If you read any of the popular men’s health magazines or follow some of the “instagram body pro’s” you have probably noticed they are constantly trying to sell you on some new type of workout to build muscle mass.
However, if you actually look at the core workouts for any serious athlete they haven’t changed in 50 years. What built dense, thick muscle for men in the 70’s is still the heart of training today whether you are a bodybuilder, football player or just a recreational gym goer.
These compound exercises may be simple in nature but they are brutally effective because they recruit the most amount of muscle fiber per lift, which is exactly what you need to bulk up.
Trust me when I say these guys pitching crazy routines and a different variation of the curl may be doing it now to mix things up in an effort to either keep things fresh and fun or add an 1/8 inch to their bicep peak but that is not how they got to where they are at.
Here Are The Top 5 Compound Exercises To Build Muscle Mass
- Bench Press
- Barbell Row
- Shoulder Press
That’s really all you need.
Benefits of Compound Exercises
Compound exercises provide several benefits over isolation exercises due to the heavy muscle recruitment involved. This not only affects the body’s response but also the brain’s as well.
Let’s take a more indepth look at some of the benefits.
Raise Testosterone Levels
They have done these studies on a wide range of men from 30 – 60 and with men of normal activity levels to athletes and the results are always the same with a boost in testosterone.
It also appears that compound movements decrease resting cortisol levels which is a great secondary benefit as cortisol is known as the “stress hormone” and can wreak havoc on your body and healthy hormone levels.
Increase Growth Hormone (GH)
In a study on resistance trained men performing a standard bench press at 70% of their 1 rep max, researchers found that growth hormone increases significantly after the exercise (study).
Of the 16 lifters they had 8 men lower the bar (eccentric phase) in 1 second before contracting and raising the bar back up. While these men did see a large boost in GH, it was even better among the second group of men who took 3 seconds to lower the bar.
The men who used a 3 second eccentric phase saw their GH increase by a whopping 1700%.
In another 6 month study on college athletes the men were seperated into two groups.
- Group one was given an heavy resistance progressive overload upper body routine.
- Group two was given the same upper body workout but also given squats and deadlifts to perform.
The researchers found that both groups saw a spike in growth hormone but the 2nd group who performed squats and deadlifts saw a “significantly higher” increase than the men who only performed the upper body exercises.
Burn More Fat & Increase Fat Burning Hormones
High intensity exercises quickly deplete the body of its carbohydrate reservoirs and can therefore move you into the “fat burning” zone much faster than low intensity exercises.
Because compound movements recruit so many muscle fibers for each lift both on the concentric and eccentric phases, it doesn’t get much more high intensity than that.
And because compound movements can increase both testosterone and growth hormone (GH) your body is additionally ramping up powerful fat burning hormones.
Heavy, compound movements require a lot of energy and oxygen to perform and tax the heart and lungs significantly while performing.
You are not going to get the same benefit from squats, deadlifts and bench press as going for a run or doing an intense cycling session but it will still help improve your cardio overall, especially your anaerobic cardio.
If you are performing the exercises properly, it requires a wide range of motion, especially when doing squats.
In fact, for many people to do a proper squat can take a few months of slowing working into it to get the full range of motion in the hips and ankles which is required.
More Efficient Workouts
Because heavy compound movements recruit so many muscle fibers, you simply don’t need to perform a ton of exercises, sets or reps.
Most people can do a full body workout over the course of 2 days with just 45 minutes in each training session (including warmup).
That’s a pretty significant time savings over many of the overly complicated and less effective programs out there.
If this is all new to you, I suggest you take a look at the Strong Lifts 5X5 program.
Other Great Compound Exercises
There are a lot of varation possibilities with the 5 exercises mentioned. For instance with the squat you can do several different styles including powerlifting, ass-to-grass, front squat, pile, kickback, frog etc…
But here are a few other different compound exercises you can use to mix up your routine and keep things fresh and your muscles stimulated in unique ways.
- Most Any Exercise with a Kettlebell or Sandbag