( I wrote this article for a New Zealand fitness mag in 2002 long before I had heard about training systems like crossfit. I missed that boat)
The Advantages of Doing Functional Compound Sets
We are more often looking towards the gym to help give them that edge during sports. There is also a greater desire to achieve the lean athletic look of a sportsperson, without a large increase in muscle mass as seen in bodybuilding athletes. If you want to look like an athlete then it helps to train like one. This article explains how using one technique called ‘Compound sets’ has benefits over traditional weight training, especially when the desired goal is functional performance. You might have heard of compound exercises this is where more than one joint is involved in a single movement (i.e., bench press or squat). A compound set is simply when two or more exercises are involved in a single set.
A large number of traditional weight training exercises originate from a bodybuilding background, which focuses on growth and symmetry of individual muscles or body parts. With this style of training, isolation of joints and muscle groups (i.e., bicep curl or hamstring curl) will occur. If your goal in the gym is for functional athletic performance or weight loss there are three main drawbacks with traditional weight training.
Training the nervous system is highly specific. Isolating body parts as seen in many traditional weight-training exercises will adapt the nervous system to be more efficient at isolated movement. If you train the nervous system to isolate individual muscle groups it will decrease it’s ability to coordinate muscle groups into complex movements such as jumping or throwing a ball. Using compound sets will train the nervous system to coordinate between multiple muscle groups and to achieve a greater number of complex movement patterns. This closely resembles the athletic demands placed on our coordination during sport.
Traditional weight training split programmes causes a short-term muscle imbalance within the body. Fatiguing one muscle group without fatiguing the opposing muscle group creates this muscle imbalance. Research has found the knee is more susceptible to injury if there is an imbalance between quadriceps and hamstring strength, e.g. if you train quadriceps on one day and then hamstrings another day. A well-designed compound set will work the body as a whole and is less likely to cause the body these short-term muscle imbalances.
A large number of sports require an intermittent maximal effort, which places great demands on the anaerobic system. Sports such as netball, tennis, squash and many other sports played in New Zealand require short bursts of sprinting with small rest periods in-between. The greater number of muscles being used at once means a greater amount of energy is required. Heavy load compound sets tend to be more demanding on the anaerobic system because of the larger number of muscles required to complete the exercise. When weight loss is the goal, compound sets can burn more calories for the same amount of time spent on a set. Traditional weight training exercises tend to use a smaller number of muscles during each exercise and therefore burn fewer calories.
The Training Programme
Compound sets should not be used if you have very little or no weight training experience. A six-week conditioning programme designed by a qualified instructor should be completed before introducing compound sets to your workouts. Before using compound sets, practice the individual exercises first. A range of tempos can be used during the sets. It is advised to start with slow tempos until the individual feels fully competent with the complex movements.
Follow this programme for no more than four weeks or add these compound sets to an existing programme.
Weight training 2 - 3 times per week. One day on, one day off. 2-3 days per week do cardio and core-stability (Abdominal and lower back).
Example: 4 Week programme
Sets Reps Load Rest
Week 1 2 15 Light 90
Week 2 3 12 Medium 60
Week 3 3 12 Medium 60
Week 4 4 10 Heavy 45
1. Burpee-out, Press up (Knees or Full), Burpee-in, Power-clean, Push press (Using Dumbbells)
Place dumbbells shoulder width apart with the handles parallel to each other.
Grip dumbbells shoulder width apart, keep back and neck in neutral position. Keep abdominals strong, burpee out to press up position
Start press up at full position or move to knees. Keep back and neck in neutral position throughout entire press up.
If press-ups were preformed on knees return to full position. Burpee in toward barbell and adjust to starting power clean position.
Feet should be between hip and shoulder width apart, toes forward and slightly outward. Standing with back rigid and flat or slightly arched. Simultaneously fully extend the lower extremity joints and quickly shrug shoulders. Pull arms as high as possible. After the lower body has fully extended and the bar reached near maximal height, pull the body under the bar by rotating arms and hands. The bar should be caught across the shoulders.
Bend the knees slightly as if starting a squat then explosively push the dumbbells up using your calves, legs and arms. Finishing in a shoulder press position. Keep your abdominals strong throughout the movement and be careful not to hyperextend the lower back.
While maintaining a flat back slowly flex the hips and knees and lower the dumbbells to the starting position.
2. Hang Clean, Front squat, Push Press
Feet should be between hip and shoulder width apart, toes forward and slightly outward. Standing with back rigid and flat or slightly arched. Bar resting slightly above knees
Simultaneously fully extend the lower extremity joints and quickly shrug shoulders. Pull arms as high as possible. After the lower body has fully extended and the bar reached near maximal height, pull the body under the bar by rotating arms and hands. The bar should be caught across the shoulders.
Feet should be between hip and shoulder width apart, toes forward and slightly outward. Keep elbows high, eyes on the horizon and the chest up. Move with hips first then knees. Squat as if sitting into a chair, keeping the abdominals strong. Stop decent if the heels start to rise or the pelvis tilts backward. Stop when the thighs are parallel to floor.
Start push press halfway through up phase of the squat. Explosively push up the dumbbells up using calves, legs and arms. Finishing in a shoulder press position. Keep the abdominals strong throughout the movement and be careful not to hyperextend the lower back.
While maintaining a flat back slowly flex the hips and knees and lower the dumbbells to the starting Hang clean position.
3. Backwards Lunge with barbell, High knee.
Stand with barbell in finished shoulder press position. Hand position should be wider than the shoulders. Arms should be straight, do not lock out elbows (this exercise should be started with the weakest side first and the same amount of reps preformed on both sides).
Perform a backwards lunge while keeping barbell in fixed position. Keep feet parallel and hips facing forward throughout the entire movement. Keep eyes on the horizon and the chest up throughout the exercise.
Return to starting position. Then, using the same leg used in the backwards lunge, lift the knee as high as possible while maintaining a neutral back position.
Once the knee has reached maximum height the cycle should then repeat by starting a backwards lunge again.