If you’re that person who has to set a hard time limit on your dedicated fitness time — because hey, we’re all human with lives to balance — then compound movements may well be the key to maximising your sessions and their benefits.
What are compound movements?
A compound movement is a move that will work multiple muscle groups/joints in one movement as opposed to isolation exercises that will use one joint and isolate a muscle on its own.
Benefits of compound movements
Compound movements can save time in the gym, add extra calories getting melted during your workout and increase your chances of hypertrophy (muscle growth).
Why choose compound over isolation exercises?
Isolation exercises grouped in one workout can add time to your session and will only hit one muscle whereas the compound moves will hit multiple muscles in one move both saving time and adding additional benefits.
What is a pull day?
A pull day is exactly what it says on the tin. You perform exercises that require a pull movement. This sounds a bit bizarre to begin with, but if you discard lower body exercises and start to think about it, it all becomes clear. You’ll work your biceps and forearms as well as your whole back. And here are some exercises to incorporate.
- Hold a barbell with your palms down. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart.
- Bend your knees and bring your torso forward slightly. Your back should be straight and almost parallel to the floor. This is your starting position.
- Lift the barbell up towards your sternum, keeping your elbows tucked in and close to the body.
- Pause and hold at the top of the movement, squeezing your back muscles.
- Slowly lower the barbell back to the starting position.
- Repeat for the desired amount of reps.
Tips: Keep your spine straight and neutral. Don’t get caught using momentum to pull the bar. Keep the form tight and squeeze the back.
Targets: Lats, biceps, traps, core.
4 Sets & 8 Reps
Underhand EZ Bar Row
- Grab the EZ-Bar with your palms facing down and in, grip about shoulder width apart.
- Bend slightly at the knees and over at the waist.
- Let your arms hang down with the bar and then pull the bar up to your chest.
- Lower the bar back down with control.
Tips: Keep your back and neck straight and core engaged throughout.
Targets: Biceps, lats, rhomboids.
4 Sets & 8-12 Reps
- Using a supinated grip (palms facing towards you) with your arms shoulder-width apart, hang from the bar in the starting position.
- Then proceed to pull yourself up to the top of the bar, pausing for a moment, and then lower yourself back down.
- Tips: Keep it strict. Don’t swing and use the momentum.You will not see the same benefits.
Targets: Arms, lats, core.
3 Sets & 8-12 Reps
- Sit on the lat pulldown machine and adjust the knee pad so that there is no free space and you’re seated tightly.
- Place your feet flat on the floor, push your chest upwards and out.
- Take hold of the bar, with your hands in a wide grip.
- When you’re in your starting position inhale and make sure you keep your posture without letting your scapula loosen or your shoulders raise.
- Exhale when you begin the movement
- Pull through your elbows until you’re able to squeeze your lats at the bottom of the movement and your shoulder blades are together.
- Slowly raise the bar back up until your arms are extended and back in the starting position.
Tips: Don’t let the machine pull you. Keep the movement controlled and don’t shrug your shoulders.
Targets: Lats, biceps.
4 Sets & 8-12 Reps
Seated Cable Rows
- Take a seat on the machine and bring your feet up to the footpad in front, with your knees bent.
- Extend your arms and hold the handle, keep your shoulders back and keep your core tight, make sure your back doesn’t curl or arch over.
- Now you’re in position, bend your elbows and pull the weight towards your body, just under your chest. Don’t pull it up too high.
- As you bring the handle towards your body, squeeze your lats and shoulder blades, holding the contraction by pausing for a second.
- Slowly extend your arms to full extension, keeping your back straight throughout.
Tips: If the machine at your gym doesn’t have a footpad, simply keep your feet grounded and keep the core engaged. You’re not rowing a boat.
Targets: Mid Traps, rhomboids, Biceps
4 Sets & 8-12 Reps
- Stand next to a bench, holding a dumbbell in your right hand with your palm facing in.
- Rest your left knee and left hand on the bench for support.
- Bend forward, from the hips, so that your back is straight and parallel to the floor.
- Pull your dumbbell up until your right elbow is pointing to the ceiling and your upper arm is parallel to the floor.
- Lower the weight back down and repeat to desired reps.
- Swap to the other arm for the next set.
Tips: Keep the shoulder set and squeeze your shoulder blades to activate the muscles more.
Targets: Lats, Biceps
4 Sets & 8-12 Reps
- Set a fixed barbell to a height that is roughly equivalent to your waist
- The higher you place the bar, the easier the movement gets as you can be more vertical (which removes the weight of your lower body from the lift)
- Position yourself under the bar so that the bar is directly over the middle of your chest
- Extend your legs out completely and place your heels firmly into the ground so that your body is in a straight line
- Grab the bar with your grip outside of shoulder width
Tips: Keep the core engaged and body straight.
Targets: Lats, rhomboids, biceps, traps.
4 Sets & 8 Reps
- Reach up and grasp the handles with both hands with your palms facing in.
- Step back until your arms are fully extended, then engage your core and lean back slightly, positioning your body at a roughly 20-degree angle.
- Pull the rope toward you just enough to start lifting the weight from the stack, then engage your shoulders.
- Pull the handles of the attachment straight toward your forehead.
- Keep your palms facing in as your elbows flare outward toward the sides, engaging the rear delts.
- Reverse the movement and slowly extend your arms without allowing your shoulders or chest to roll forward as you extend.
Tips: Keep the shoulders pinned back and look forward to maintain good posture.
Targets: Traps, Rear delts
5 Sets & 8-12 Reps
Chest Supported Rows
- Set an incline bench at 45 degrees.
- Grab a pair of dumbbells, and approach the bench with your chest toward the angled pad, then lean onto it. Plant your feet firmly on the floor, and let your arms hang straight down, palms facing each other. This is the starting position.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together and drive your elbows toward the ceiling, bringing the dumbbells to your ribcage.
- Slowly reverse the move, and repeat for reps.
Tips: Keep the spine neutral and squeeze the shoulder blades together.
Targets: Lats, Traps, Biceps and Rhomboids.
4 Sets & 10 Reps
Take home message
Pulling exercise can cover some of the largest muscle groups in the body so focusing on compound movements will reduce your training time and increase your results in terms of strength and growth and, on more than one muscle in one movement.