Most modern gyms nowadays boast an array of fancy, sophisticated and sometimes intimidating machines that work your muscles. Many beginners are lured by the shiny looks and impressive pulleys, pads, cables and handles of these machines, thinking that such sophisticated machinery must surely work muscles better than a plain simple barbell. Well, barbells and dumbbells are not ready yet to be thrown out of the window as they are prerequisites to performing compound exercises. Why do compound exercises then instead of using machines?
Compound = complex
Compound exercises derive their name from the fact that they work more than one muscle. They compound your workout in a sense. The bench press is a compound exercise and works manly the pectoral muscles on the chest but also the shoulders and the triceps. The squat is another compound movement, also called the big daddy of all exercises by some because of its ability to recruit most muscles of the body, even those of the upper body. Compare the muscles involved in the squat to that of the leg extension. The leg extension is an isolation exercise that targets the quadriceps exclusively. Great exercise to burn the quads but you won’t be able to build as much muscle as with the squat.
Check out this post on the top tricep exercise and you can see that the compound movements win.
Free weight concept
But I can do compound exercises on machines, I hear you say. You can do the machine equivalent of the bench press by pushing the handles in front of you. You can do the machine version equivalent of the shoulder dumbbell or barbell press by sitting and pushing the machine handles up. But what these machines don’t let you do is balance the weight by yourself. That’s why the machine bench press and the machine shoulder press are not really compound exercises although they do involve the same groups of muscles. The other key component of compound exercises is the necessity to balance the weight. This is especially true of the squats. Total beginners doing dumbbell presses for the shoulders or the chest might very well find it near impossible in the beginning to balance the dumbbells. They might be pushing 60 kg on the bench press but press only 10 kg dumbbells each with shaky movements.
Compound exercises are the fundamentals to a good, effective workout that will produce noticeable and positive changes in your physique. Machines still have their place in the gym and in your workout but they are the icing on the cake, not the bread and butter of your workout.