Next time you see a toddler squatting in the grass or on a beach, watch their form. It's perfect.

Feet are shoulder-width apart, the crease of hips is below parallel, weight is distributed to their heels, their knees are slightly bent out tracking over their toes and they have an upright torso with the neck and head in alignment.

In the fitness community, we describe this as getting your body to move in its primal state. It's the way a body is meant to move and what you should aim for.

Over time, we lose our ability to properly perform the five compound movements of squats, deadlifts, bench presses, barbell rows and overhead barbell presses because of sitting at a desk all day or injuries that have impacted our form.

There are reasons why these moves should be an essential part of your workout routine, particularly when it comes to benefitting your daily life.

Why are compound movements important?
Compound movements are any exercise that engages two or more different joints, therefore impacting multiple muscles during the same exercise.

They improve overall fitness by benefitting all the categories you want when you're working out: cardiovascular health, strength and flexibility.

More burn
Compound movements burn more calories than an isolation exercise. As you build more muscle, your basal metabolic rate (the rate at which you burn calories when at rest) goes up.

While doing compound movements, your body expends about five calories of energy to consume one litre of oxygen. That means that an exercise involving more muscle tissue, such as compound movements, requires more oxygen and that helps burn more calories.

Benefits of each compound movement

Squat

Squats activate the muscles all over the upper and lower body. They are a relatively easy movement to learn, but there are varieties and progressions that offer challenges on the way to mastering them.

Physical benefits:

  • Enhance the mobility in the hips and ankles
  • Challenge your core stabilizers, posterior chain and lower leg
  • Correct muscle imbalances

 Life benefits:

  • Ease movements such as bending down to lift boxes, working in the garden, trying on shoes at the mall or picking up after a dog during a walk

Deadlift

Deadlifts target lats, glutes, hamstrings and core stabilizers, but also work your entire body. They are a great exercise for stabilizing the posterior chain, which is the group of muscles through your whole back.

Physical benefits:

  • Improve overall speed, power and athleticism
  • Help create a nice shape, especially the butt and legs

Life benefits:

  • Help when you're doing movements such as picking up heavy boxes or lifting kids

Bench press

Bench presses are the most effective exercise to gain upper-body strength and mass.

Physical benefits:

  • Increase overall upper-body strength
  • Improve cardiovascular function

Life benefits:

  • Anything that requires pushing, whether that's pushing a stroller or a lawnmower or attempting power-sled exercises in the gym

Barbell row

This is one of the key exercises that carries over to the other big lifts. If you do it well, you'll improve all the other compound movements.

Physical benefits:

  • Strengthens the back
  • Reinforces proper hip function

Life benefits:

  • Improves posture
  • Helps undo some of the damage of sitting every day

Overhead barbell press

While the overhead barbell press strengthens the upper body, particularly shoulder muscles, it also gives your stabilizers a workout as you maintain proper form.

Physical benefits:

  • Strengthens the rotator cuff, which helps people who are internally rotated 
  • Reduces the risk of shoulder injuries

Life benefits:

  • Eases the impact of constantly looking down at cellphones
  • Improves posture

Start off with bodyweight
It’s important to ask a fitness professional to show you the proper form of compound movements, or film yourself and use an app that analyzes form.

Begin doing the movements with bodyweight rather than weights. Don't worry, if you are starting by doing an air squat, you'll still get a workout.

You can also just use the bar without weights, but keep in mind a bar typically weighs 35 to 45 pounds. It’s quite common for people to start off using a lightweight dowel. In fact, that’s how professional bodybuilders practise movements.

Perfecting the movements helps ward off injury when you do load on some weight.

Once you’re comfortable with the movements, put together a periodized plan (ask a GoodLife professional about a 5x5 program to get you started). You’ll soon see and feel the benefits of more strength, increased energy, better posture and higher fat burn.