This Type Of Exercise Will Help You Not Sabotage Your Fitness Goals

NASM Certified Personal Trainer By Matt Scheetz, NASM-CPT
NASM Certified Personal Trainer
Matt Scheetz is a brand strategist at mindbodygreen and a NASM-certified personal trainer.

Image by ZOA PHOTO x Stocksy / Stocksy

Many people (including myself) enter the gym with the same purpose: progression. Whether that means running three miles at a faster pace than yesterday or finally being able to touch your toes, progressing in the gym is necessary to hit whatever goals you have. Not to mention, getting stronger, faster or more consistent can be a major source of motivation–which, let's be real, we all struggle with from time to time.

And if one of your goals is to get stronger (which in my opinion, it definitely should be), possessing a fundamental knowledge of how your body moves is essential if you want your workouts to be as efficient as possible. As a personal trainer, I often see people selling themselves short in the gym by doing a routine of exercises that will never help them reach their full potential.

What exercise am I talking about? I mean that those endless circuits of light weights, minimal rest periods, and constant movement. While those are great for cardiovascular health and overall endurance, they're not the best way to go if you want to progress in the gym. To put it simply, compound movements—squats, deadlifts, and presses, for example—should be the foundation of any resistance training program, and here's why.

A compound exercise is one that requires multiple joints or multiple muscle groups at once.

A barbell squat is a great example. You may think of squatting with a barbell as the epitome of a "meathead" exercise, but there's science to support why they're good for everyone. The primary muscles used to perform a squat (the "prime movers" or "agonists") are the quadriceps and the glutes. But in addition to those, the surrounding muscles are also activated, just in different ways. The hamstrings provide an antagonist force that helps you control the movement, the muscles in your core provide stabilization and balance, and even your shoulder blades come into play as a way to strengthen your posterior chain and help you stay upright.

In simple terms, a squat is merely a bending of the hip joint, but because all of those surrounding muscles are also activated, it's actually a full-body exercise (not just lower body!). And if your goal is to get the most out of your time at the gym, wouldn't it make sense to kill two birds with one exercise?

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Think of it this way: Isolation exercises are like kitchen appliances that only have one function, like an omelet maker.

Does it do its job? Yes. But so does a regular frying pan, which serves many other purposes while taking up the same amount of room on your counter.  

Aside from efficiency, compound exercises have myriad benefits that make them an objectively better use of your gym time. Studies have proved that they may (indirectly) burn more calories than isolation movements, they can improve your coordination and balance, and most importantly, they build strength.

So if you want to build strength as efficiently as possible, it may be time to give compound exercises a try.

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