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Power Up Your Workouts: 7 Best Compound Exercises to Sculpt Your Dream Physique!

Are you tired of hitting the gym without seeing the muscle gains and strength improvements you desire? It might be time to reevaluate your workout routine.

Imagine if there were exercises that could turbocharge your progress, helping you build more muscle and strength in less time.

Well, you’re in luck because there are, and they’re called compound exercises. These powerhouse movements are the secret weapon in the arsenal of every serious lifter and fitness enthusiast. Get ready to discover the key to unlocking your body’s true potential.

In this article, we’ll delve into the world of compound exercises and explore why they’re essential for anyone looking to pack on muscle mass and increase strength. You’ll learn about the science behind compound exercises, how they target multiple muscle groups simultaneously, and why they’re more effective than isolation exercises.

We’ll then dive into the seven best compound exercises you need to incorporate into your routine to force muscle growth and strength development. From squats to deadlifts, bench presses to pull-ups, you’ll discover the ultimate arsenal of exercises to take your fitness journey to the next level. So, buckle up and get ready to revolutionize your workouts as we unveil the secrets of compound exercises.

Understanding Compound Exercises

Compound exercises are the cornerstone of any effective strength training regimen. Unlike isolation exercises, which focus on a single muscle group, compound exercises involve multiple joints and muscle groups working together in harmony.

These dynamic movements recruit a wide array of muscles, allowing for greater muscle activation and overall functional strength development. In essence, compound exercises mimic real-world movements, making them highly transferable to everyday activities and sports performance.

How Compound Exercises Target Multiple Muscle Groups Simultaneously

The beauty of compound exercises lies in their ability to target multiple muscle groups simultaneously.

By engaging multiple joints and muscle groups in a single movement, compound exercises allow for efficient and effective muscle recruitment. For example, a squat not only works the quadriceps but also engages the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back.

Similarly, a bench press not only targets the chest but also involves the shoulders and triceps. This multi-joint activation leads to greater overall muscle stimulation and growth.

Benefits of Compound Exercises vs Isolation Exercises

Compound exercises offer a multitude of benefits that set them apart from isolation exercises. Firstly, they provide a time-efficient way to work out, as they target multiple muscle groups in a single movement.

This means you can achieve a full-body workout in less time compared to performing numerous isolation exercises.

Additionally, compound exercises promote functional strength and coordination by mimicking real-life movement patterns.

dani speegle wins barbell compex at granite games semifinalSource: Courtesy of CrossFit Inc.

Moreover, they elicit a greater hormonal response, including increased testosterone and growth hormone production, which are crucial for muscle growth and recovery.

Finally, compound exercises are highly adaptable and can be easily modified to suit different fitness levels and goals, making them suitable for beginners and advanced lifters alike.

In summary, compound exercises are the foundation of a well-rounded strength training program and are essential for maximizing muscle growth, strength development, and overall fitness.

1. Squats

Squats are often hailed as the king of compound exercises, and for a good reason. This fundamental movement not only strengthens the lower body but also engages the core and stabilizer muscles, making it a true full-body exercise.

Squats involve lowering your body into a seated position by bending your knees and hips, then returning to a standing position. Whether you’re using a barbell, dumbbells, or just your body weight, squats are a versatile exercise that can be performed virtually anywhere.

Muscle Groups Targeted

Squats are renowned for their ability to target a wide range of muscle groups simultaneously. At the forefront are the quadriceps, the large muscles on the front of your thighs responsible for knee extension.

Additionally, squats heavily engage the hamstrings, located on the back of the thighs, which assist in hip extension. The glutes, or buttocks muscles, are also heavily recruited during squats, particularly during the upward phase of the movement.

Furthermore, squats provide significant activation of the lower back muscles, including the erector spinae, which help stabilize the spine throughout the exercise.

Variations and Modifications for Different Fitness Levels

Regardless of your fitness level or experience, there’s a squat variation that’s right for you. For beginners, bodyweight squats are an excellent starting point to master the basic movement pattern while developing strength and mobility.

As you progress, you can add resistance by incorporating dumbbells, kettlebells, or a barbell into your squats. Variations such as goblet squats, front squats, and overhead squats offer unique challenges and target different muscle groups.

For those seeking an extra challenge, plyometric squats, such as jump squats or box jumps, can boost power and explosiveness.

perfect workout to lose weightSource: Alora Griffiths

Additionally, modifications such as squatting to a bench or using assistance from a stability ball or TRX straps can be helpful for individuals with mobility issues or injuries. Remember to always prioritize proper form and technique, and gradually increase the intensity and difficulty of your squats as you become stronger and more proficient.

2. Deadlifts

Deadlifts are a powerhouse exercise that should not be overlooked in any strength training regimen. This compound movement involves lifting a weight from the ground to a standing position, primarily utilizing the muscles of the posterior chain. Deadlifts are renowned for their ability to build overall strength and muscle mass, making them a staple in the routines of powerlifters, bodybuilders, and athletes alike.

Not only do deadlifts target multiple muscle groups simultaneously, but they also promote functional strength and help improve posture and stability.

Muscles Worked

Deadlifts primarily target the muscles of the posterior chain, which includes the hamstrings, glutes, lower back, and traps. The hamstrings, located on the back of the thighs, play a significant role in hip extension during the upward phase of the lift.

The glutes, or buttocks muscles, are heavily recruited to drive the hips forward and lift the weight off the ground. The lower back muscles, including the erector spinae, work to stabilize the spine throughout the movement.

Additionally, the traps, or trapezius muscles, help support the weight and maintain proper posture during the lift.

Tips for Proper Deadlift Form and Technique to Prevent Injury

While deadlifts offer numerous benefits, it’s crucial to perform them with proper form and technique to avoid injury.

Here are some tips to help you deadlift safely and effectively:

  • Start with your feet hip-width apart and the barbell positioned over the middle of your feet.
  • Bend at the hips and knees to lower your torso and grip the bar with an overhand grip, hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  • Keep your back flat, chest up, and core engaged throughout the lift.
  • Drive through your heels and push your hips forward as you lift the bar off the ground, keeping it close to your body.
  • Stand tall at the top of the lift, fully extending your hips and knees.
  • Lower the bar back to the ground in a controlled manner, maintaining proper form.
  • Avoid rounding your lower back or jerking the weight, as this can increase the risk of injury.
  • Start with a light weight and gradually increase the load as you become more comfortable with the movement.

Remember to listen to your body and stop if you experience any pain or discomfort.

If you’re new to deadlifts or unsure about your form, consider seeking guidance from a certified personal trainer to ensure you’re performing the exercise safely and effectively. With proper technique and consistency, deadlifts can be a game-changer for building strength and muscle mass.

3. Bench Press

The bench press is a classic compound exercise that is revered for its effectiveness in building upper body strength and muscle mass.

This exercise involves lying flat on a bench and pressing a weighted barbell or dumbbells upwards from chest level to full arm extension. The bench press primarily targets the muscles of the chest, shoulders, and triceps, making it an essential component of any upper body strength training routine.

Not only does the bench press help develop raw pressing power, but it also enhances muscular endurance and stability, making it invaluable for athletes and fitness enthusiasts alike.

Targeted muscles: chest, shoulders, and triceps

The bench press is renowned for its ability to target several major muscle groups simultaneously. The primary muscles worked during the bench press include:

  • Chest (Pectoralis Major): The chest muscles are heavily engaged during the bench press, particularly during the pressing phase of the movement. A strong chest is essential for pushing movements and overall upper body strength.
  • Shoulders (Deltoids): The anterior deltoids, located at the front of the shoulders, play a significant role in stabilizing and assisting with the pressing motion during the bench press.
  • Triceps Brachii: The triceps, located on the back of the upper arms, are engaged as secondary movers during the bench press, helping to extend the elbows and complete the pressing motion.

Additionally, the bench press also recruits various stabilizer muscles, including the rotator cuff muscles and the muscles of the upper back, to maintain proper form and stability throughout the exercise.

Variations and equipment options for performing the bench press

There are several variations of the bench press, each offering unique challenges and targeting slightly different muscle groups. Some popular variations include:

  • Flat Bench Press: The traditional bench press performed on a flat bench is the most common variation and targets the overall chest, shoulders, and triceps.
  • Incline Bench Press: Performing the bench press on an inclined bench with the backrest set at an angle targets the upper chest and shoulders to a greater extent.
  • Decline Bench Press: The decline bench press, performed on a decline bench with the backrest angled downwards, places more emphasis on the lower chest muscles.
  • Dumbbell Bench Press: Using dumbbells instead of a barbell for the bench press allows for greater freedom of movement and can help improve unilateral strength and stability.
  • Smith Machine Bench Press: The Smith machine bench press involves using a guided barbell on a fixed vertical track, which can be beneficial for beginners or individuals who struggle with stability.

When performing the bench press, it’s essential to use proper form and technique to prevent injury and maximize effectiveness.

Additionally, various equipment options, such as resistance bands or chains, can be incorporated to add variety and challenge to your bench press workouts.

Pull-Ups/Chin-Ups

Pull-ups and chin-ups are iconic upper body exercises that have stood the test of time as benchmarks of strength and muscular development.

These compound movements require you to lift your body weight vertically by pulling yourself up to a bar. Pull-ups are performed with an overhand grip, while chin-ups use an underhand grip. Both variations engage multiple muscle groups simultaneously, making them highly effective for building upper body strength and muscle mass.

Incorporating pull-ups or chin-ups into your workout routine can help develop a strong and well-defined upper body while improving grip strength and overall functional fitness.

Muscles engaged: back, biceps, and forearms

Pull-ups and chin-ups are unparalleled in their ability to target the muscles of the back, biceps, and forearms. The primary muscles worked during these exercises include:

  • Back (Latissimus Dorsi): The latissimus dorsi, or lats, are the largest muscles of the back and are heavily engaged during pull-ups and chin-ups. These muscles play a crucial role in pulling the body upward towards the bar.
  • Biceps Brachii: The biceps brachii, located on the front of the upper arm, act as synergists during pull-ups and chin-ups, assisting the back muscles in pulling the body towards the bar.
  • Forearms: The muscles of the forearms, including the brachioradialis and flexor muscles, are engaged to a significant extent during pull-ups and chin-ups, particularly during the gripping and pulling phases of the movement.

Additionally, pull-ups and chin-ups also recruit various stabilizer muscles, including the muscles of the shoulders, core, and grip, to maintain proper form and stability throughout the exercise.

Progressions and modifications for mastering pull-up/chin-up technique

Mastering pull-ups and chin-ups can be challenging, especially for beginners. However, with consistent practice and the right progression strategies, anyone can improve their performance and gradually work towards mastering these exercises.

pull up back workouts The Real Reason Why Your Pull Ups Suck How to Double your Max Pull Ups in 22 Days You CAN Do More Pull UpsSource: Photo courtesy of CrossFit Inc

Here are some progressions and modifications to help you develop your pull-up and chin-up technique:

  • Assisted Pull-Ups/Chin-Ups: Use resistance bands or an assisted pull-up machine to reduce the amount of body weight you’re lifting, making the exercise more manageable while still challenging your muscles.
  • Negatives: Start at the top of the pull-up or chin-up position and slowly lower yourself down to the bottom position, focusing on controlling the movement and engaging the muscles eccentrically.
  • Flexed Arm Hang: Hold yourself in the top position of a pull-up or chin-up with your chin above the bar for as long as possible to build strength and endurance in the muscles used during the exercise.
  • Scapular Retraction Exercises: Practice scapular retraction exercises, such as scapular pull-ups or scapular retractions, to strengthen the muscles of the upper back and improve shoulder stability, which are essential for proper pull-up and chin-up technique.
  • Grip Strength Exercises: Incorporate grip strength exercises, such as farmer’s carries or forearm curls, to strengthen the muscles of the forearms and improve your ability to maintain a secure grip on the bar during pull-ups and chin-ups.

By incorporating these progressions and modifications into your training routine and gradually increasing the intensity and difficulty over time, you can improve your pull-up and chin-up technique and work towards achieving your strength and fitness goals.

Remember to prioritize proper form and technique, and be patient with your progress, as mastering these exercises takes time and dedication.

5. Overhead Press

The overhead press, also known as the shoulder press or military press, is a fundamental upper body compound exercise that involves pressing a weight overhead from shoulder level to full arm extension.

This classic movement is a cornerstone of strength training programs and is revered for its ability to build shoulder strength, stability, and muscular development. The overhead press primarily targets the deltoid muscles of the shoulders, but it also engages the triceps and upper chest muscles to a significant extent.

By incorporating the overhead press into your workout routine, you can improve shoulder mobility, enhance upper body strength, and develop a well-rounded physique.

Muscles targeted: shoulders, triceps, and upper chest:

The overhead press is a highly effective exercise for targeting several major muscle groups in the upper body. The primary muscles worked during the overhead press include:

  • Shoulders (Deltoids): The deltoid muscles, located on the sides and top of the shoulders, are the primary movers during the overhead press. These muscles are responsible for lifting the weight overhead and stabilizing the shoulder joint throughout the movement.
  • Triceps Brachii: The triceps, located on the back of the upper arm, act as synergists during the overhead press, assisting the shoulders in extending the elbows and pressing the weight overhead.
  • Upper Chest (Pectoralis Major): While the primary focus of the overhead press is on the shoulders and triceps, the upper chest muscles also contribute to the movement, particularly during the initial pressing phase.

Additionally, the overhead press engages various stabilizer muscles, including the muscles of the core and upper back, to maintain proper posture and stability throughout the exercise.

Tips for proper overhead press technique and common mistakes to avoid:

To perform the overhead press safely and effectively, it’s essential to use proper form and technique. Here are some tips to help you master the overhead press and avoid common mistakes:

  • Start with your feet hip-width apart and the barbell positioned at shoulder level in front of you.
  • Grip the barbell with hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and elbows bent, creating a rack position with the bar resting on the front of your shoulders.
  • Brace your core and keep your chest up as you press the bar overhead in a straight line, fully extending your arms at the top of the movement.
  • Lower the bar back to the starting position with control, keeping your elbows slightly in front of the bar to maintain stability.
  • Avoid overarching your lower back or leaning too far back during the press, as this can strain the spine and increase the risk of injury.
  • Keep your head neutral and gaze forward throughout the movement, avoiding excessive neck extension or tilting.
  • Engage your glutes and quads to maintain stability and prevent excessive swaying or arching of the back.

Common mistakes to avoid during the overhead press include using momentum to lift the weight, shrugging the shoulders, and flaring the elbows out to the sides. Focus on using controlled, deliberate movements and gradually increase the weight as you become stronger and more proficient with the exercise. By prioritizing proper form and technique, you can maximize the effectiveness of the overhead press and minimize the risk of injury.

6. Barbell Rows

Barbell rows are a foundational compound exercise that is essential for building a strong and well-developed back. This dynamic movement involves pulling a weighted barbell towards your lower chest while maintaining a stable and braced position.

Barbell rows are highly effective for targeting the muscles of the upper back, including the lats, traps, and rhomboids, as well as the biceps and forearms. Incorporating barbell rows into your workout routine can help improve posture, enhance back strength and thickness, and reduce the risk of injury by addressing muscle imbalances.

Muscles worked: upper back including lats, traps, and rhomboids:

Barbell rows are renowned for their ability to target the muscles of the upper back, providing comprehensive development and strength gains. The primary muscles worked during barbell rows include:

  • Latissimus Dorsi (Lats): The lats are the largest muscles of the back and play a significant role in pulling the weight towards your body during barbell rows. Developing strong lats can improve overall back width and thickness.
  • Trapezius (Traps): The traps are located on the upper back and are responsible for shoulder elevation and scapular retraction during barbell rows. Strengthening the traps can enhance upper back stability and posture.
  • Rhomboids: The rhomboids are located between the shoulder blades and assist in scapular retraction and stabilization during rowing movements. Strengthening the rhomboids can help improve posture and reduce the risk of shoulder injuries.

Additionally, barbell rows also engage secondary muscles such as the biceps, forearms, and rear deltoids, making them a highly efficient exercise for developing overall upper body strength and muscular balance.

Variations and grip options for targeting different areas of the back

Barbell rows offer several variations and grip options to target different areas of the back and promote muscle growth and development. Some popular variations include:

  • Pendlay Rows: Pendlay rows are performed from a dead stop position on the floor between each repetition, emphasizing explosive pulling strength and muscle activation. This variation is excellent for targeting the upper back and improving power and explosiveness.
  • Underhand Grip Rows (Yates Rows): Using an underhand grip on the barbell shifts the emphasis to the lower lats and biceps, providing a different stimulus for muscle growth and development.
  • Wide Grip Rows: Gripping the barbell wider than shoulder-width apart can target the outer portions of the back, including the outer lats and upper traps, while also engaging the rear deltoids to a greater extent.
  • Narrow Grip Rows: Gripping the barbell closer together targets the inner portions of the back, including the inner lats and rhomboids, while also placing more emphasis on the biceps and forearms.

Experiment with different grip widths and variations to find the best option for your individual goals and preferences. Remember to maintain proper form and technique, keeping your back flat and core engaged throughout the movement to prevent injury and maximize effectiveness.

Lunges

Lunges are a versatile lower body exercise that targets multiple muscle groups simultaneously while promoting strength, stability, and balance.

This compound movement involves stepping forward or backward with one leg and lowering your body until both knees are bent at a 90-degree angle, then returning to the starting position. Lunges are highly effective for developing lower body strength, particularly in the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves, while also engaging the core and stabilizer muscles.

By incorporating lunges into your workout routine, you can improve leg strength, enhance balance and coordination, and reduce the risk of lower body injuries.

Muscles targeted: quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves:

Lunges are renowned for their ability to target several major muscle groups in the lower body. The primary muscles worked during lunges include:

  • Quadriceps: The quadriceps, located on the front of the thigh, are heavily engaged during lunges to extend the knee and lower the body towards the ground.
  • Hamstrings: The hamstrings, located on the back of the thigh, act as synergists during lunges, assisting the quadriceps in controlling the descent and providing stability to the knee joint.
  • Glutes: The gluteal muscles, including the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus, play a significant role in lunges by driving the body back up to the starting position and stabilizing the hips and pelvis.
  • Calves: The calf muscles, including the gastrocnemius and soleus, help stabilize the ankle joint and provide support during lunges, particularly during the upward phase of the movement.

Additionally, lunges also engage the core muscles, including the abdominals and obliques, to maintain proper posture and stability throughout the exercise.

Modifications and progressions for increasing lunge difficulty:

Lunges can be easily modified and progressed to increase difficulty and intensity as you become stronger and more proficient with the movement. Some modifications and progressions for lunges include:

  • Forward Lunges: Stepping forward with one leg and lowering the body into a lunge position targets the quadriceps and glutes while also engaging the hamstrings and calves.
  • Reverse Lunges: Stepping backward with one leg and lowering the body into a lunge position targets the hamstrings and glutes while placing less stress on the knees and joints.
  • Walking Lunges: Alternating between forward lunges while moving forward targets the quadriceps, glutes, and calves while also improving balance and coordination.
  • Stationary Lunges: Performing lunges in place without moving targets the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes while allowing for greater stability and control.
  • Elevated Lunges: Performing lunges with the front foot elevated on a step or bench increases the range of motion and targets the glutes and hamstrings to a greater extent.
  • Weighted Lunges: Holding dumbbells, kettlebells, or a barbell while performing lunges increases resistance and muscle activation, making the exercise more challenging.
  • Plyometric Lunges: Adding a jump or explosive movement to lunges increases power and explosiveness while also boosting cardiovascular fitness.

When performing lunges, it’s essential to maintain proper form and technique to prevent injury and maximize effectiveness. Keep your torso upright, chest lifted, and core engaged throughout the movement, and avoid allowing your knees to extend beyond your toes.

Start with lighter weights or no weights at all and gradually increase resistance and intensity as you become more comfortable with the exercise.

By incorporating lunges into your workout routine and experimenting with different variations and progressions, you can develop strong and resilient lower body muscles while improving balance, stability, and overall fitness.

Conclusion

Compound exercises are the cornerstone of any effective strength training program, offering a multitude of benefits for muscle growth, strength development, and overall fitness.

By engaging multiple muscle groups simultaneously, compound exercises maximize muscle activation and efficiency, allowing for greater gains in strength and muscle mass.

These dynamic movements not only build functional strength but also improve coordination, stability, and muscular endurance.

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced lifter, incorporating compound exercises into your workout routine is essential for achieving your fitness goals and unlocking your body’s full potential.

As you’ve learned, the seven compound exercises outlined in this article are some of the most effective tools for building muscle, strength, and overall fitness. From squats and deadlifts to bench presses and pull-ups, each exercise offers unique benefits and targets different muscle groups to ensure comprehensive development.

Whether you’re aiming to pack on muscle mass, increase strength, or improve athletic performance, these compound movements have you covered. So, don’t hesitate to incorporate them into your workout routine and experience the transformative power of compound exercises firsthand.

bench press with spotter lb to your Bench Press Boost Your Bench Press Bench Press VariationsSource: Photo courtesy of CrossFit Inc.

Remember, achieving your fitness goals requires dedication, consistency, and perseverance. It’s not always easy, but the rewards are well worth the effort. Whether you’re striving to build a stronger, healthier body, or pushing yourself to reach new heights in your fitness journey, know that you have the power to succeed.

Stay focused, stay motivated, and never underestimate the impact of your hard work and determination. With the right mindset and a commitment to excellence, you can conquer any challenge and achieve the results you desire. So, embrace the power of compound exercises, unleash your inner strength, and take your fitness journey to new heights. Your future self will thank you for it.

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Studies

Study Title: “Comparison of Compound versus Isolation Exercises in Trained Individuals”

Authors: Schoenfeld, Brad J.; Contreras, Bret; Krieger, James; Grgic, Jozo; Delcastillo, Kyle; Belliard, Ramon; Alto, Andrew

Published in: Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research

Summary: This study compared the effects of compound exercises (e.g., squats, deadlifts, bench presses) with isolation exercises on muscle hypertrophy and strength gains in trained individuals. Results demonstrated that compound exercises induced greater overall muscle growth and strength improvements compared to isolation exercises.

Study Title: “Acute Hormonal Responses to Compound versus Isolation Resistance Exercise in College-Aged Men”

Authors: Shaner, Aaron A.; Vingren, Jakob L.; Hatfield, Disa L.; Budnar Jr, Ronald G.; Duplanty, Anthony A.; Hill, David W.

Published in: International Journal of Sports Medicine

Summary: This study examined the acute hormonal responses (e.g., testosterone, growth hormone) following compound resistance exercises (e.g., squats, deadlifts) versus isolation exercises in college-aged men. Findings revealed that compound exercises elicited greater hormonal responses compared to isolation exercises, suggesting their potential for promoting muscle growth and strength development.

Study Title: “Effect of Compound Resistance Training versus Isolation Exercises on Muscle Thickness in Healthy Adults”

Authors: Gentil, Paulo; Soares, Saulo R.; Pereira, Maria C.; Cunha, Roberto R.; Martorelli, Silvana S.; Martorelli, André S.; Bottaro, Martim

Published in: Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness

Summary: This study investigated the effects of compound resistance training (e.g., squats, bench presses) versus isolation exercises on muscle thickness in healthy adults. Results demonstrated that compound exercises produced greater increases in muscle thickness compared to isolation exercises, highlighting their effectiveness for muscle hypertrophy.

Study Title: “Neuromuscular Adaptations to Compound versus Isolation Resistance Training in Trained Males”

Authors: Sabido, Rafael; Hernández-Davó, Jose L.; Botella, Javier; Navarro, Álvaro; Tous-Fajardo, Julio

Published in: European Journal of Applied Physiology

Summary: This study compared the neuromuscular adaptations to compound resistance training (e.g., squats, deadlifts) versus isolation exercises in trained males. Results showed that compound exercises induced greater improvements in neuromuscular coordination and muscle activation compared to isolation exercises, indicating their superiority for enhancing strength and athletic performance.

Study Title: “Effects of Compound versus Isolation Exercises on Functional Performance in Older Adults”

Authors: Fragala, Maren S.; Cadore, Eduardo L.; Dorgo, Sandor; Izquierdo, Mikel; Kraemer, William J.; Peterson, Mark D.; Ryan, Eric D.

Published in: Journal of Aging and Physical Activity

Summary: This study examined the effects of compound versus isolation exercises on functional performance in older adults. Results revealed that compound exercises, such as squats and lunges, led to greater improvements in functional capacity, balance, and mobility compared to isolation exercises. These findings underscore the importance of compound exercises for maintaining independence and quality of life in aging populations.

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