In an excellent post on making exercises more efficient (click the link below), fitness expert Jennifer Cohen illustrates how to use compound movements effectively:

In the same way, let me make a few suggestions for those of you starting in the gym, to maximize your efficiency.

Compound movements are simply exercises using multiple joints. Isolation exercises, which use primarily one muscle group, are frequently used in the gym; the most popular include curls, triceps extensions, leg extensions, among others. The thinking, of course, is that by isolating the muscle group, you can work it to a greater degree, and perhaps ‘shape it’ better along the way.

Take this one simple test:
Do three sets of proper chin-ups (as many reps as you can each set), then let me know if you got a great bicep workout along with a substantial upper back pump. Why do one exercise for one muscle group when one exercise can work multiple muscle groups? Here’s the downside to chin-ups: most people can’t lift their own body weight hanging from a bar. So what do you do?

Do an ‘assisted’ pull up:

1. As you hang from the bar, cross your feet and curl them behind you, making your shins parallel to the floor. A Spotter, standing behind you, lightly lifts your feet as you perform the movement.
You will be amazed at how effective this is. Don’t be afraid to ask someone at the gym to help, most will be glad to do so.

2. Every health club has the machine for assisted pull-ups. It has a platform that you stand on, allowing you to grasp the bar overhead. To assist you, there is a movable bar to stand on that, by using counter-balancing weights, gives you control of how much weight you’re actually lifting. You could do a pull-up with the equivalent force of only lifting 10 pounds if you want, by simply adjusting the counter weight.
Every woman in the gym should be using this piece of equipment–but virtually no one does.

This exercise is one of the best movements you can do to combat curvature of the upper spine as you age. Supplement this movement with close-grip seated pull-downs to really target this area.

So… let’s do chin-ups instead of curls when we’re at the gym. Find a way to get it done. (A chin-up is done with your palms facing and works the biceps more than a pull-up that, with palms away, utilitizes a bit more of the rear delts (shoulder muscles) to lift the body to the bar.)

Next, let’s work Triceps along the way with working chest. It’s simple. When you’re doing a bench press, it’s the Triceps (back of the arms) along with the pecs, that get the bar up–especially after the midpoint of the movement. We’re not going to use the bar, however, we’re going to use dumbbells. Dumbbells are more challenging to your coordination and eliminate your dominant side doing more of the work. I guarantee that if you’ve gotten a good front upper body workout with dumbbell bench presses, along with some dips, Incline presses, and push-ups, you will have gotten a great Triceps workout along the way.

Lastly, as I posted recently in ‘Squat, Seniors… Squat’, this is an exercise that does everything you need for your lower body. Why do leg extensions seated on a machine, when you can accomplish so much more by doing squats?

You can really get a great full-body workout doing these basic three: Chin-ups, Bench Presses, and Squats.

Keeping It Simple and Effective,


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