• Kevin Mullins

Take Interest in Compounding: A short look at Compound Sets

The compound set is a classic bodybuilding tactic used to enhance fatigue in a particular muscle group. It is tough as hell, burns like the dickens, and can intitiate some serious changes in the human form when implimented appropiately. Many of great bodybuilders have utilized the Weider introduced method to stimulate muscular hypertrophy and blast through silly plateaus in their training.

It is a type of super-set. One which demands minimal rest between the exercises, but does not relent on the chosen muscle group, which is contrary to your typical super-set.

Think: Barbell Squats with Walking Dumbbell Lunges

Most people have willingly subjected themselves to the intensity that is a standard super-set, which is completing successive exercises for non-competing muscle groups. Often times these muscles are agonist-antagonist related; such as, chest and lats, biceps and triceps, or quadriceps and hamstrings.

The compound set?

Not so much.

I don't believe people skip over compounds because they are afraid of the burn, or that they don't want to train hard. Rather, I believe they either

1. Haven't thought of, or been told to, stick two competing exercises together

2. Are afraid of losing strength and not being able to lift as much weight in following sets due to muscle failure.

To address the first point - well...this blog.

The second requires an understanding of rest periods and energy metabolism; as well as a clear picture of what the trainee's goals are.

Doing my best to avoid turning this blog into a diatribe on ATP regeneration, intensity, and training techniques, so I'll answer point number 2 in a concise, easy to navigate summary. See below to learn how you can add compounding into your workout regardless of goal.

How to Implement Compound Sets

Goal = Stronger - Compound Sets can be used as a finisher on a day in which you seek a bit more volume in your training. However, for the majority of training you should be focused on the load on the bar and moving it successfully with quality form every repetition. From there, assistance work and core should be your focus. You could compound set a technique, or activation exercise with an effective lift though.

For example:

1. Barbell Hip Thrust (moderate weight - goal is to feel)

2. Barbell Deadlift or Squat (go on' and get' it)

Goal = Size - Compound sets are a bodybuilding ideal; therefore, this Bud's for you! Utilizing compound sets should be an intensity technique that is introduced in a workout program to boost metabolic/chemical breakdown in muscle tissue. Think...more lactic acid = more tissue breakdown... Be careful not to overdo them though; metabolic training is one of the fastest ways to muscular injury if not coached or monitored properly (see Crossfit).

Head to hand method everytime

For example:

1. Seated DB Overhead Press

2. Standing Lateral Raises

Goal = Conditioning - Compound sets are an awesome way to keep the heart rate higher during a given work out by not allowing the body to come down. One of my personal favorite tactics with clients is to super-set and compound-set simultaneously. Thus, 4 exercises are being done in succession. The client's level, ability, and goals dictate which exercises I do this with.

For example:

1. Bulgarian DB Split Squat

2. Body Weight Squat Jump

3. Dumbbell Row

4. Single Arm Half-Kneel Pulldown

Goal = Athleticism - Compound Sets will likely cause too much muscular breakdown to be beneficial in-season or late in the pre-season. The goal of the athlete is to move fluidly through a series of athletic motions in a powerful manner. Excessive tissue breakdown will prevent this from occuring.

However, I can envision a scenario in which they would be useful in helping a combat athlete build muscular endurance in the shoulders and legs.

For example:

1. Seated DB Shoulder Press

2. Shadow Box for time with sandbells

1. Barbell Hip Thrusts

2. Lateral Lunges

3. Incline Sprints

All of these goals can utilize compound sets in some sort of way, and to be honest, they should. It is a highly effective way to increase the intensity of a given workout without senselessly throwing burpees into the mix. No one likes burpees anyway....

Rules of the Road

I recommend keeping sets to 3 or 4, and utilizing a resistance that causes failure at six to eight repetitions on the first exercise, and twelve to fifteen on the second. This arrangement of loads should target the majority of fibers in the muscle that is being hit and cause maximum effect. A rest period of thirty seconds to one minute should be utilized between sets of exercises.

Don't overuse this training method. You shouldn't need any more than one compound grouping for a muscle in a given workout. Don't start your training with this method and expect to PR on a major lift either. It is a tactic meant to induce chemical fatigue in a muscle and so it should be respected for the breakdown in tissue that can be caused.

Get out there and try something new in your training going forward. Try the compound set!


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