In praise of compound movement

In fitness, a lot of time is spent being busy – working on arms, working on calves, working on thighs, working on the belly, the back, and the butt, and there are definitely arguments for incorporating these kinds of isolated movements into your workouts. But the big, full-body exercises that fall under the heading of “compound movement” are special, because they allow you to work many body parts at once. A favorite example of mine is one that’s called the Turkish Get Up (let’s say TGU, for the rest of this post – it’s just easier). My 80-year old mom is learning to do it & is doing a damn good job. (If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you already know this. Go ahead and click those links if you want to follow! This is too awesome to not share.)

The TGU teaches upper body and lower body stability & control, along with using the arms and legs appropriately towards the goal of standing up while holding a weight. It prepares the body well for the act of getting off the ground, and if you’re like me & surrounded by snow and ice, you might be getting more than your fair share of chances to pick yourself up lately.

This is what the exercise looks like – at the halfway point. If you’re thinking, “There’s NO WAY I can do that!”, just remember that everyone has to start somewhere, and even this guy didn’t start out with a heavy kettlebell over his head.

For comparison, here’s my mom on one of our training days – that’s not a sequence, it’s just a collage of some of her attempts to hold up the weight and sit up at the same time.

What I’m trying to illustrate is that this is an exercise for EVERYONE. Unless you’ve got specific health/mobility issues, you can do this exercise & train at it several times a week until it becomes part of your natural practice. It can ramp up gradually in difficulty as you ramp up in strength & skill.

And this exciting thing happens:
It becomes part of your body’s learning. Your brain and nervous system will keep your muscles that much stronger, you’ll be better able to get up if you fall, and you may even be less likely to fall in the first place. Your upper and lower body will work better together, too. In a lot of small ways, your movement will just be…better. Walking, sitting, standing, breathing, all of that – but better.


There are other similar compound exercises, like the kettlebell swing, the half kneeling windmill, the squat, and the deadlift – they all sound like they’re out of reach of the average person over 50, but they’re actually not. With appropriate weight, appropriate training length, appropriate number of repetitions, they can all be part of your toolset for staying sharp, agile, and healthy.

The hardest part is on YOU: can you cultivate the patience to do this right, so you train yourself to get stronger AND avoid getting injured? (I think you can!)

Get in touch if you need some help figuring out how to make this happen! Click here to fill out the contact form. 🙂