When it comes to efficiency, burning fat and building muscle… compound exercises such as barbell squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, and pull-ups are superior to isolation exercises such as bicep curls and leg extensions for a handful of reasons.
To start, they incorporate multiple body parts and recruit large muscle groups, which requires a much higher energy demand than isolation exercises that focus on smaller muscle groups. In other words, you burn more calories during your workout with compound movements.
In addition, because you are utilizing multiple large muscle groups at once, you can lift heavier weight, which increases lean muscle tissue. You may have heard that the more lean muscle you have, the more calories you burn throughout the day. This is because muscle uses a lot more energy than fat while at rest. When you increase your muscle mass, you boost your resting metabolism, and that makes your body burn more calories.
And finally, they heavily utilize, engage, and strengthen the core in functional ways that crunches and sit-ups do not.
There’s nothing wrong with isolation exercises. They will help to bring out definition in whichever area you choose to focus on, but you generally want to save these for the end of your workout, after you’ve completed some of the more taxing exercises that target the larger muscle groups first.
The reason being, most compound movements require more technical skill than isolation exercises. Performing a barbell squat or a deadlift correctly takes practice. In addition, they require that you lift heavier weight. Unless you are an advanced lifter, and you understand how and when to use “pre-exhaust” workouts, doing single-joint isolation exercises BEFORE compound movements is a great way to get injured.
For example, if you were to start your workout with tricep rope pushdowns and chest flyes (isolation exercises) and then move onto the bench press (compound movement), you’ve now already fatigued your triceps and your pecs, both of which will be working together to press that bar off of your chest. You can see how this may cause a problem.
If your primary goal is to burn body fat and build lean muscle, especially if you don’t have more than 2-4 hours per week to workout, the bulk of your workload should be focused around compound movements.
Committed To Your Health,
Brian Donovan is a certified fitness and nutrition coach, and the founder of Online Fitness Coach, LLC – an online fitness program where clients get direct coaching and personally tailored training and nutrition plans. Coach Brian was voted Chicago’s “Best Personal Trainer” by Chicago Reader magazine, Best Of Chicago 2014 edition. He has been featured in magazines such as Muscle & Fitness, Chicago Reader, Voyage Chicago, and The PTDC as well various other health and fitness blogs.
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