The Best Compound Exercises For All Levels Of Gym-Goer

Compound exercises use multiple joints and muscles groups simultaneously for a multitude of benefits. As well as the obvious, they raise the heart rate to provide a cardiovascular benefit, burn more calories than isolation moves, and can help improve the balance and co-ordination of your body.

If you want to pack a stack of multi-muscle moves into your next workout, this guide to the best compound exercises for beginner, intermediate and advanced gym-goers from Daine Finch, master trainer at health club chain The Bannatyne Group, will help.

Beginner Compound Exercises

For these exercises, Finch recommends doing three sets of ten to 12 reps, with 45-60 seconds of rest between sets.

Walking lunge

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your hands on your hips. Step forwards with one leg, flexing your knees to lower your hips. Descend until your rear knee nearly touches the ground. Your posture should remain upright and your front knee should stay above the front foot. Drive through the heel of your lead foot and extend both knees to raise yourself again. Step forwards with your rear foot to repeat the lunge on the other leg so you walk forwards.

Wide lat pull-down

Sit down on a pull-down machine with a wide bar attached to the top pulley. Adjust the knee pad of the machine to fit your height to prevent your body from being raised by the resistance attached to the bar. Grab the bar with your palms facing forwards and hands wider than shoulder-width apart. As you breathe out, bring the bar down until it touches your upper chest by drawing your shoulders and upper arms down and back – your forearms shouldn’t be doing any of the work. Your upper torso should remain stationary and only your arms should move. Pause for a second at the contracted position and squeeze your back muscles, then, while inhaling, slowly raise the bar back to the starting position.

Dumbbell goblet squat

In a standing position hold the head of a dumbbell close to your chest with both hands. You should be looking straight forwards, with your shoulders back, your spine straight and your feet just wider than shoulder-width apart. Descend into a squat, flexing the hips and knees to lower your body. Maintain the angle of your torso, paying close attention to the spine. As you descend, push your knees outwards and keep your weight on your heels. Descend until you either reach the full squat position with your hamstrings on your calves or until your back starts to round. At the bottom of the motion pause briefly, then return to the starting position by driving through your heels, and extending your knees and hips.

Intermediate Compound Exercises

For these exercises Finch recommends doing four sets of eight to ten reps, with 60 seconds of rest between sets.

Barbell bent-over row

Hold a barbell with a pronated grip (palms facing down), bend your knees slightly and bring your torso forwards by bending at the waist while keeping your back straight until it is almost parallel to the floor. Make sure to keep your head up. Your arms should hang perpendicular to the floor and your torso. While keeping your torso stationary, breathe out and lift the barbell towards your body, keeping your elbows close to your sides. At the top contracted position, squeeze your back muscles and pause briefly, then inhale and slowly lower the barbell back to the starting position.

Barbell deadlift

Approach the bar so that it is centred over your feet, which should be hip-width apart. Bend at the hips to grip the bar with your hands shoulder-width apart. Take a big breath and then lower your hips and flex your knees until your shins touch the bar. Keep your head looking forwards, your chest up and your back arched, and drive through the heels to raise the weight. After the bar passes your knees, aggressively pull the bar back, pulling your shoulder blades together as you drive your hips forwards into the bar. Lower the bar by bending at the hips and guiding it to the floor.

Box squat

This exercise is best performed inside a squat rack for safety purposes. To begin, first place a flat bench or a box behind you. This is used to teach you to set your hips back and to hit the right depth. Then set the bar on a rack that best matches your height. Step under the bar and position it across the back of your shoulders, slightly below the neck. Hold the bar with both hands and lift it off the rack by pushing with your legs and straightening your torso.

Step away from the rack and stand with your legs shoulder-width apart with your toes slightly pointed out. Keep your head up at all times. While inhaling, slowly lower by bending the knees and sitting your hips back. Continue down until you touch the bench behind you. The front of your knees should make straight lines with your toes. If your knees are past your toes then you are placing undue stress on the knee.

Rise by pushing the floor with the heels of your fee to straighten your legs and extend your hips to go back to the starting position, exhaling as you go.

Advanced Compound Exercises

For these exercises Finch recommends doing four sets of eight to ten reps, with 60-90 seconds of rest between sets.

Inverted row

Position a bar in a rack at about waist height. You can also use a Smith machine. Hold the bar with your hands wider than shoulder-apart and position yourself so you’re hanging underneath it. Your body should be straight with your heels on the ground and your arms fully extended. Begin by flexing your elbows and pulling your chest towards the bar. Retract your shoulder blades as you perform the movement. Pause at the top of the motion, then return to the starting position.

Barbell clean and press

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a barbell approximately 5cm away from your shins. Push your hips back and grab the barbell so your palms are facing your body and your hands are shoulder-width apart. Keep your hips down, chest up, eyes forwards and arms extended. Keep your core very tight and drive through your heels to pull the bar quickly up to your chest, just in front of your collarbone. Be explosive in your movement as you pull the bar, keeping it as close to your body as you can. As soon as the bar reaches your chest, drive through your heels again, press the bar directly overhead and straighten your arms and legs. Return to the start under control.

Barbell bench press

Lie on a flat bench. Holding the bar with your hands shoulder-width apart, lift the bar from the rack and hold it above your chest with your arms straight and locked. From this starting position, breathe in and bring the bar down slowly until it touches the middle of your chest. Pause briefly, then push the bar back to the starting position as you breathe out. Focus on pushing the bar using your chest muscles. Lock your arms and squeeze your chest in the contracted position at the top of the motion, hold for a second and then start coming down slowly again. Ideally, lowering the weight should take about twice as long as raising it.

Why Lifting Heavier Weights Isn’t Always Better

Everyone likes to see progress from their training. If you’re trying to lose weight then you want to see lower numbers on the scales, while runners and cyclists will shoot for faster times or longer distances. For gym rats, progress means lifting heavier weights, because adding an extra couple of kilos to your squat or deadlift is a definitive sign you’re getting stronger.

However, going all-out for that extra weight could well be counter-productive in the long-term, as Joel Freeman, Beachbody super trainer, explains.

What are the problems that can arise if you try to lift too heavy?

The simple answer is injuries! In the fitness world more advice is available than ever before thanks to social media, with a slew of opinions on what to lift, how to lift and all sorts of different ways to lift. The problem is, most people do not have a stable enough foundation or the necessary amount of information or coaching to do many of the exercises that they see.

Trying to lift more than your body is ready for can easily result in an injury like a herniated disc or torn ligaments that could affect not just your training but the rest of your life.

How can you tell if you are using too heavy a weight?

Control and proper form. You should always be able to control whatever weight you are trying to lift without compromising correct form and lifting position. This doesn’t mean that you’re not challenging your muscles and that’s what having a spotter can help do. But if you’re not able to fully engage the primary muscles that you’re trying to work, then you should be backing off the weight. So for example, you should be doing the chest press without shrugging your shoulders for assistance, or on a deadlift you shouldn’t be curving your back.

Are there any exercises in particular where it’s especially important to avoid going for too heavy a weight?

The exercises to be very careful with are any that will put compression or pressure on your back. Ironically, these are the exercises that most people want to lift heavy. Back squats and barbell deadlifts are two of the main exercises that I always suggest going lighter with – you should be working on control, rather than max weight. There are plenty of alternative exercises to build the same muscles and your back will thank you in the long run.

Do you have any advice on how gym beginners should scale up the weight they lift over time?

Patience and consistency are key in weightlifting. Your muscles will grow if you challenge them, as long as you give them time to recover between sessions and fuel them appropriately. Focus more on the consistency of challenging the particular muscle you’re working – so three sets of ten reps for five or six exercises that work that muscle – rather than trying to do as much weight as possible. If you can lift the same weight for two or three weeks, then try increasing the weight in small increments without losing form and control. Doing this will also help prevent injuries and reversing your progress.

How To Get Involved With Global Running Day

Wednesday 6th June 2018 is Global Running Day and as you might expect, the easiest way to take part in this international celebration of pavement-pounding is to head out for a run. You could leave it there if you want, but if you fancy commiting a little more time and effort, there are plenty of ways to feel part of the proceedings.

The first is to pledge your miles on the Global Running Day website. Sign up and log the distance you plan to cover on Wednesday to contribute to the overall tally. Once you’ve pledged to get involved, it will be just that bit harder to back out and skip your run this Wednesday.

You can also enter an event to mark Global Running Day, whether that’s a real-life run near you or a virtual run. On fitness tracking app Strava you can sign up for the NYRR Virtual Global Running Day 1 Mile event, which is actually running from 4th-10th June. Once you’ve entered, just head out for a one-mile run within that period and you’ll be added to the overall leaderboards for the event.

If you prefer your running events to be in the real world, you can sign up for one of the IAAF 24 one-mile races taking place on Global Running Day all over the world. The UK event will take place in London’s Olympic Park at Lee Valley VeloPark, and it starts at 5pm.

Of course you can also try to find another running event if you’re not near London or fancy a longer distance, or set up a group run yourself. On the Global Running Day website you can even download customised bibs for your run in the Toolkits section.

Many clubs will also put on runs to mark the occasion, so if you want to run with a group check out your local club to see if it has a public event. Or just gather a load of friends and head out to log a mile in a park near you. There’s really no wrong way to get involved with Global Running Day, just as long as you get out and run.

Six Ways The Apple Watch Is Getting Better For Fitness

While the Apple Watch Series 3 was the best version of Apple’s wearable yet and the best sporty smartwatch available (unless you use an Android phone, of course), it was far from the complete package when it comes to health and fitness. Some of the issues can’t be fixed by software tweaks alone, like the one-day battery life, but the introduction of watchOS 5 will improve the fitness tracking experience on the Apple Watch considerably.

The free software update will be released this autumn, but Apple has already announced what users can expect to see. Here are the most exciting features coming to the Apple Watch.

Automatic workout detection

Did you forget to start your workout on the watch? No problem – the device will recognise that you are training and alert you to start a workout, and even give you retrospective credit for the exercise you’ve done before the alert. The same goes for the end of a workout. If you sit down after a run without pressing stop (happens to all of us), the watch will alert you to end the session, so your average pace isn’t skewed by a stationary half-hour at your desk. And speaking of pace…

Running pace alerts

The Apple Watch will alert you if your pace is above or below a preset target pace on your runs. A rolling pace stat will be introduced as well which shows your pace over the last mile. This is very handy for those trying to maintain a certain pace and usually better to use than current pace, which is so jumpy on most wrist wearables that it’s relatively useless.

New sports modes

Dedicated yoga and hiking modes are coming to the watch, complete with dedicated algorithms for estimating calories burned and tracking active minutes.

Activity competitions

In the past you could link your Apple Watch with friends and see what activity they’d done, but soon you can compete with them, which is far more exciting. You compete over seven days with points earned for closing your Activity Rings.

Cadence stats for runners and walkers

Your cadence is how many steps you take per minute and it’s an important stat for runners in particular. Too low a cadence can be an indication you are over-striding and putting your body at risk of injury, so check out your stats when the new feature arrives – a cadence of around 180 is widely considered to be optimal.

Podcasts

The arrival of the Podcasts app on the Watch is a great and overdue addition for anyone who likes to listen to podcasts while they work out, because you will be able to leave your phone behind without restricting your entertainment to music.

Join The I Move London Relay Team And Be Part Of A World Record

If you live in London, or indeed within easy travelling distance of the capital, there is absolutely no reason at all not to sign up to be part of the I Move London Relay team this July. And there are several absolutely excellent reasons why you should sign up.

The first is to be part of a world record. The event will see runners cumulatively cover 4,000 miles (6,437km) between 29th June and 29th July, far more than the current Guinness World Record for the longest relay race, which stands at 3,504.28 miles.

The second reason is that you don’t have to cover more than 5K or 10K of that massive distance yourself, because the stages are broken down into smaller chunks that just about anyone can manage. For the 10K legs you will need to maintain an average pace of at least 11 minutes per mile (6min 50sec per kilometre), but you can join the 5K legs regardless of the speed you run.

Each stage is open to up to 50 runners so you can expect a good atmosphere for your leg even if you pick one in the dead of night on a Wednesday. Each stint of the relay will start from Potters Fields Park, near Tower Bridge. Runners on the 10K legs follow the Thames down to Westminster Bridge before crossing and heading back up to Tower Bridge, while runners of the 5K leg cross at the Millennium Bridge.

We’re still not done with the reasons to get involved, by the way. In fact the most important one is to come, which is that you’ll be raising money for three excellent charities: Laureus, The Running Charity and Sported, which all use sport as part of their efforts to tackle problems like homelessness and gang culture. The organisers of the event also hope to unite London by getting runners from all 120 postcodes and every borough in the city to take part.

So that’s 5K at any pace or 10K at a manageable pace, for three great causes and a world record, and you have a 30-day period to pick up a convenient time in. For our money the only reason not to get involved is if you don’t manage to book your spot at londonrelay.co.uk before it sells out. Entry to a stage cost £20, and while there is no compulsory fundraising target you are, naturally, strongly encouraged to raise money for the I Move London Relay’s charity partners.

The Best Medicine Ball Exercises For All Levels Of Gym-Goer

Building explosive power should be near the top of every man’s gym plan because it won’t just make you faster or stronger, it will also help you to build more lean muscle mass in less time. Why? Because the quicker and harder you can contract a muscle, the more weight you can lift. But when you think of explosive power, sprinters or strongmen spring to mind, not that dusty old medicine ball sitting neglected in the corner of your gym. Well it’s time to change your thinking. When it comes to building explosive power and working your key muscle groups in functional ways to build muscle mass, burn fat, improve mobility, co-ordination and stability, there’s no better bit of gym kit than the humble medicine ball. Here are all the very best exercises, workouts, training tips and advice to make better use of a med ball to build a bigger, leaner and more injury-proof body.

Can You Spare Ten Minutes A Day To Get Fitter?

When told that you can exercise for just ten minutes a day to improve your health you might immediately start imagining just how savage the exercise is going to have to be for that to be the case. We certainly did, so we were very pleasantly surprised to learn that the exercise involved wasn’t an unrelenting round of burpees or a few rounds with Anthony Joshua, but walking. Well, not just walking. It has to be brisk walking – but all the same that sounds pleasant, rather than brutally tough.

Public Health England (PHE) and the Royal College of GPs are encouraging adults to focus on how intense their walking is, rather than shooting for a 10,000 steps a day goal, starting with ten minutes a day of brisk walking. PHE research has found that three million middle-aged adults in England are physically inactive, meaning they don’t hit the recommended 30 minutes a day of moderate activity a day, and one of the main reasons given for this is a lack of time. Starting with ten minutes of brisk walking can start people on the path to achieving that 30-minute goal, and it also brings with it many health benefits by itself.

The Active 10 campaign launched by PHE hails the potential benefits of ten minutes of brisk walking, which include a reduced risk of serious illnesses like heart disease, dementia and type 2 diabetes. Walking can also help with lower back pain, but it’s also just a great way to spend your time because it’ll help clear your head. We’ll bet you feel more energised after a brisk constitutional than you did before you started.

So on to the key question: what counts as brisk? The simple answer is any walking that’s faster than your usual pace so it gets your heart pumping that bit quicker. You don’t have to be flying along like an Olympic racewalker – just pushing yourself a little. For a more exact definition we’d encourage you to download the free Active 10 app, which is available on the App Store and Google Play. This will track your walking and let you know how much of your daily plodding counted as brisk, as well as providing you with targets to shoot for.

The idea is that once you get hooked on your brisk walks you’ll start extending them to the 30-minute mark or longer. But rest assured that even when you just do ten, you will be improving your health and fitness.

Book Your Spot In The Big Half 2019

As every runner knows, the ballot for the London Marathon is massively oversubscribed each year and the vast majority of entrants will be disappointed come October when the results are revealed (though some may also be mightily relieved they don’t have to actually run 42.2km). But the London Marathon is not the only race in London town, and there are grand events like The Big Half where your place in the event can be guaranteed, as long as you move quickly enough.

Entry for The Vitality Big Half opened on Thursday 31st May, with 7,000 tickets up for grabs at £39 apiece (£35 for affiliated club runners). As part of these 7,000 spots there are 1,500 available at a discounted rate of £30 for people who live in the four host boroughs of Tower Hamlets, Southwark, Lewisham and Greenwich.

The Big Half 2019 will take place on Sunday 10th March. The race starts at the Tower of London and finishes at the Cutty Sark in Greenwich, following parts of the route used in the first half of the London Marathon.

This year saw the first running of the event, with 11,000 runners entering including Mo Farah, who won the elite race. The Beast from the East cold snap led to fears the race would be called off but temperatures turned out to be pleasantly mild on the day, which meant the base layer and snood Coach had opted to wear looked somewhat out of place.

While the levels of support don’t quite match the London Marathon – and in fairness very few races in the world can – people do come out en masse to cheer you through The Big Half, which is just one reason it’s set to become a popular fixture on the race calendar. It’s also a fast course for those hunting down a PB, and it’s the perfect prep for a spring marathon that you may have signed up for – especially, of course, if that race is the London Marathon.

Given the rapid inflation of the prices of running events in London, it’s also a bit of a bargain for a half marathon on closed roads in the city. So don’t miss out, get signed up today and lock down the first big race on your 2019 calendar.

How To Do The Kettlebell Clean And Press

Sometimes when you try to combine two exercises into one, it just doesn’t work. Trying to do biceps curls at the same time as press-ups, for example, is only going to result in you falling flat on your face. However, most of the time, creating a hybrid megamove ramps up the benefits and makes for a great way to get more done in limited workout time.

The kettlebell clean and press is a superb example of this. The clean hits your lower body, the press works your upper body, and the combination is a full-body monster that targets so many muscle groups it’s going to be ridiculous when we list them in the next sentence. Deep breath: hamstrings, glutes, quads, hip flexors, abs, upper back, traps and lats, shoulders, chest and triceps. TL;DR – most of the muscles.

It’s also an exercise that does wonders for your stability and co-ordination, and working with a kettlebell in one hand at a time helps to iron out any strength imbalances that might have developed in your body from crushing too many barbell workouts.

All these benefits, however, rely on you nailing the form. It’s an explosive exercise that requires constant control of the kettlebell, so pay close attention to our form guide. Oh, and it’s probably wise to take off your fitness tracker or watch for this one, unless it can handle a hefty weight repeatedly swinging into it.

How To Do The Kettlebell Clean And Press

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and a kettlebell on the floor in front of you. Bend your knees slightly and hinge at the hips to reach down and grab the kettlebell with one hand. Swing it back between your legs and then use the momentum created to swing it forwards and up, driving your hips forwards and straightening your back. Once the kettlebell gets above bellybutton height, pull it back and move your hand under it so the bell rests against the back of your wrist. This is known as the rack position, and it’s also the moment which will make you regret forgetting to take your watch off.

At this point in the kettlebell clean exercise, you’d reverse the movement and swing it back down, but we’re only half done here folks, get ready for the tough(er) bit.

In the rack position the kettlebell should be just below shoulder height and your elbow should be tucked in to your chest. Press the kettlebell straight up above your head until your arm is straight, then lower it back to the rack position. Finally, reverse the clean movement and take the kettlebell down to swing between your legs.

The Best Gym Shorts For Men

Shorts are shorts, right? Wrong! The shorts you wear in the gym can make a bigger difference to your workout than you might expect. There are comfort issues to consider, along with how free your movements are in your shorts – especially if you’re dropping into deep squats or huge lunges – and it never hurts to have odour-killing tech in the fabric, if only to cut down on the amount of washing you have to do.

Not convinced? That’s fine, we have shorts for everyone, including a “shorts-are-shorts” option that will leave you with change from a fiver.

UA Perpetual Shorts

These shorts offer the Goldilocks fit for gym activities – not too fitted and not too loose – and the stretchy fabric also ensures your movements are unhindered throughout your workout. There are two colours to pick from, which we only mention because you’d have to be mad to opt for the blue with black bar over the black with gold bar option. £50, buy on underarmour.co.uk

Domyos 100

If the £50 price tag on those UA shorts had you spluttering with disgust, then maybe the Domyos 100 from Decathlon might be more agreeable. These cheap-as-chips shorts will do a job in keeping your nethers covered during your workout, and the loose fit is comfortable for Pilates too. £3.99, buy on decathlon.co.uk

Nike Dri-Fit 8in

Whatever length you like your gym shorts to be, Nike hase a Dri-FIT option for you, but we reckon 8in (20.5cm) is just about perfect for most styles of training. The Dri-FIT shorts are wicking wonders that will help keep your lower body comfortable during even your sweatiest training sessions. £37.50, buy on nike.com

Side Stripe Athletic Bamboo Shorts

Bamboo fabric is naturally odour-resistant and more comfortable than any synthetic material we’ve come across, making it ideal for gym gear. These mid-thigh, slim-fitting shorts are especially good for those who like to hit the treadmill. £35, buy on bambooclothing.com

Adidas 4KRFT Climachill Shorts

All the gym short classics are present here, including sweat-wicking and odour-resistant fabrics, and the added bonus is the two zip pockets to keep your valuables in on the way to the gym. £39.95, buy on adidas.co.uk

Canterbury VapoDri Woven Shorts

These lightweight shorts ride high on the thigh, making them a good pick for those who prefer less fabric and more freedom in their gym shorts. Canterbury’s breathable VapoDri fabric wicks sweat away and dries so quickly your perspiration will have disappeared before your break between sets is over. £21 (currently reduced to £16.80), buy on canterbury.com