“Our strength, more than any other thing we possess, still determines the quality and the quantity of our time here in these bodies.” – Mark Rippetoe
Compound lifts are the building blocks of fitness and should be the foundation of every strength and conditioning program out there. The three main compound lifts are the Squat, Deadlift, and Overhead Press. If you don’t know how to do these properly it is about time you learn because these lifts will be with you for the rest of your life.
Now everyone and their mothers’ have has probably heard of these three movements but rarely do people actually begin training with them. Instead, the bench and bicep curl are usually the very first exercises any young buck performs when he initially begins his bid to get “jacked”. Somewhere along the way, the other two compound moves have lost flavor. Why? Let’s dig into a bit of history to find the answer.
The Perpetual Marketing Monster
So here’s the deal. Approximately $10 billion US dollars are spent on advertising in the food industry per year. Another several billion is spent on advertising fitness and sports supplements each year. It is no wonder that over the years such strong biases and influences have formed when it comes to the specific nutrition that is “required” for a consumer to get in shape.
The entire fitness industry as a whole is based on providing perceived “value” to customers and ensuring that they will pay for it over and over again. A perfect example of this is a fancy gym membership. In fact, the industry has all but gone short of purposely getting people fat so they could then convince these people that they needed to work out, charge them gym membership fees, and then sell them supplements…all for profit. What a scam.
Barbells existed long before machines were available at gyms as the first tools for resistance training. (The Super Athletes, by David Willoughby A.S. Barnes 1970) But in the 1970s a man by the name of Arthur Jones invented exercise equipment that revolutionized resistance training. Nautilus machines focused on accessory work and claimed that by targeting or “hitting” isolation exercises, muscles would grow quicker and stronger. Since different body parts were being “hit” in succession there was no need to rest between exercises. All a gym had to do was buy the entire 12 machine set and customers could set off on their “circuit”. These Nautilus sets were very expensive mind you. And this was perhaps one of the earliest forms of lies and myths that the fitness industry has grown into. It was a commercial success and a marketing masterpiece. Moreover, it was simple to teach someone how to use a machine that only focused on one body part at a time. There was virtually no chance of injury. Finally, the fact that the circuit could be done in 30 mins naturally streamlined traffic flow and efficiency to a gym and boosted bottom line profits. Genius!
The reason isolation exercises are not as effective in strength training as compound exercises is for the simple fact that the human body functions as an entire system, not just a sum of the parts. As such, it must be trained in this way. The central nervous system controls muscles together as a complex system and isolation exercises do not take into account the benefits and unseen synergies of exercising the full system.
Barbell free weights require the individual to adjust under a load which adds benefits of balance and coordination. And finally, bone is living, stress-responsive tissue that becomes denser in response to heavier weight. Compound resistance training directly strengthens a person’s bones and does so in a way that isolation exercises cannot. This aspect of barbell training is important for older trainees.
The problem with barbell training is that it requires a bit of education and people automatically are daunted by barbells which seem to only cater to meat head body builders.
Don’t think, Just do
“Don’t think about winning the SEC Championship. Think about what you needed to do in this drill, on this play in this moment. That’s the process: Let’s think about what we can do today, the task at hand” – Coach Nick Saban
While you may have gone to the gym for many years the problem is that doing something over and over again does not necessarily mean you are doing it right. Nor does it mean that you are improving.
In the coming posts I will be going over the mechanics of basic compound exercises. Basically everything you need to know to get your hack on. While compound lifts might seem daunting at first, especially if you have not tried them before, they really are quite straightforward. I like to employ an attitude of “don’t think, just do” when it comes to compound exercises. Yes, form is very important and it pays to learn the technicality of the lifts properly and commit the movements to muscle memory. But on the same token, I am not a stickler for form. The human body is an amazing thing and has a powerful auto correct function especially under heavy loads. (Survival instinct?) As long as you are not pushing the envelope on injury, I would encourage you to just get going on your lifts and learn along the way. Start with the squat which is the foundation of all compound lifts and the single greatest exercise you can do for your body.
Less is More
“…work very hard on your workouts but do as little as possible between them. Extra work will defeat your purpose.” Peary Rader
This is a hard concept for most newbies and/or people coming off of a period of unhealthy living to grasp. It is the same reason why most gyms are packed for the first 2 weeks of January and then slowly revert to mean levels of occupancy. “I’m on an aggressive fat burning program so I need to lift 3-4x a week and be doing a ton of cardio?” NO. NO. NO. The most efficient way to get lean is by building lean muscle which will increase your metabolism and fat burning rate. Forget about everything you learned before. If anything, cardio will only detract from your strength gains by fatiguing your muscles for the next workout.
Exercise stimulates muscle growth by tearing them down and forcing them to repair. As such you need a strong diet and plenty of rest. Too much exercise or inadequate nutrition/rest will hamper your gains.