Compound lifts are lifts that involve movement in more than one joint of the human body. Isolation lifts are exercises that involve the flexion and extension of only one joint. Examples of compound exercises include deadlifts, squats, power cleans, bench press variations, overhead presses, etc. while biceps curls and skull crushers are examples of isolation exercises.
Compound movements are superior to isolation ones because they stimulate larger muscle groups, build functional strength, and do wonders for the metabolism.
Let us compare the squat, a very important compound weight training exercise, with one of the most popular isolation exercises: biceps curls. Your fitness goals may just be to have impressive arms when you go to the beach, but you may be surprised to learn that squatting is actually more effective than curling for getting bigger arms. No qualified Austin personal trainer would say that curls are entirely useless. Yes, Arnold Schwarzenegger did curls, but that is missing the main point. For Arnold, or any other competitive bodybuilder, curls are icing on the cake, but the cake itself was built using exercises such as squats and deadlifts. Here’s why:
Compound movements speed up your metabolism: More muscle means more calories burned. Compound lifts build up many large muscle groups at once, and this allows you to burn more calories, even when you are resting. Furthermore, compound lifts immediately raise one’s metabolism beyond one’s basal metabolic rate (the normal rate at which one burns calories), and this metabolic high lasts for hours! Keep the fat off with compound lifts.
Compound lifts boost testosterone. Several studies have shown that doing heavy compound lifts boost natural testosterone production. Why is this important? Testosterone, in its free form, is a hormone that encourages your body to add muscle and burn fat! In other words doing deep, heavy squats will do wonders for your upper body in addition to your quads and posterior chain because the extra testosterone will encourage muscle growth throughout your body as a whole, and the testosterone may be just the boost you needed to lose a few extra pounds of body-fat.
Compound exercises build functional strength. Think of the last time that you used a curling motion in sports or even picking up groceries. Probably not too often. Compound lifts build strength that you can easily apply in sports and other aspects of life. Picking a heavy suitcase up off the ground mimics the motion of a deadlift, while squatting will do wonders for your vertical leap.
Compound lifts burn more calories and bring greater benefit to your cardiovascular energy systems than isolation exercises. This has to do with the longer path the weight has to travel in compound exercises. Anyone who has done a set of twenty rep squats or snatches can vouch for this statement. High rep sets of the Olympic and power lifts constitute some kick ass cardio.