Most people who don't exercise will often state lack of time as their reason for not starting a regular fitness program, but it is possible for people to juggle busy lives and still find the time for a quality workout!

The key is to build a weight-training program composed of compound exercises.

Compound Vs. Isolation Exercises

Exercises can be classified as either compound, which involve multiple joints and more than one muscle group (such as the deadlift, bench press, and overhead press), or isolation exercises, which are exercises that isolate a single muscle group only (such as a triceps pull-down or calf raise).

For the most time-efficient workouts, compound lifts are recommended because a mere 8-10 compound exercises can stimulate all the major muscles in the body at once. Compound lifts create the greatest change in body composition in the shortest time, and have the added benefit of helping to develop the body proportionately.

Since compound exercises require the use of multiple joints, more muscle groups are recruited and used per compound exercise than with other exercises.

Exercises can be classified either as compound, which are exercises that involve more than one muscle group, or isolation exercises, which are exercises that isolate a muscle group.

For example, the deadlift is a multijoint exercise because both the hips and knees are working to execute the movement, triggering several connected muscle groups at once, including the glutes, hams, quads, lats, traps, deltoids, and the full range of grip and core muscles!

On the other hand, the biceps curl is a single-joint exercise since only the elbow joint is moving. The biceps curl only works one major muscle and is an isolated exercise. Focusing on isolation movements when you're strapped for time and trying to get the most out of your workout routine seems about as silly as only working out the toes of your left foot and praying for overall muscle growth.

The best way to get a quality workout that hits multiple muscle groups is through compound exercises, even without heavy weights. Compounds performed with even just a barbell and body weight, in a high-rep routine, can provide a total-body, muscle-building workout that puts single arm exercises to shame.

An added benefit is that compound lifts also increase overall strength and size far more effectively than single-joint, isolation exercises because they signal the production of large concentrations of testosterone and growth hormone.

Some people are afraid of getting too big following a program of compound lifts, but most people don't have to worry about that. Women, especially, do not often possess enough of the hormone testosterone to accidentally build large, bulky muscles simply by following a full-body weightlifting routine.

Overall, single-joint exercises are not less important than compound movements—isolation exercises play an important role in fitness, especially for body sculpting—but if your schedule calls for reduced exercise time, compound exercises are the way to go.

Compound Exercises For Huge Results

For a powerful compound workout, consider incorporating these exercises into your routine. You can use heavy weights, or even scale down to just body weight if needed.

EXERCISE 1: Barbell Squat

Tied for the kingship of lower-body exercise, the squat is at the top of the list as one of the best compound exercises.

EXERCISE 2: Barbell Deadlift

The deadlift's importance in lower-body muscle building can't be overstated, but it's also an incredible upper-body builder, so if you had to choose between the squat and the deadlift for all-around strength training, the deadlift dethrones the squat.

EXERCISE 3: Dumbbell Lunges

Along with squats and the deadlift, lunges rock for lower-body development and strength-building, hitting the hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes, abs, and back all at once.

EXERCISE 4: Barbell Bench Press

Watch the muscles of your back develop and take shape in no time at all with this granddaddy of exercises for the back. You will also be impressed with how toned your arms will become without doing even one biceps curl!

EXERCISE 5: Wide-Grip Lat Pull-Downs

Watch the muscles of your back develop and take shape in no time at all with this great exercise for the back. It will also tone your arms!

EXERCISE 6: Dumbbell Shoulder Press

The overhead shoulder press is excellent for developing the shoulders, upper back and neck, and for toning the triceps. The overhead press can also be performed with a barbell.

EXERCISE 7: Abdominal Bicycle

This abdominal exercise, done on the floor, is one of the best compound movements to target the whole abdominal area, including the upper, lower, and side regions.

How Many Sets Should You Do?

If you're only starting out, one set of each of these exercises to muscle fatigue—probably between 8-12 reps—is enough for one day's workout, using light weights.

The last few reps of each set should be challenging but shouldn't cause you to compromise your form.

You can do this workout on alternating days like Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to give your muscles some rest days.

Another way to keep stimulating your muscles is to occasionally change your hand position, your feet position or change your body angle.

It's best to ease into compound movements over a period of a few weeks, creating good habits before increasing your weights. As you progress in technique and strength, extra sets of each exercise and more weight can be added.

You'll soon figure out the best way to structure your fitness routine. Maybe two days a week you go light and only do six of the exercises, 2 sets apiece, and one day a week you go heavy, adding weight but only doing half the exercises, with more sets apiece.

At some point, you can start to superset with pull-ups or chin-ups, which are also compound exercises, between your weighted compound exercises.

Compound exercises are proven, time-efficient muscle builders, so the next time you're tempted to back out of your workout because of time concerns, remember that you should be working smarter, not longer. Combined with plenty of sleep, clean-eating principles, and a positive attitude, you'll see huge improvements in your fitness level!

About the Author

Diana Rini

Diana Rini

Diana has spent many years promoting fitness related activities in her roles as a personal trainer, group fitness instructor, and fitness consultant.

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