When it comes to burning calories or putting on lean muscle, like anything, there is a strategy that can improve the speed of your desired results. Either goal requires that there are large muscle groups activated during an exercise. This is describing what we refer to as compound movements or multi-joint exercises. Our team of trainers describe compound movements as being an exercise that dynamically engages multiple joints. A compound exercise recruits large groups of muscle which when trained correctly will burn more calories and improve overall strength. The other type of exercise is what we refer to as an isolated exercise which is also called an accessory movement. This type of movement dynamically engages one single joint at a time versus multiple joints like the compound movement.
To give an example of the two types of movements, let’s look at an exercise to work the muscles of the back and the biceps, the pull-up. When performing this exercise, both the elbow and the shoulder joints are engaged throughout the entire movement. As the body is pulled upwards, the shoulder joint is being depressed which engages the muscles of the back such as the latissimus dorsi (the “lats”), the rhomboids and more. In regards to the elbow joint, when the angle of the elbow shortens under 180 degrees it is then engaging the biceps. Let’s compare this to a biceps curl. As the exercise performer goes throughout the movement, the angle of the elbow becomes acute, just as it did in the pull-up. However, the only joint dynamically engaged is the elbow joint and not the shoulder joint. The biceps curl is then considered an isolated or accessory movement. Therefore, both the pull-up and the biceps curl are engaging the bicep but the pull-up also engages the back.
So why is this useful? Whether you’re looking to burn calories or put on mass, you want to make sure you’re optimizing compound lifts and not just accessory movements. Each personal trainer with Full Scale Fitness develops every exercise program starting with compound movements. These are the most exhaustive and energy-consuming exercises and therefore should be completed first. If you’re a lifter and looking to put on size, it would be ideal to perform any exercise that can engage the maximum amount of muscle at one time to get the most out of the energy used. A pull up is working the biceps just as much as a curl and it is also engaging the muscles of the back. Kill two muscles with one movement! No two birds shall die or stones be thrown over here, just pure muscle gains! For any individual looking to burn off excess fat, isn’t your goal to burn more calories? Absolutely! If you have one hour to exercise, it’s best filled with compound movements instead of isolated movements.
Now, that doesn’t mean that isolated movements don’t have their place in an exercise prescription. Our trainers start with compound movements but they end on accessory movements. Advancing off of the pull-up example, the back will fatigue along with the biceps after the movement has been completed. It is much more difficult to find more “juice” or energy in the back once it is fatigued, however the biceps typically have a little remaining. This extra bit of energy should then be used to complete isolated movements. If you’ve got a couple drops of fuel left, that may not be enough to do another pull-up but it is enough to do 2 sets of biceps curls! Now that is a win-win situation.
This is why having a professional fitness instructor explain why you are doing what you do will be more beneficial than you may have realized. If you’re going to be putting in the hard work, don’t you want to do it as efficiently and effectively as possible? Of course! By having a personal trainer or strength coach develop your exercise program or teach you how to exercise, they’ll be implementing a scientific approach that is building towards your goals. For the individuals looking to put on strength and mass or those looking to shed excess weight, start doing compound lifts first! Then burn out the rest of your energy/fuel on the accessory lifts.
So next time you’re exercising, as yourself if the movement engages one joint or multiple joints! If you have any questions about fitness or nutrition, please reach out to us at Full Scale Fitness and we would love to help! We want to be a resource to the community when it comes to health and wellness. You don’t have to be a personal training client to receive an answer!
Thank you for reading!
Andy Hanson, MS, CPT, DBC-1
Owner / Head Personal Trainer
*Full Scale Fitness serves the Northeast Ohio region by specializing in-home personal training services and nutrition services. We’re based right out of Akron! We provide all of the necessary equipment and train you from the comfort of your own home! Learn more by visiting our website or by checking out our social media pages! www.facebook.com/fullscalefit and www.instagram.com/fullscalefitness – Thank you!!* #Akron