Compound over Isolation: My Fav Exercises

Hey guys! So today I want to talk about my favorite workouts/exercises for those of you who may be new to working out, or, for those who really want to see results (in addition to following a very clean diet). There are SO MANY different exercises out there for all the body parts and I know this can get completely overwhelming and you may not know which ones you should be doing or which ones are MOST BENEFICIAL. I will discuss, first, why you should focus on COMPOUND MOVEMENTS over isolation (not that isolation exercises are bad they just are not as efficient), and second, why you should avoid machines and focus on free weights (barbell, kettlebell, dumbbell). This isn’t to say ALL machines are bad, but, if you are wanting to see results, i.e., build muscle, burn fat, lose weight, etc., then I will share why compound movements + free weights are the best.

First of all, compound movements are awesome because they work more than one major muscle group at a time (isolation = 1 muscle group). These exercises include things such as squats, bench press, shoulder press (including olympic lifts such as clean and press), deadlifts, lunges, pull-ups, etc. You are utilizing large muscle groups/multiple muscle groups for each of these exercises therefore getting a lot of benefits. I utilize each of these compound movements every week – increasing reps or weight as needed – in order to continue to gain strength and muscle. I will go into detail below about why I love these movements and why you should focus on utilizing them each week.

  1. SQUAT. This is probably my fav leg exercise of all time. Duh. Barbell squat. And squat heavy. This will completely shape your glutes and thighs as well as help strengthen your core. You will gain confidence as well as an excellent rear. The squat can be done with dumbbells or a barbell or jumping! I love to focus on barbell back squats and front squats, as well as weighted squat jumps to build power and increase fast twitch muscle fibers. If you are thinking that you can build excellent glutes without squatting, good luck! You should squat heavy and often and learn to love this exercise as it’s so beneficial in so many ways. I am currently using and loving the Hatch squat app which I recommend you look into getting. It requires that you find your 1RM for both back and front squat and then you follow this 12 week program for 2 leg days a week and it plans your reps, weight and sets for you and is supposed to give you an awesome squat foundation and help you get stronger.
    1. *favorite versions of the squat: bulgarian split squat (I use a kettlebell), barbell front squat, back squat, plie squat, weighted jump squats
  2. DEADLIFT. Another favorite. I have scoliosis and I used to be afraid of deadlifting too heavy. Granted, I am still cautious because of my slight muscular imbalance, but, I still love to deadlift on a weekly basis. You can do barbell or dumbbell deadlifts, or sumo or romanian or single-leg. TONS of variation so you can always switch it up to not get bored. I personally LOVE single-leg deadlifts – this totally helps you focus on each leg and stabilizer muscles as you are required to stand on one leg. It helps your balance and also strengthens the muscles in your ankles. I like to take 2 25 or 30 lb dumbbells and do 4 sets of 10-12 reps per leg.
    1. Favorite versions: sumo and single leg with dumbbells
  3. LUNGE.  I do walking lunges at each leg day because they work so many different muscles in the body! You are hitting a ton of muscles through one exercise. I love to do heavy walking lunges with 2 35 lb or 30 lb dumbbells and do 4 sets of 16 reps per leg. I superset mountain climbers or pushups in between to keep my heart rate up.
    1. favs: walking lunges with dumbbells, barbell front rack lunges (gets heart rate UP UP UP!)
  4. SHOULDER PRESS. This is so awesome for building size in your shoulders. In order to gain muscle mass you gotta push heavy sh*t above your head (but not too heavy – shoulders are easily injured so be careful!). You can use dumbbells or a barbell for these, and I like to keep my weight heavy and reps lower – in the 8-10 rep range – and you can always do burnout sets with lighter weights. It’s great to use both higher and lower rep ranges, but, to gain strength and muscle mass you need to stick within the 8-12 rep range (with 10 or 12 being a struggle).
    1. favs: CLEAN AND PRESS. These are even better than a traditional shoulder press because you use a little momentum and start down in a deadlift position and utilize even more muscles than the shoulder press alone. I love incorporating these into shoulder workouts and you can add super-sets with kettlebell swings or mountain climbers among other things to keep your heart rate up!
    2. Strict shoulder press with barbell
  5. BENCH PRESS. Bench press not only works your chest muscles but also your anterior deltoid and your triceps. Ladies, you won’t look like a hulk if you work on your bench press. I have been working on mine lately and so far I can get up to 85# for 3 reps (I remember when I used to feel so weak at this). This really helps to shape the front of your shoulder (anterior deltoid) as well as tone your triceps! Plus, it just feels good being strong. I superset these with push-ups sometimes- as it is good to be strong at both (just because one can bench press a lot does not mean one can whip out a ton of pushups – so do both!!) I also love to super-set these with pull-ups.
  6. BARBELL ROW. I love this for back days!! It’s so much more efficient than focusing on cable machines because you are required to use stabilizer muscles and you target so many muscles in the back. This is a must to build shapely feminine back muscles. Again, ladies, you will not get bulky! You will just sculpt gorgeous muscles in your back. Also, doing bent over barbell rows help you with your squat strength too!
    1. Other fav versions: single and double arm dumbbell rows; t-bar row
  7. KETTLEBELL SWING. I love this exercise soooo much! It’s so good for building core strength and it makes you sweat and gets your heart rate way up. I highly recommend KB swings in almost every workout as a super-set to any exercise because of the benefits you get all around.
  8. PULL UPS. I am working on these constantly each week. Pull-ups are so awesome because you work practically your entire back as well as shoulders and biceps. I used to use the assisted pullup machine until I decided it wasn’t doing me ANY good so now I get myself over to the pullup bar and I practice there! You gotta do these every day (almost) in order to get better and you can start with a band for support if that helps. Now I am able to do 7 in a row so I will just keep working at it. I do recommend on back days that you do a lot of heavy lat pulldowns and bent over barbell rows and bicep exercises as well as working on pull-ups with resistance bands until you are strong enough to do 1 pullup. Then you can start doing sets of 1-2, for 15-10 sets each day and before you know it you will be able to do a couple. You just gotta practice and do them!

Now I will discuss why I am not a fan of the machines at the gym. Honestly, I never use them. The only machine I will utilize is the cable machine for lat pull downs (usually a warm-up exercise) or seated cable row. I love seated cable row and feel that it’s a good, beneficial exercise to do on back days. But those other machines…I can’t even begin to tell you what they are or what they do because I avoid them! Focusing on free weights and barbells is so much better because these require many more muscle groups and stabilizer muscles so you get so much more out of the workout. It’s functional. I also prefer to stand most of the time and refrain from doing seated exercises (unless it’s bench press, obviously) because you work more muscles when you are standing (CORE/ABS) than when you sit. Really, if you are at the gym, you should be standing and moving as much as you can because you are not going to burn many calories or get a good workout if you’re always sitting (which is what most machines require you to do).

So to sum up, if you are wanting to see results try to focus on the above compound movements each week, add a few isolation exercises to the end of your workout (they should not be the bulk!), and ramp up the intensity (include super-sets, limit rest, lift heavier). Isolation movements =  bicep curls, tricep extensions, farmer walks, calf raises, leg extensions, lat raises, etc… I hate when I see people starting out a leg day with leg extension and ham curls….you gotta get to the squat rack first/early on people! Finish your leg day with the curls and extensions as these do not require a ton of effort and are easier to do when tired. Plus, squatting, lunging and deadlifting are much more functional and you will reap many more benefits (strength, burn more fat, build more muscle, burn more calories, sweat more, increased heart-rate) from doing these exercises as opposed to the isolation ones.

As always, thank you for reading and I hope I was able to give some good information and perhaps inspire you to switch up your workouts to focus on more compound movements!





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