Fear of muscle development is so 1970s. Fitness-savvy women understand that increasing muscle mass revs up the metabolic rate, enhances the bone structure and looks downright sexy in a bathing suit. Developing muscle mass, however, requires a time commitment. Compound exercises, which engage multiple muscle groups simultaneously, provide an efficient and effective workout.
Compound exercises strengthen the connective tissue that supports your muscles, writes Brad Schoenfeld, author of "Sculpting Her Body Perfect." Strong connective tissues support your joints and ligaments, allowing you to safely lift heavier weights and increase your muscle mass. Many compound exercises -- such as the squat, the lunge and the pushup -- fall into the closed chain category. These movements produce compression forces, which help stabilize your joints. As weight-bearing activities, they help you maintain your bone density, which can prevent the eventual onset of osteoporosis.
Compound exercises also engage your smaller, stabilizing muscle groups. These little guys add shape to your larger muscles and create an enviable, chiseled muscle structure. The lat pulldown -- revered by fans of the V-shaped torso -- illustrates this point. The exercise targets the latissimus dorsi, which run down the sides of your back. The pulldown involves reaching upward for a bar and pulling it down toward your chest. In the process of performing the movement, small muscles in your shoulders, biceps and chest are called into action.
The cardio workout is not your only calorie-burning tool. Compound exercises also melt away calories. It's a simple math equation. Exercises that use more muscle groups expend more energy, and the more energy you expend, the more calories you burn. A one-arm triceps extension engages the smaller, weaker muscles in the back of your arm. In contrast, a bench press gives you more bang for the buck, by activating your chest, triceps and shoulders.
The Ultimate Compound Exercise
To turn up the calorie burning furnace, combine a compound upper-body exercise with a compound lower-body movement. The next time you do squats, add an overhead press. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a set of dumbbells at shoulder height with your palms facing forward. Squat down and bend your knees, sitting back as if you were hovering over a chair. As you extend your legs, straighten your arms and press the weights toward the ceiling. This exercise activates your hamstrings, quads, glutes, triceps and shoulders.
In 1999, Lisa Mercer’s fitness, travel and skiing expertise inspired a writing career. Her books include "Open Your Heart with Winter Fitness" and "101 Women's Fitness Tips." Her articles have appeared in "Aspen Magazine," "HerSports," "32 Degrees," "Pregnancy Magazine" and "Wired." Mercer has a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the City College of New York.