There's no one exercise that will help you burn fat and build muscle, but compound exercises are about as close as you can get, according to experts. Compound exercises are moves that work multiple large muscle groups. You can do compound exercises that target muscles all over your body - compound exercises for legs, back, arms, you name it - but the one thing they have in common is they'll hit different muscle groups at the same time, giving you more bang for your buck. If you're one of those people always pressed for time during your workouts, compound exercises are the moves for you - they'll save you time while helping you hit lots of different muscles.
Compound exercises come with a lot of potential benefits, including weight loss and muscle gain, so you might be wondering right about now what the best compound movements actually are. We'll get to that in a second, but first let's talk more about what compound exercises actually are and why they're so effective. You've probably been doing these effective moves for a long time without even realizing just how beneficial they are, especially if you're a fan of full-body workouts.
What Are Compound Exercises?
Compound exercises are also called "multi-joint" moves, because they require you to move more than one of your joints. (Think about how you bend at your hips and knees during a squat, or how you move both your shoulder and hip joints when you do a deadlift.) You can think of compound exercises as being the more efficient choice, because they target multiple muscle groups simultaneously, which saves you time in your workout. If your goal is weight loss, compound exercises are a good choice as well. Because they elicit a greater energy expenditure compared to smaller, isolated movements like the bicep curl, your body will burn more calories and fat doing compound exercises.
Nutrition is also important in order to change your body composition, but when it comes to exercise specifically, Pratik Patel, MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS, director of performance nutrition and assistant strength and conditioning coach for the New York Giants, told POPSUGAR to do "movements that recruit more groups of large muscle mass," aka compound exercises, to get a greater burn.
The benefits of compound exercises don't stop at weight loss; they can be useful if you're trying to build muscle, too. Rondel King, MS, CSCS, an exercise physiologist at NYU Langone's Sports Performance Center, told POPSUGAR that in order to build more muscle, you must first make sure your workouts focus on muscle hypertrophy (maximal muscle growth). That means your rep and set scheme should be between three and five sets of 12 and 15 reps for every exercise in your program. According to King, "You can also do heavy lifting . . . like compound lifts, [such as] squats and deadlifts, where you can do a little more weight" to burn fat and build muscle.
Now that you know why compound exercises are integral to lowering your body fat percentage and increasing your muscle mass, here's a list of exercises you can create a workout from. Be sure not to do them all at once - you'll be extremely sore and in the gym all day. If you aren't sure how to create your own workout, here's a strength-training workout to get you started.
- Additional reporting by Maggie Ryan