Eddie Hall is no stranger to compound lifts. But it wasn’t always that way.

 

He used to be a competitive swimmer and logged a ton of training hours in the pool. When he gave up swimming, he headed to the gym and started lifting weights.

Have you done any training using compound lifts?

 

Compound lifts are a highly effective way to build muscle and shed fat that engage multiple muscle groups with a single exercise. Consider compound lifts the secret weapon to faster gains. I’ll tell you more about compound lifts in a minute and explain why they’re so effective.

 

The power of compound lifts

 

At first, Hall was focused on bodybuilding. Lots of ab work, isolation exercises, and a smart diet helped him step on stage. Then he discovered Strongman, and he switched up his training with a lot more compound lifts.
And you know what? He got stronger. He got bigger. And he set a world record for the deadlift (500 kg / 1,102.31 lbs) earlier this year at the World Deadlift Championships.[1]

How did he do it? He trained specifically to master the deadlift. But he also worked in a variety of other compound movements to be able to make it happen. If you want to build muscle, shed fat, get stronger and reach your fitness goal faster, your workout should include compound lifts?

 

What are compound lifts?

 

It’s any weight-bearing movement or exercise that engages multiple muscle groups in one or more of the three planes of motion (frontal, saggittal, and transverse). That’s fancy talk for exercises like:

 

  • Barbell squats
  • Barbell bench press
  • Deadlift
  • Shoulder press
  • Bent-over barbell rows
  • T-bar rows
  • Barbell lunges
  • Pull-Ups
  • Dips
  • Power cleans
  • And many others

 

And you know what? Compound lifts aren’t new to bodybuilding and weight training.

 

This style of training has been used for decades by people to get results in less time. If you could survey every fitness model, shredded celebrity, and even pro athletes, to find out what their training looks like, compound lifts will almost always be in the mix.

 

What makes compound lifts so effective?

 

One way to explain this is to look at the type of exercises that only engage a single muscle, sometimes called isolation exercises.

Here’s an isolation exercise that’s easy to visualize: The barbell curl. If you stick to using strict form to complete this exercise, the only muscle really being worked is the biceps brachii.

It’s not a compound movement. Although, the gym bro who throws his back and hips into curling more weight than he can handle might make it look like a compound movement. Don’t do this, OK.

Instead of working a single muscle, compound lifts engage an entire group of muscles.

One way to explain this is to look at the type of exercises that only engage a single muscle, sometimes called isolation exercises.

Here’s an isolation exercise that’s easy to visualize: The barbell curl. If you stick to using strict form to complete this exercise, the only muscle really being worked is the biceps brachii.

It’s not a compound movement. Although, the gym bro who throws his back and hips into curling more weight than he can handle might make it look like a compound movement. Don’t do this, OK.

Instead of working a single muscle, compound lifts engage an entire group of muscles.

 

Anatomy of a deadlift

Let’s take a closer look at what happens when you complete a deadlift.

 

  • You squat down and grab the bar, keeping your back straight. Before you’ve even picked up the weight, you’ve already engaged lower body and core muscles.

 

  • With your feet shoulder width apart, you grip the bar, and stand up. Now you’ve engaged even more muscles.
    • The erector spinae helps stabilize your back as you perform the deadlift.

 

    • Your glutes and hamstrings work together, allowing you to bend at the hip.

 

    • Your quads help your knees handle the load as you perform each rep.

 

    • And the adductor magnus, on the inside of the thigh, helps stabilize your leg.

 

    • These are the primary muscles activated during a deadlift. But a total of about 31 muscles are engaged when you perform this exercise.

 

 

More muscle engagement = strength gains

 

When you look at compound lifts like this, you can see why it’s so effective. Crank out some barbell curls, and you’re essentially working a single muscle. But pick a compound lift, and you’re putting a lot of muscles to work with a single rep.

In a recent study, researchers followed a group of women assigned to one of two exercise groups.[2]

 

One group performed aerobic exercise five times a week. The other group did aerobic exercise five times a week, and a compound lift workout two times a week to train the chest, legs, and core muscles.
At the end of the 16-week study, the group that performed compound lifts showed significant strength gains compared the aerobic-only group.

 

Benefits of compound movements

 

If you want to maximize your time in the gym, and get results faster, compound movements should be part of your training program.[3] The classic lifts I mentioned earlier will help you build muscle, shed fat, and get stronger. But there are other benefits to compound lifts, like

 

  • Burn more calories. Compound lifts engage multiple muscle groups and use more oxygen with every rep. It’s one reason why you’re probably dripping sweat after a deadlift session.

 

  • Improve muscle coordination. If you’re training to look good and perform better on the court or on the field, for example, compound lifts train your muscles to work together more efficiently.

 

  • Provide cardio benefits. That’s right. You can strengthen your heart without logging a ton of time on the treadmill. Compound lifts elevate your heart rate. If you keep rest periods between sets shorter, you’ll get even better cardio benefits.

 

  • Improve flexibility. Compound lifts done correctly involve a full range of motion to complete and exercise. It’s a form of dynamic flexibility that helps strengthen and lengthen muscles.

 

  • Improve movement efficiency. It’s why so many athletes in a variety of different sports incorporate compound lifts into their training.

 

What’s your workout plan look like? If you’re spending a lot of your time on isolation exercises, it’s a common beginner mistake, you might not be getting the results you’re looking for. I can help.

You’ll find compound lifts in all of my training programs to help you burn fat, build muscle, or complete a transformation.

 


References

  1. Official Strongman. (2016). Eddie Hall deadlift 500kg (1102.31 lbs). From: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T9Y4o_BqC0A.

 

  1. Kak, H., et al. (2013). A study of effect of the compound physical activity therapy on muscular strength in obese women. Journal of Physical Therapy Science. From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3820232/.

 

  1. McCall, P., (2017). 5 benefits of compound exercises. American Council on Exercise. From: https://www.acefitness.org/blog/5811/5-benefits-of-compound-exercises.