What are compound movements?
A compound movement is an exercise that works multiple muscle groups and joints. For instance, bench presses are one of the best compound exercises, as they work the chest, triceps and shoulders. Isolation exercises, on the other hand, focus on just one area.
Benefits of compound movements
Compound movements can save you time in the gym, help you burn more calories during a workout, and can lead to greater muscle growth (hypertrophy).
Why choose compound over isolation exercises on push day?
Isolation exercises have their benefits, but they can be time-consuming to include in your workout. Compound moves hit multiple muscles and are an efficient way to build strength and muscle mass.
How does a push day work?
A simple push day will typically involve muscles used to perform pushing movements. It will predominantly consist of exercises that use your shoulders, triceps and chest.
- Plant your feet into the ground, with your bum, upper back, and head all firmly on the bench.
- Unrack the load, with your eyes level with the barbell to start.
- Lower the barbell in line with your mid-chest, keeping your elbows tucked in at a 45-degree angle. Squeeze your shoulder blades together, create an arch in your lower back and engage your core for maximum control.
- Press the load up to the starting position and repeat.
- Activate the lats and keep the core stable. Avoid allowing your elbows to flare outwards.
Muscles worked: triceps, pectorals
Incline Bench Press
- Adjust the bench so your head is elevated at around 45 degrees.
- Perform the bench press with the same technique you would use for a regular bench press.
- This variation targets the deltoids and upper pecs.
- Don’t let your elbows flare outwards and stack the weight over the forearm.
Muscles worked: Upper chest, triceps, front deltoid
- Set up the barbell so it’s racked at roughly chest height.
- Grab the barbell off the rack with both hands in the front rack position (the barbell should be resting at the top of your chest with your palms facing away from you).
- Embrace your core and back to support the movement.
- Exhale and press the barbell upwards until your arms are straight above your head, but do not lock out your elbows.
Muscles worked: deltoids, triceps, core
- Lie down on a bench and bring the dumbbells above your chest. Turn your wrists so that your thumbs are facing each other (pronated grip).
- Position your arms in line with your shoulders and with slightly bent elbows. Slowly lower your arms and spread your elbows as far as possible.
- Hold the stretch for a second and use your chest to bring your arms up and close together in a triangle-like motion. Do not allow the dumbbells to touch each other at the top.
- In order to allow greater muscle contraction, tilt your wrists outwards so that your thumbs are pointing slightly upwards.
- Squeeze your chest and hold the contraction for 1-2 seconds.
- Keep the movement controlled and aim for the middle chest.
Muscles worked: triceps, pectorals
Dumbbell Incline Press
- Adjust the bench to a 45-degree incline. If possible, also make an incline at the seat part of the bench to help prevent you from sliding off.
- Lift dumbbells from the floor to your knees so that the load rests on your legs while you’re sitting on the bench.
- Use your legs to help get the weight up to the starting position. Your torso will be back at a 45-degree angle and your hands should be in line with your shoulders, with your elbows stacked beneath your wrists.
- Push away from the body, avoiding a full elbow lockout.
- Lower the load back to the starting position in a controlled manner and complete your reps.
- Avoid flaring the elbows out of line and stop short of full elbow lockout.
Muscles worked: upper chest, triceps, front deltoid
- Though you may think of push-ups as requiring only your arms to put in a shift, you need to engage your core muscles to perform a plank. Keep your back and legs straight.
- Your feet should be slightly parted to spread your weight across your lower abs. Clench your glutes. Your hands should be a little more than shoulder-width apart. Look straight ahead of you (not down), so that your head is back.
- Keep your elbows close to your torso as you push. At the top of the push-up, your arms should be straight.
- At the bottom, when your elbows are bent, your chest should just about touch the floor.
- Use a mirror to study your form and place a fist-sized object on the floor to make sure you get close enough to the floor.
- Keep your elbows in and ensure the core is engaged, allowing a neutral spine.
Muscles worked: triceps, core, pectorals, deltoid
Reps: to failure
Dumbbell Overhead Press
- Pick a suitable weight for your required number of reps. Raise each weight up and let the dumbbells sit on the shoulders (or just above) with your palms facing forwards.
- Push the weight up above the head and touch the dumbbells together above the head. Then, lower the weight back down until the dumbbells sit back on the shoulder.
- Make sure you do full reps — all the way up and back down. The greater the range of motion, the more muscle fibres you will use, leading to greater muscle growth in the shoulders.
- Repeat the steps for your chosen number of reps and sets. Try to keep the same weight throughout your workout.
- Keep the weight stacked over wrist and forearm, and control the move throughout.
Muscles worked: deltoid, triceps
- Using parallel dip bars, hold yourself off the ground with your elbows fully extended, and your wrists stacked directly below the elbow and shoulder joints.
- As you lower yourself down, lean forward, allowing your elbows to flare out slightly as you dip down.
- Press yourself back up to the starting position, extending fully at the elbow.
- Avoid swinging, keep your body stable using your core and control the movement.
Muscles worked: triceps, core, lower pectorals
Take home message
Compound movements are a highly efficient way of improving muscle growth and strength, as they use multiple muscle groups at the same time. They can even help you burn more calories during your workout. Include these exercises in your push-day routine, and you’ll be on your way to gym success in no time.