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Compound lifting

The key to unlocking true mass

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Are you new to the sport of bodybuilding and struggling to gain that size you so badly desire? If so, ensure your resistance-training program is built around compound lifting exercises.

I myself entered the art of bodybuilding uneducated and naïve, hopelessly trying to gain size yet only performing real intricate, isolated exercises. This simply doesn’t work, it’s like trying to build a house set on poor foundation – the outcome will always be a bad one.

What exactly is a “compound exercise”?

A compound exercise by definition is one that involves multi-joint movements, for example a deadlift. When performing a safe deadlift there is extension at the knee and hip joints, in order for these movements to take place, several muscles have to engage. Firstly the lats, erector spinae (lower back) and core have to stabilize the trunk to prevent curvature of the spine and injury, then the hamstrings, quads and glutes engage in agonist and antagonist unison to create the drive. With this in mind, it becomes clear to see why the deadlift is such a gruelling exercise, but what exactly is going on in the body whilst performing this lifts?



Muscular-skeletal system- the majority of the body is under huge stress and both eccentric and (if controlled) concentric phases of the lift. This creates microscopic tears in around 50-75% of the body’s skeletal muscle tissues, which when repaired, become thicker and stronger in a process known as “hypertrophy”. This allows the body to be better equipped the next time round and allows more weight to be lifted, thus more growth. The reason why this differs from an isolation exercise such as a bicep curl, is simply a matter of surface area muscle recruitment. The deadlift allows 75% of the body to breakdown and grow!

Endocrine system – the intense nature of a compound lift creates a cascade of chemical reactions within the body’s endocrine system. During and after the deadlift the body’s hypothalamus (a portion of the brain) and pituitary gland increases the secretion of growth hormone and test, respectfully. The rate of secretion between the two differs based on rep ranges and % of 1rm, with the heavier weights secreting more test.

Cardiovascular/Respiratory system – in order for muscles to function at such a high intensity for a prolonged period (reps), the cells within require oxygen, which they utilize in a process of cellular respiration. This will in turn improve the body’s cardiac output (heart rate x Stroke Volume) and the body’s efficiency at utilizing oxygen and delaying the onset of lactic acid.

Nervous system - the biggest drawback of compound lifting is the short-term effect on the central nervous system (CNS). Due to regular and intense neural stimulation, the CNS can become fatigued which can cause symptoms of tiredness for the next few preceding days. Long term, the body adjusts and the CNS becomes more skilled at signal firing down neuron pathways which leads to increased strength output > heavier loads > increased muscle mass.

There are lots of different types of compound exercises which break down multiple muscle groups each time you lift –

  • Bench press (flat) – pectorals, trips and anterior deltoids
  • Squat – hamstrings, glutes, quads and core.
  • Barbell row – lats, rhomboids, biceps and core
  • Barbell shoulder press – deltoids, triceps and core

These are just a few compound exercises which you should include in your lifting routine if your goal is related to size, strength, cardiovascular fitness and all round HEALTH!

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