What are compound exercises and how are they useful to weight loss and toning?
Compound exercises for weight loss and toning involve 2 or more joints and more than one muscle group. Rather than just blasting one body part, you are targeting several muscle groups, especially the bigger muscles. I’m talking about the glutes, your back, and your legs. Rather than try to spot-reduce, think of reducing all over. The bigger the muscle you are using, the more fat you’ll burn, and hopefully, the more muscle you can put on. I know this will intimidate some people, but you will not get bulky from doing these movements. These big movements increase primary anabolic hormones that stimulate fat loss and muscle growth and give you the most bang for your buck.
I will not be instructing how to perform these movements, because that would likely take a whole blog post. However, you can easily look up any of these on Youtube or Google, and you will find hundreds of variations of each. In terms of how many repetitions to perform, practice makes perfect.
At first, think of performing more repetitions and fewer sets. It may look like this: 3 sets x 12 reps = 36 reps or 2 sets x 15 reps = 30 reps. These should be performed at moderate to low intensity and are equally ideal for building muscle and improving muscle endurance. Try this for about 4 weeks! Then you can start to lower the number of reps and raise the sets: 3 sets x 10 reps = 30 reps or 4 sets x 8 reps = 32 reps. These should be performed at moderate intensity and is most ideal for building muscle, but also suited for increasing strength. Try that for another 4 weeks, and then consider changing it up again: 3 sets x 5 reps = 15 reps or 8 sets x 3 reps = 24 reps. Perform these reps at a high intensity.
Although this rep scheme is mostly ideal for strength-related goals, it is great to incorporate into your training schedule for a couple of weeks to test your skill in any of these movements. Remember, the more reps you do, the less weight you use. When you bring the reps down, you should be able to add more weight and really test yourself!
What equipment do I need?
I don’t have dumbbells or kettlebells at home because I just don’t want to buy more things that clutter my tiny space. As of right now, all gyms are closed in my city due to the COVID-19 outbreak, so I’ve resorted to making weights out of things lying around in my house. I’ve used everything from a giant Costco-sized Epsom salt container (2.2kg), wine bottles (full and empty), Olive Oil bottles, a suitcase (that I keep in my locker), a recycling bin that I stuff with other heavy things like books, and much more! Don’t sweat it if you don’t have weights. You can literally use anything lying around your house for these weight loss and toning exercises.
Here are the top compound exercises I would recommend for weight loss and toning:
Squats are fairly challenging on their own. Once you add weight, the difficulty is definitely amplified. Changing the tempo of the concentric and eccentric portion of a squat can make it even more difficult. I highly recommend this if you do not have any weights. If you want to make it more challenging, add another movement to the squat, like an overhead press and you’re doing a Thruster! Other options to switch it up are squat jacks, goblet squat, front squat, or squats with a resistance band.
Deadlifting works the biggest muscle groups in your body and definitely helps with weight loss and toning! It can increase core strength, core stability, and improve your posture. Deadlifting train and develop strength in the hamstrings, glutes, low back, upper back, and core. These are all muscles responsible for posture, which will help keep your shoulders, spine, and hips in alignment. I like to mix up Conventional, Snatch-grip, Romanian, Sumo, and single-leg deadlifts. If you happen to have a bar, your big latissimus dorsi muscles and triceps get a workout too.
It seems everyone hates lunges, so I hate to include this one, but I think that’s what makes it such a great compound movement. People hate them because they’re hard. Lunges come in many forms: Split squats, walking lunges, rear-foot elevated split squats, TRX lunge, side lunges, and so many more. They’re all tough. I’m not going to lie. You may never add weight to this movement, but it’s great to continue practicing the movement so your body doesn’t lose that movement pattern. If you have tight hips or quads, or pain in the knees, lunges can be very difficult to perform. Keep mobilizing so that this weight loss and toning movement is possible.
Over-head press or Push-ups
No gym or equipment required! This classic compound bodyweight move only requires raw determination to activate your lats, chest, shoulder, and arms at once. Remember, the more muscles you activate, the more calories your body can burn. That makes this classic a great exercise for weight loss. The overhead press is a bit tougher, but you can still manage this at home (if you’re short and have a high ceiling!). I love this one as it gets you moving your arm above your head. It’s a movement many of us lose with age. Find ways to lift your arms above your head. This can be practicing handstands, overhead presses, stretching against the wall, or just doing arm circles every day. Keeping mobility in your shoulders can help you prevent injuries in the future, such as frozen shoulder.
There are tons of explosive movements you can explore for weight loss and toning! I like these because they get your heart rate pumping. They challenge people in movements they are not necessarily used to doing. Examples of this are skipping rope or jumping in general. Most of my clients HATE jumping. It’s just not something that adults do, nor are we ever put in a position where we need to jump. Unlike squats or deadlifts, jumping or anything explosive puts many of us out of our comfort zone, and that’s a really great thing!
My favorite explosive movements are Box jumps, Burpees, skipping rope, and battle ropes (ouch!). Work your way up to some of these movements, especially if you aren’t used to explosive movements. Remember, your workout doesn’t have to be super long. Keep workouts short if you decide to do explosive movements, or allow for adequate rest in between sets.
It seems simple: just carry something by your side, and you’re basically working out. That’s what makes this movement so easy to do anywhere and with anything! The farmer’s carry targets your entire upper and lower body. Your core helps you to stay steady, especially if you are walking slowly or holding weight on one side only. They strengthen the muscles in your biceps, triceps, forearms, shoulders, upper back, trapezius, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, lower back, obliques, transverse abdominis, and rectus abdominis. One variation is actually called a suitcase carry. I literally just fill my suitcase up with some heavy stuff and walk around my condo with it. There are also variations where you carry weight on one hand, in both hands, overhead, or pause as you walk. If you have back pain or want to improve your balance, this is a great one to try out.
There are definitely more movements you can incorporate into your workout routine that will increase weight loss and muscle gain. I just wanted to share my favorites since I have seen huge changes in myself and my clients when using these simple exercises. Try not to over-complicate things. Our bodies simply don’t need any more stress than they are currently under. Sure, workouts put stress on the body, and that kind of stress is good, but keeping it simple can save you the headache of having to constantly change up your workouts out of boredom, and consequently, not achieving the results you were looking to achieve.
Once you’ve gone through your 4 weeks (or so) of each phase (changing the reps and sets every month), change up the movements. For example, if you were doing conventional squats and deadlifts in the first phase, change them to Sumo squats or single-leg deadlifts. This should add enough variety to keep things spicy, but also see changes in your physique long-term! Remember, try to add in some of the compound movements mentioned above to see how your body can transform with simple movements that give you the most bang for your buck!
What are your favorite weight loss and toning exercises to perform in the gym or at home? Do you feel like some of these exercises are too easy or too tough for you? Let’s see if we can find the perfect challenge for you! Just drop a comment in the comment section below!
Chelsea has been active most of her life, which led her to become a Personal Trainer and Yoga Instructor for the past 7 years. Health and Fitness are not solely dependent on movement, though, and with that understanding, she addresses her client’s other needs, such as diet, mindfulness, and stress management.
When she is not training clients or teaching Yoga, she is finding new activities that keep her mind and body active, such as rock climbing, hiking, listening to podcasts, or playing Board Games with friends. She is constantly working towards: Finding natural solutions to live as long as possible, inclusive Yoga for all body types, and aiming to find mindfulness in everything she does.