Is your strength training program making you stronger? How do you know? Are you actually "training", or are you just doing everything you can think of to make your abs look better? I'm not going to argue the importance of strength training to your overall fitness, because I'm assuming if you're reading this article you think that it's worth doing. Well, by that regard, if you agree it's something you need to do, then I would like to quote Hunter S. Thompson, who said, "Anything worth doing is worth doing right." So why are so many gym goers content to dwell in mediocrity. In order to have a successful strength training program with any measurable results you must, and I emphasize MUST, involve at least, but not limited to, the big three foundational compound movements: the squat, the deadlift, and the press. These movements are most definitely worth doing, so let's discuss doing them right.
When done right, a compound movement, such as the goblet, front or back squat, not only loads the body with weight, forcing immediate core stabilization, but also triggers the loaded tissues to become stronger under the added duress. New tissue development consequently requires the system to strengthen bones in order to support new live active tissue, and it also forces positive mobility adaptations and unparalleled core activation when performed to full depth (hip crease below the patella) or even deeper. The deepest variety is most commonly known as the "ass to grass" squat and, contrary to popular belief, is not bad for the knees if done correctly with proper external rotation. The more you perform a lift correctly, such as the squat, the more comfortable you will become, thus creating positive adaptations of your own. This will allow you to recruit more and more motor units for strength over time and ultimately make your entire body stronger. This is how compound movements work. They use your body as the system it was intended to be and it becomes stronger as a whole, not by isolation. Isolation exercises can be very important as accessory movements to help balance weaknesses or as rehabilitation to help restore health to ligaments and joints, but as strength building movements alone they fall far short of compound movements.
Compound movements are so effective because they are multi-joint, total body exercises that not only involve muscular and skeletal strength, but involve the central nervousness system or "CNS" as well. These movements are most effective in free weight versions. No machine will ever effectively replicate their free weight counterpart. Every elite strength program has the three compound lifts firmly implemented in it's foundation. To leave these out of a strength program would be the equivalent of building a house without a foundation. These are the major components of strength, and as Jim Wendler, the author of 5/3/1, puts it, "too many people major in the minors." Don't let this be you. The minors can be fun, but don't be fooled: side raises and crunches are not making you stronger.
Simply doing compound movement with no standard for quality is an exercise in futility. Remember anything worth doing is worth doing right. If you need help getting started with compound movement, you need to do some research, or find a strength coach who is experienced and regularly performs these lifts themselves. If a strength coach is just out of the question than resources like Mike Boyle or Chad Wesley Smith are a good place to start.
Stop thinking about your training in terms of body parts, i.e "leg day" or "chest and tri" day, but instead think of them in terms of a compound movement and the muscles that movement involves. While there are many great programs out there, the most important thing is that you DO IT and you do it right. Learn how to do these right. Don't just walk into a gym and try them out. Do some research. You can't just build a house without a detailed blueprint, so when it comes to your body don't just wing it. Devise a plan and execute. Let the words of Hunter S. Thompson forever inspire you, because in the end, anything worth doing is worth doing RIGHT.
Just get better.