Compound Exercises
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Compound Leg Exercises

Compound exercises are the opposite of isolated exercises because they engage multiple muscles.These exercises are recommended for gym-goers wanting to develop strength and for gym beginners who do not yet have the muscular balance or strength to complete isolated exercises correctly or safely.

One way of knowing if an exercise is a compound one is to calculate how many joints are in motion when executing the exercise. If there is more than one joint in motion, the exercise will be a compound exercise.

Here are some examples of the best compound leg exercises

1. Barbell Squat


Muscles Worked

The barbell squat is one of the most popular exercises in the gym. Most bodybuilders and powerlifters use the barbell squat to strengthen and build power in their legs.

The barbell squat primarily targets the quadriceps but also work other muscles such as the hamstring, calves, and glutes. Overall, the barbell squat comes with several benefits.

Benefits of Barbell Squat

  • Increases lower body strength
  • Increases core strength
  • Build leg muscles
  • Improve sports activities

How to do Barbell Squats

  1. Set the barbell at shoulder height.
  2. Get under the bar and make sure it rests on top of the shoulder.
  3. Secure it with your hands, then press up and step back so that the bar is suspended by your body.
  4. Squat downwards and keep your back straight.
  5. When your glutes go below your knees explode back up to the starting position
  6. Repeat

2. Romanian Deadlift


Muscles Worked

The Romanian deadlift targets muscles in the legs such as the hamstring, calves, and quadriceps.

A  study from the  University of Memphis, reveals that the hamstring becomes very active when performing the Romanian Deadlift. The study further advises that athletes and coaches who want to maximise their hamstring activity should incorporate the Romanian deadlift in their training.

Benefits of Romanian Deadlift

  • The Romanian deadlift compound leg exercise has several benefits that extend from strength building to improving overall performance.
  • It improves flexibility in all athletic movements for sports athletes.
  • Fitness competitors and people who are suffering from an athletic injury can also benefit from the Romanian Deadlift Exercise.

How to do the Romanian Deadlift

  1. Place your feet hip-width apart and hold the barbell in line with your thigh.
  2. Keep your hands shoulder-width apart.
  3. With your back straight, bend at your waist, extend your hips out, and lower the bar as far as your flexibility allows.
  4. Contract your glutes (butts) with force and extend your hips a bit more before standing up.
  5. Repeat.

3. Leg Press


Muscles Worked

The leg press mainly works the quadriceps and hamstrings but also incorporates other muscles. When all these muscles are strengthened you can combat age-related loss of muscle mass, according to the Harvard Medical School Website.

Benefits of Leg Press

Supports neurological healthFrontiers in Neuroscience published the result of a study they did to find out the impact restriction has on the nervous system.

The study reveals that when the legs are used in weight-bearing exercises, signals that are important for healthy neural cell development are sent to the brain.

Therefore, if exercise is restricted in the legs the body will find it difficult to produce new nerve cells.

How to do Leg Press

  • After positioning yourself on the resistance plate, point your knees and toes forward.
  • Bend your knee at 90 degrees.
  • Inhale, exhale, and contract your glutes, abs, quadriceps, and hamstrings then push the plates with your feet flat.
  • While pushing keep your upper body still.
  • At the top of the leg press, pause, then slowly bend your knees back into position.
  • Repeat.

4. Dumbbell Lunge


Muscles Worked

The dumbbell lunge targets the quadriceps muscles at the front of the thigh. The quadriceps muscles help to keep your kneecap in a straight position and will straighten the knee if its in a bent position. The dumbbell Lunge also targets the muscles in the calves, butts, and inner thighs.

Benefits of Dumbbell Lunge

  • Enhance physical activities – For sprinting and jumping athletes the dumbbell lung should be added to their workout regime. This is because the exercise works on eccentric movement such as slowing down during sprint and improve running speed.
  • Improve core strength and stability – doing dumbbell lunges will improve your core strength and stability so that you can balance your body while engaging in other activities. The exercise also reduces the risk of back pain and injury while strengthening your body.

How to do Dumbbell Lunge

  1. Stand in a straight position while holding a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Place your arms at your side and keep your feet shoulder-width apart.
  3. Bend your knee until the front thigh is parallel to the ground and take a big step forward with one leg.
  4. Inhale as you go down. Don’t allow your knee to past your toes.
  5. Exhale and return to your standing position.
  6. Repeat the steps with the other leg.
  7. Repeat by alternating each leg until you complete at least 12 lunges.

5. Reverse Lunge + Bicep Curl


Muscles Worked

Building on from the dumbbell lunge above, the reverse lunge with bicep curl activates different leg muscles and more. The main muscles that are engaged in this exercise are your glutes and hamstrings, while the inclusion of a bicep curl at the bottom of the lunge also works the biceps.

Benefits of a Reverse Lunge with Curl

  • Increases lower-body strength – this exercise focuses on strengthening the lower body in a controlled motion that will help athletes that must complete lots of quick bursts over short distances, such as football, hockey and tennis players. It predominantly targets the muscles on the back of the legs, which can be left underdeveloped if exercisers only focus their efforts on back squats.
  • Improved balance – during this exercise the core is engaged to keep the performer stable while balancing. By performing a curl at the bottom of the lunge, the core is worked even more to maintain balance. Therefore, this type of lunge is even better at developing balance.
  • Stronger biceps – As a compound exercise uses two or more joints, most of these exercises focus on the legs and it can be difficult to work upper-body muscles. The inclusion of an isolated exercise like a dumbbell curl makes this compound exercise unique and helps develop upper-body strength at the same time.

How to Do a Reverse Lunge with Bicep Curl

  1. Take a hip-wide stance with dumbbells that you are able to curl and place your arms down holding the weights to your side (palms facing legs).
  2. Step backwards with one foot followed by lowering your legs and hips together into a lunge.
  3. A bicep curl should be performed simultaneously when lowering your hips and legs into the lunge position.
  4. Return to the starting position while remaining balanced. Keep your non-lunging foot firmly in place and return your lunging foot perpendicular to it – without allowing it to be planted on the ground.
  5. Repeat between six and ten times before switching legs.

6. Elevated Plank with Rotation


Muscles Worked

The final compound leg exercise on the list is unique because it does not involve the lower body primarily. It focuses on developing the abdominals and muscles around the shoulder. 

Benefits of an Elevated Plank with Rotation

  • No equipment required – lots of compound exercises include equipment, whether it be a barbell, weights or even a medicine ball. This one is different because it doesn’t require any equipment at all. It can be completed at the gym or conveniently at home.
  • More engaging – this exercise builds on developing core muscles usingthe plank exercise. Lots of performers find the plank boring, but by making it into a compound exercise it becomes more engaging, and more beneficial.
  • Stronger core and shoulders – it is beneficial because it develops the core muscle while planking but engages them further through holding yourself with one arm as rotating upwards to engage the shoulder muscles. It is especially beneficial to those who need good endurance and strong shoulders, such as swimmers, divers and rugby players.

How to Perform an Elevated Plank with Rotation

  1. Begin in an elevated push-up/plank position. Arms should be straight and directly beneath the shoulders and feet should be around the width of your hips apart. The core must be engaged.
  2. Fixate your right hand to the floor.
  3. Raise one arm directly up and point it to the ceiling. To do this, you will have to open up your hips and shoulder – and twist your head to follow the raising of your arm.
  4. Lower your arm back to the floor in a controlled manner. Avoid slamming your hand back to the floor.
  5. Repeat around ten times and swap arms.

Before You Start…

Before you start adding any of the above compound exercises to your workout schedule, always consult an exercise professional or personal trainer to monitor your form.

As mentioned at the start of this article, compound exercises are beneficial to lots of people and even newcomers to exercise.

Unfortunately, they also include complex movement patterns that increase the risk of injury.

To get the most from compound exercises and stay safe, getting one of these professionals to ensure you perform them correctly is key to success.

Adnan Munye

A certified personal trainer, Adnan specialises in weight loss, muscle building, body conditioning, core strengthening and injury rehabilitation. Adnan comes from a sporting background, where he has played football, badminton, rugby, and swimming all at various levels.

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