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Purpose and Perks of Compound Moves

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Looking for maximum calorie burn and more variety in your workouts in less time? Cooper Fitness Center Director of Fitness Education and Professional Fitness Trainer Carla Sottovia, PhD, shares the purpose and perks of including compound movements in your exercise routine.

Compound v. isolated movements
Compound movements are simply defined as exercises involving more than one muscle group when performed. “These types of movements often combine upper and lower body muscle groups such as a dumbbell squat paired with an overhead press,” explains Sottovia. “In contrast, isolated movements involve only one muscle group and are less dynamic in nature. These exercises are typically performed in a stationary position.” An example of an isolated movement is a dumbbell bicep curl where only the elbow joint is moving while the rest of the body remains stationary.

Compound exercises offer numerous benefits for the active lifestyle, including:

  • Overall movement
    Compound exercises enhance the ability of the body to move as an integrated unit, or as a whole.
  • Calorie burn
    Compound movements also prove to be more metabolically efficient as they induce a higher number of calories burned due to the use of multiple muscle groups at once.
  • Workout efficiency
    Not only are these movements metabolically efficient but also time efficient as one is able to work multiple muscle groups in less amount of time in comparison to performing isolated movements.
  • Planes of motion
    These exercises test the body in different planes of motion which results in improved ranges of motion.
  • Exercise variety
    Compound movements allow for more variation in one’s exercise regimen by integrating both upper and lower body movement patterns into one.

Combine for compound
When it comes to incorporating compound movements into one’s current exercise routine, Sottovia recommends coupling different isolated exercises to create compound exercises. “Try thinking of each exercise in terms of basic movement patterns—push, pull, squat, lunge, twist and hinge,” explains Sottovia. “Simply combine two movement patterns to make one compound exercise.” These movement patterns can be combined to focus on upper and lower body or both movements can target upper or target lower body, just as long as the two exercises combined are working different muscle groups.

Compound exercises are typically performed in a circuit fashion to achieve optimal metabolic bang for your buck, or to burn as many calories as possible by doubling up on movements. Some examples include:

  • Forward lunge + dumbbell row
    Begin in a lunge position with a dumbbell in each hand. Lunge forward with one leg, pause and hinge at the hip. After leaning your upper body forward completing the hinging motion, perform a double arm row with dumbbells and return to the starting position by extending your arms by your sides and bring your upper body out of the hinge position. After 10 reps, repeat this movement pattern on the opposite leg.
  • Medicine ball squat + overhead press
    Begin by holding a medicine ball at chest level while standing in a squat position with your feet about hip width apart. Squat down, still holding the ball at chest level, and push the ball up by fully extending the arms as you stand up out of the squat. Repeat 10 times.

The human body is designed to move as an integrated, whole unit which requires a healthy mixture of upper and lower body strength in order to be well-balanced. Certain muscle groups can be often overlooked or overworked by performing only isolated exercise movements. This is why compound exercises are ideal for improving your overall strength, increasing calorie burn and boosting the efficiency of your workout—as well as adding a challenging variety to your current exercise routine.

For more information about Cooper Fitness Center or to schedule a session with a Professional Fitness Trainer, visit or call 972.233.4832.