Canadian Firefighter Magazine

FitSmart: Compound movements

By Brad Lawrence   

Features Fitness Health and Wellness

picture_3 FitSmart is a Fire Fighting in Canada online exclusive column by Brad Lawrence a firefirefighter and personal trainer in Leduc, Alta.

FitSmart is a Fire Fighting in Canada online exclusive column by Brad Lawrence, a firefirefighter and personal trainer in Leduc, Alta.  Brad can be reached at


Compound movements

Nov. 12, 2008

If you’ve been in the gym working out for a while now you probably have a strong arsenal of exercises under your belt. Hopefully, your training consists of a core group of exercises you’ll always include in a workout, and some additional exercises you’ll decide to interchange periodically. While those extra isolation and “touch up” exercises you decide to throw in are important, the core of your training should consist of four major compound movements.


A compound movement is any exercise involving multiple muscle groups across more than one joint. Example include squats, dips, chest presses and pullups. Compound movements have many great benefits but have gained popularity with the recent focus on functional training. These exercises are perfect for increasing strength and athletic performance, for burning calories and for increasing metabolism. Here are the top four compound exercises you should be doing regulary. If any of these exercises appears foreign or above your level of comfort, ask around your local gym for a quick bit of instruction.

The squat is the single most common functional movement the human body will perform. This exercise also includes more major muscle groups than any other. The movement has a major emphasis on the quads and glutes, but also had a strong load placed on the hamstrings, calves and lower back. This will burn a very high number of calories and is often reffered to as the “king of all exercises” because of its high muscle recruitment and fast muscle-building capabilities.

Deadlifts are the second most important lower body exercise. Like the squat, the deadlift incorporates almost every muscle in the lower body and the abdomen. Strong loads are placed on the hamstrings, lower back, lats, glutes and abdomen. Again like the squat, your form is crucial for success (and injury prevention) so if you need assitance, ask around or try a quick search online.
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I like to refer to the pullup as the “upper body squat”. Not to be confused with a chin up, make sure your hands are wide and palms face away from you. This is the best exercise to develop upper-body strength as it involves a huge amount of back, shoulder and trap strength to even perform a single rep. Pullups make up a highly weighed portion of the U.S. Marine Corps physcial testing. This is a very advanced exercise but you will see phenomenal progress if you work at it.

Chest press

The chest press is the last of our essential four but certainly not the least. Try to include variations of this exercise in every upper-body trianing session. Common exercises would include bench presses or dumbell presses. This exercise greatly increases strength in your pectorals by placing a large load on the chest, shoulders and triceps. This is a fine way to develop your anterior torso as most of your muscles will be working.

The compound movements are the four best overall exercises I’d recommend to any client – just because they have been around forever doesn’t mean they should be ignored. These compound movements, alongside your other isolation exercises, will help you make great strides towards your goals. Focus on imporving your squat, deadlift, pullup and chest presses and don’t be surprised when everything else gets better!


Quality Mass Nutrition

Nov. 12, 2008

When I ask most men in the gym about their goals I usually already know the answer. In fact, probably 90 per cent of men in the gym share one common goal – to increase size and strength. The only problems with this goal are the all-too-common mistakes I see made time and time again. Loads of gym rats label themselves “hard-gainers” due to their inability to add size even after rigorous training programs. What if I told you that half the mistakes these guys make has nothing to do with their training programs. If you’re having trouble putting size on, chances are it’s your diet that’s failing, not your training. Most hard-gainer men will face one of the two following nutritional issues.

Client #1Generally, men will drastically underestimate the amount of food they need to eat to grow. Men will think they eat quite a bit simply because they feel full. This person may eat very clean, healthy foods, and may even eat five or six times a day. It’s important to actually sit back and ask yourself exactly how much food you are eating in a given day. Remember, you can train all you want, but if you’re not providing your body with enough of the right foods, you’re giving your body no chance to add any size.

Client #2The second common nutritional plan (or lack of) many men set for themselves is a “bulking” plan. This is usually someone’s poor excuse to eat four fast-food burgers after a decent training session. Often called the “eat garbage and train heavy” program, this type of client eats plenty of calories but, for the most part, they come from poor sources. Generally, people who eat this way will have some size but hold high amounts of fat masking any muscle. The concern with this client shouldn’t be why the client can’t add size but the overall state of his health down the road.

No matter what your goals, a clean diet is essential. Your results will always depend on your nutrition plan. To gain mass you must provide your body with a caloric surplus. This means you must take in more calories than you burn. Keep in mind if you eat everything and anything in sight your caloric surplus will be so high you’ll add fat much faster than you will muscle.

How much is enough?
Obviously none of us wants to add fat. There are two schools of thought regarding adding quality mass. You can count calories and make calculated adjustments, or simply listen to your body. I’m not going to tell you which way is right or wrong because both methods should work fine for most people.

If you decide to try the scientific approach you first need to determine how many calories you need to eat. A rough guideline is bodyweight x 16 + 20 per cent = kcal.
For example a 175-pound man would need to take in 3360 kcal every day to gain mass. This formula may not be exact so you will have to play with the numbers until it delivers the desired results. You’ll need to keep an eye on your body weight and your progress. Ask yourself if you’re adding fat, adding muscle, simply maintaining, or losing weight. That 3360 kcal may not seem like a lot, but if you’re eating clean that is a ton of food. Remember, a chicken breast, rice, and veggies isn’t overly high in calories. You will soon figure this out when you find yourself inhaling food for the better part of the day.

If you decide you’d rather not be bothered with calorie counting ( I don’t blame you) listening to your body is just as effective. Again, clean eating is crucial to your success, and you’ll find it difficult to over eat if your diet is very clean. If you’re hungry, you know you’ve gone too long between meals. When trying to gain size, you can’t afford to let yourself get hungry because your body needs constant fuel.

The same monitoring applies to this method. Watch your body, weight, size and adjust food intake as required.

Keep a food log book so you know what you’ve eaten. Eat proportioned meals six to eight times a day. Each meal needs to include high quality protein; each meal should be planned and you’ll need to drink plenty of water.

I know it goes without saying, but train like a champion. I mentioned above that half the mistakes hard gainers make are nutritional; the other half obviously are training regimes. Give it an honest effort with a structured approach. Try this quality mass program and give your body a chance to grow like it never has before.



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