Compound training is a weight training technique in which the athlete performs multiple exercises with very little rest in between. Often, the exercises that the athlete chooses will work the same muscle group, so that that muscle group gets an intense and sustained workout. Compound training is an effective technique for bodybuilders or others who are trying to maximize the muscle mass that they generate as a result of their lifting.
Though the terms sound similar, compound training is not the same as compound lifts. Compound lifts are specific weightlifting exercises that require multiple muscle groups to complete the lifts. Bench presses, for instance, require the chest, triceps and shoulder muscles.
Compound training means that the athlete completes one exercise, which might or might not be a compound lift, then immediately moves to another lift. Sometimes, an athlete doing compound training will even combine three or four exercises to create giant sets. For example, an athlete might begin with a set of pull-ups, then move to pull-downs, then move to seated rows, all without taking a break.
There are two primary benefits to compound training. First, when the exercises focus on the same muscle group, compound training allows the athlete to target that muscle group from a variety of angles all at once. The athlete gets no rest in between each set, so the muscle group gets a complete workout before the muscles gets a chance to recover. This intensifies the workout that the muscle group receives.
Another benefit is that the athlete completes more of his or her overall workout in a shorter amount of time and with fewer peaks in his or her heart rate. If an athlete were to perform each exercise individually, with a full rest period between each set, this would result in a more sustained workout. As a result, it would burn a lot more total calories than performing all of the sets in one giant set. For this reason, compound training is beneficial for those who are trying to build muscle mass, because it preserves calories that the body can then use to build muscle rather than burning them during the workout.
There also are some drawbacks to compound training. First, if an athlete is trying to maintain or even lose weight, then compound training is counterproductive because it reduces the length of the workout. Second, because the body does not get any chance to recover between sets, the total amount of weight that the athlete is able to lift during the later sets of a giant set decreases. This reduces the strength benefit of the workout. Finally, compound set training can be difficult because it often requires multiple weights and machines, which can be a problem in a busy gym.