Compound vs. Isolation Exercises

Compound vs. isolation exercises
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Compound and isolation exercises are probably familiar terms, but if you are trying to build muscle mass and strength, which should you focus on? You can count on us to give you the low-down on compound and isolation exercises.


Many fitness programs focus on compound exercises. Compared to isolated activities performed on a machine, compound exercises emphasize functional fitness developed through routines that emulate real-life situations.

Compound exercises provide a wide range of motion through various movements. Still, isolation exercises can also be beneficial and should form part of a well-rounded exercise program. Exercise experts recommend performing compound and isolation practices at least once weekly.

We believe isolation exercises have a place in any legit workout, despite what the weightlifting world says.


Read on to learn why isolation exercises are so crucial to your fitness. What is better, compound or isolation exercises? The answer is neither. Each has its own purpose. Here we will examine why both compound and isolation exercises can provide better results.

What Are Compound and Isolation Exercises?

There is an easy way to differentiate between compound and isolation exercises.

·         Compound Exercises

While you are performing a compound movement, you use multiple muscles and joints. Therefore, a more significant number of muscles are targeted within a short period of time. A compound exercise is an exercise that works for more than one muscle group at the same time. Squatting, for instance, is a compound exercise that works the quadriceps, glutes, and calves.

To target even more muscles, you can combine two exercises into one move (such as lunges and bicep curls).

·         Isolation Exercises

An isolation movement targets only one muscle group at a time. You can focus your attention directly on the muscles you want to work on. Isolation exercises differ from compound exercises. They target only one muscle group at a time. Bicep curls are an isolation exercise that strengthens the biceps, for instance. Regarding strengthening muscles after an injury or rehabilitating them, isolation exercises can be helpful.

Find the Differences

There are several muscles, or muscle groups worked at the same time when you do compound exercises. Exercises like the squat are great examples of compound exercises, as they engage many muscles in the lower body and core. These muscles include the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, glutes, lower back, and core muscles.

At any given time, isolation exercises target only one muscle group or joint at a time. Biceps curls and quadriceps extensions are examples of isolation exercises. Health clubs have weight machines for these exercises. In this method, you isolate one muscle group and move from one machine to the next until the whole body is worked. When a specific muscle imbalance or weakness occurs following an injury, illness, surgery, or other condition, isolation exercises are commonly used in physical therapy clinics and rehab centers to correct muscle imbalance or weakness.

Compound exercises typically make up the majority of a training program, while isolation exercises are used as a complement to that program.

It’s easy to assume you’re unaware of what compound and isolation actually mean, even though you’ve heard of them. In that case, which is better?


Are Isolation Exercises More Important than Compound Exercises?

There is no doubt that isolation workouts are more important than compound exercises. Nonetheless, we believe they are both equally beneficial. Take our word for it. A compound exercise develops multiple muscle groups, while an isolation exercise develops just one muscle. Thus, you are ensuring that your muscles are all being worked, minimizing muscle imbalances. If one power overpowers another, the muscular imbalance can lead to injury. Put your focus on your hamstrings vs. your quadriceps. Muscle tenseness and muscle pulls can also occur if one muscle overpowers the other. Neither of these is desirable.

Examples of Best Exercises

Your workout routine can include many isolation and compound exercises. The following are examples of compound and isolation exercises.

Best Compound Exercises

  • Chest: bench press, chest dip, push up
  • Back: barbell row, pull up, deadlift
  • Leg: squat, hip thrust, sumo deadlift
  • Shoulders: overhead press, standing Arnold press, bent over rear rows
  • Bicep: chin up, neutral grip pull up
  • Triceps: French press, close grip bench press, bench dip

Best Isolation Activities for Making a Muscular Six-Pack Body

  • Chest: cable fly, dumbbell chest press neutral grip, low cable fly
  • Back: kneeling cable pull down, superman, incline bench dumbbell row
  • Leg: cable pull through, leg extension, leg curl
  • Shoulders: dumbbell shoulder press neutral grip, dumbbell front raise, cable rear delt fly
  • Bicep: hammer curl, dumbbell concentration curl, incline bench dumbbell curl
  • Triceps: bench dumbbell triceps kickback, cable triceps pushdown

6 Compound Exercises to Try

No worry if you don’t know where to start! We’ve gathered 6 compound exercises you can try. You can find how to do these activities here.

  • Deadlift: It targets lats, forearms, hamstrings, glutes, core, upper-, mid-, and lower back using a barbell 
  • Reverse lunge to balance with bicep curl: It targets glutes, hamstrings, abs, hips, and biceps.
  • Squat: Quadriceps, glutes, and calves are the targeted muscles. By the way, it needs no special equipment. 
  • Front lunge with a twist: Another no-equipment needed activity for glutes, hamstrings, abs, and hips.
  • Dumbbell shoulder press on an exercise ball: It moves abs, deltoids, pectoralis major, and triceps brachii with the help of a set of dumbbells, abs, or exercise ball
  • High plank T-spine rotation: Working out your abs and shoulders with no equipment.

What Are the Best Times to Use Single Exercises?

People with a solid fitness base will benefit from isolation exercises the most, but those who are new to the gym may find they are easier to do than compound exercises. Before performing isolation workouts, it’s best to build strength using compound exercises, but if you choose to do activities that tackle one specific muscle group, ensure that you also train the opposing muscle group. For instance, if you want to do a leg extension, train your hamstrings with a leg curl to maintain balance in your body.

When to Use Compound Exercises?

All age groups and abilities can benefit from compound exercises, which can be used at any stage of training. Due to their complexity, compound exercises such as dead lifts and lunges may require some instruction on how to perform them correctly. Whether you are interested in improving your athletic performance, improving your strength, losing weight, or simply being able to stand and sit on your own, compound exercises can assist you.


The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Isolation and compound exercises have advantages and disadvantages, which you need to be aware of. Compound exercises are likely the most efficient use of your time. Focusing on compound exercises will help you build more strength and work more muscles in a short period. Additional benefits include:

  • burning more calories
  • improving intramuscular coordination
  • increased heart rate
  • improved flexibility
  • enhanced strength
  • increased muscle mass

Compounds exercises are obviously beneficial, but isolation ones still have their place since they isolate one muscle group. The benefits of isolation exercises include muscle recovery, toning, and correcting muscle imbalances. 

Weightlifting exercises should be combined with isolation ones as a wonderful complement. Be sure to isolate the muscles on both sides of your body. You must ensure that you do biceps curls on your left and right sides, for example, if your workout routine involves an isolation exercise.

Compounds Exercises Pros

Benefits of compound exercises are as follows:

  • Strengthen your muscles since you can lift heavier loads.
  • You will be able to get balanced muscular growth because they affect multiple muscle groups simultaneously.
  • Ideal for everyday movements: posture, lifting objects, etc.
  • It improves stability.
  • Increase your calorie burn.

Compounds Exercises Cons

  • Weak links can be hidden. You may overcompensate with the wrong muscles. You may feel more muscular in the bench press, but you’re probably using your shoulders excessively instead of your chest.
  • The movements are usually too general. Your weakest link is what determines your strength. A weakened triceps, for example, would limit your power when it comes to bench pressing or overhead pressing.
  • The risk of injury is higher. A compound exercise may put you at a higher risk of injury if you overload it or your secondary muscles are weak.
  • The range of motion is often limited.

Isolation Or Compound Exercises First?

Your workout goal will determine how you proceed. Performing compound exercises will help you build a robust and well-balanced body. On the other hand, isolation exercises can help you focus on weak muscle groups.

Building Muscle

The most effective way to build muscle and strength is using compound movements. Should compound exercises be your primary focus? In a nutshell, yes. Compound exercises can increase muscles, strength, and power depending on the client’s goals. By increasing testosterone and growth hormone, you build muscle and burn fat.

Although building muscle requires repetition and consistency, you don’t have to be predictable in your training. The term “compound exercise” refers to a movement that engages several joints at once – such as a squat, which involves both hip and knee joints and your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calf muscles. The isolation exercises aim to work a specific muscle group – such as your biceps with a barbell curl. You may be confused about which is better for building muscle, but here are the reasons you should train with both.

·         Compound: The foundation of your power

In the case of a beginner, compound exercises will help you build your foundation faster by giving you more results for your effort and time. Such activities increase your strength by allowing you to lift heavier loads. 

·         Isolation: Your muscle-building accomplice

As part of a well-balanced muscle-building program, isolated activities still have a significant role to play. They are necessary for some muscles. When it comes to pulling movements like rows and pull-ups, the bicep serves more as a secondary or supporting muscle and not the main one. No single compound exercise can target the biceps. You can perform these exercises to target individual muscles while not working those injured or overworked if you experience an injury or need time to recover from a challenging workout.


Fasten Your Seat Belts to Use Them in Your Workouts

If you are trying to build muscle or lose weight, you should focus mainly on compound exercises. Finish up your workout with some isolation exercises. For example:

  • Exercise 1: Compound movement
  • Exercise 2: Compound movement
  • Exercise 3: Compound movement
  • Exercise 4: Compound movement
  • Exercise 5: Isolation movement

Nothing is set in stone here. Just change it according to what muscle you are working on that day.

To Mix or Not Compound and Isolation Exercises

When you aren’t sure what is best for you, an athletic trainer or personal trainer can help you identify any muscle imbalances or weaknesses and design a plan that meets your needs. Compound lifts are best done three to four times a week with isolation exercises twice a week. 

Combining both is possible by using isolation exercises as part of compound exercises. As an example:

  • Three sets of ten barbell squats
  • Calf Raises (2 x 20)
  • Four dead lifts (8 reps)
  • Two hamstring curls (12 reps)

It’s okay to split the exercises up into one day for squats and lunges, the next day for bench press and dips, and another day for deadlifts & military presses.

You can boost your survival fitness by incorporating these isolation exercises into your workout routine. Despite the popularity of compound exercises in fitness, isolation exercises should not be ignored. Consider your posture. Putting too much focus on your chest without exercising your back can result in rounded shoulders. This leads to an array of issues that are difficult to remedy. You can increase strength and balance by doing isolation exercises.

If you’re doing compound exercises, make sure you balance them out with these isolation exercises that target one muscle group at a time. The perfect way to boost your workout routine is to combine an isolation exercise with your compound exercises.

You will get the body you want in a timeline that fits your schedule when you build a healthy balance between isolation and compound exercises. Let’s bench press, then let’s do some straight-back exercises.


Safety Tips

Knowing how to safely and effectively perform compound exercises, such as dead lifts, is essential. If you’re not sure, take a look at this YouTube video to avoid beginners’ mistakes.

  • Perform these types of exercises with the help of a trainer or fitness professional, primarily if you have never performed them before. Their observation can help ensure you are doing it correctly.
  • The moves may eventually be doable on your own. 
  • It’s still a good idea to bring a partner to watch you during your workout. Ask your gym trainer or a fitness professional for help if you are a beginner. A fitness professional can help you pick the proper weights. 
  • Starting with a lightweight and doing ten to fifteen repetitions with it for one set is a good rule of thumb. For the second and third sets, head into heavier weights. Increase the weight if you feel stable and comfortable. The last few repetitions should feel intense; however, you should never feel unstable. 
  • In case of lightheadedness, dizziness, or other discomforts, drink water between sets.

In Summary

  • A compound exercise involves multiple muscle groups and helps you gain strength.
  • The purpose of isolation activities is to strengthen weak links in your body and target them individually.
  • Combine compound exercises into your workouts as often as possible.
  • Finish your activities with single muscle activities.

There’s no right or wrong answer to the question of compound versus isolation exercises, and we recommend incorporating both into your training program to maximize results. 

Since everyone is unique, consider your goals and decide which will be most effective for you, keeping these pros and cons in mind. Compound or isolation: which is your favorite? Comment below.

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