Compound Exercises vs Isolation Exercises


Your selection of the exercises within your workout routine can be a direct determining factor in whether you are successful or not. The exercises themselves shape your muscles, make up your body shape, and ultimately lead to you hitting goals that you want to hit. How do you make sure you choose the right kind for your goals then? Well, first we must know the types of exercises and movements that we can use.

Two of the most common, and two of which almost every movement falls under the category of, are compound exercises and isolation exercises.

  1. Compound exercises – Exercises like bench press, squats, deadlifts, etc. They are big lifts that work multiple groups of muscles at once.
  1. Isolation exercises – Exercises that isolate (no way?) a particular muscle, and work only that muscle with that exercise. These would be exercises like tricep kickbacks, chest flies, preacher curls, etc. Lifts with a very particular muscle in mind.

Which one should you be doing, or doing more of? Well, the only way to know that is to get down to the nitty-gritty of each type. Yea, let’s do that then…

Compound exercises are bigger, usually heavier, and are considered king in putting on overall size quickly and efficiently. One of the biggest and most obvious reasons for this is because of the ability to go heavier with weight. Other than that though, there are a few underlying reasons as well, that go well beyond just how much weight you can put up. One of them being HGH. That’s right, Human Growth Hormone. HGH is released heavily when the body senses that you are working a multitude of muscles. This hormone not only contributes to the muscle you are working, but to every muscle in the body (and even more than muscles, but that’s another conversation for another day)!! The release of this hormone paired with the fact that you can go heavier, also means less time spent in the gym to get the same, or even more results! More results in less time? I think that’s a no brain-er isn’t it? This is why compound movements are so highly regarded in the fitness community, and why some workout regimens consist of only these movements. Especially workouts focused on gaining strength, rather than aesthetics.

Isolation Exercises are exactly what they sound like. Movements that isolate one muscle out, and work only that muscle. Isolation exercises do not release much HGH and do not use near as much weight, so they leave a lot less room for growth and quick results.

Generally speaking, this all means that a lot of the time, compound movements should be your go-to for quick overall results and body change.

Not so fast though…

Isolation exercises are not completely out of the race, and definitely deserve a spot in a workout regimen.

As an example, let’s say you have hit bench press on your chest day, but want to get a little more chest volume in without getting to much of your shoulders or triceps in there (which bench press naturally hits). How do you do that? With some chest flies that only target the chest, that’s how!

Methods like this keep particular muscles in check, and can help create perfect symmetry of your body by only working specific groups that need it.

Also, we can’t forget maybe the most important reason, which is some muscles only get worked with isolation. There are no compound exercises that work much of your biceps, calves, abs, traps, etc. so we need these exercises to keep these muscles in line with our larger groups.

My recommendation to you then would be this…

  • If you are looking for performance, strength, or muscle endurance, your workout should consist of mainly, if not all, compound exercises.
  •  If you are going for aesthetics (looks) then you should make a relatively large part of your routine, compound exercises, but with a good focus on isolation as well. Think along the lines of 3:1 ratio.

These are general rules of thumb. Just remember that no one knows your body as well as you, and no two individuals have the same two bodies. This means that some things may work super well for you and not for others and vice versa. Mix things up and experiment often and you will soon learn the exact balance of exercises needed for you to have the body that you’ve always wanted.

Article by fitness expert Zack Simpson

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