor units responsible for timing muscle contractions. Compound exercises can actually help you improve movement skills and dynamic balance, which can actually help improve the overall quality of life. 

Compound Exercises provide time efficiency and affect all three categories of fitness: cardiovascular, strength, and flexibility. Performance of compound exercises requires proper form and execution. For more information about incorporating compound movements in your exercise program contact Lisa Magley, Fitness Director at