There has been a great deal of debate and controversy when discussing if isolation exercises or compound exercises are better. In this post, you will find out more about compound and isolation exercises and how you should be using them for best results.
What are Compound Exercises?
Here is a List of the Most Common Compound Exercises
All variations of the bench press
Primary Muscle Group: Chest
Secondary Muscle Groups: Shoulders, Triceps
Primary Muscle Group: Shoulders
Secondary Muscle Group: Triceps
Dips – Upright or with a slight forward lean
Primary Muscle Group: Triceps
Secondary Muscle Groups: Shoulders, Chest
Deadlift – The ultimate compound exercise
Primary Muscle Group: Posterior Chain (Hamstrings, Glutes, Back, etc.)
Secondary Muscle Groups: Much of Lower Body, Much Of Upper Body
Primary Muscle Group: Back
Secondary Muscle Group: Biceps
Primary Muscle Group: Back
Secondary Muscle Group: Biceps
Squat – Another top compound exercise.
Primary Muscle Group: Quads
Secondary Muscle Groups: Most of Lower Body (Glutes/Hamstrings), Lower Back
Why You Should do Compound Exercises
You Want to Lose Weight
If you’re trying to get leaner, compound movements give you an edge, thanks to the number of muscles you’re working simultaneously. When you’re working multiple muscles at the same time, you burn more calories. The calorie burn is especially high when you work large muscle groups through compound training.
Lower Risk of Injury
Compound exercises, like squats and deadlifts, mimic the movements you do daily – squatting down to pick something up or lifting something. You’re working not only the primary movers but the stabilizing muscles as well. As a result, you can do the activities you routinely do on a daily basis more efficiently and with a lower risk of injury.
Compound Exercises Get Your Heart Rate Up
Compound exercises elevate your heart rate more than isolation moves. Because you are working large muscle groups, your heart has to work harder to deliver enough blood and oxygen to your working muscles.
You can Improve Balance and Coordination
Compound exercises can help to enhance your coordination and balance. When you do compound movements, like squats and deadlifts, your body moves through space and you have to stabilize and balance yourself throughout the exercise.
Compound Movements Save Time
If you have limited time, doing a short routine that emphasizes compound movements offers maximal benefits. With only squats, lunges, deadlifts, push-ups and rows, you can get a full-body workout and leave no muscles unworked.
What are Isolation Exercises?
Isolation exercises require the work of only one of your muscle groups and only one joint throughout the movement. The best example is Leg Extension which hits directly only your quads.
Here is a List of the Most Common Isolation Exercises
Flat / Incline / Decline Flies (dumbbell, cable or machine)
Muscles Trained: Chest.
Front / Side / Bent Over Lateral Raises (dumbbell, cable or machine)
Muscles Trained: Front / Side / Rear part of Shoulders.
Muscles Trained: Biceps.
Overhead Triceps Extensions (barbell, dumbbell or cable)
Muscles Trained: Triceps.
Muscles Trained: Quads.
Muscles Trained: Hamstrings.
Muscles Trained: Calves
Why You Should do Isolation Exercises
To Balance Out a Muscular Imbalance
If you are right-handed, you will notice that you can do more reps with your right arm than your left arm. You will need to keep on doing isolated arm exercises to bring your left arm strength on par with your right arm.
You Have an Injury that Needs Strengthening
In conjunction with a physical therapist, you will need to start off with isolation exercises to target the injured muscle or joint. This will help you to slowly build strength and endurance in the injured area. After a while, the therapist may add more balance and stability exercises until your injury has greatly improved.
You are a Bodybuilder
Bodybuilders may spend lots of time working on individual muscle groups to get the most definition and to build bigger muscles.
You Want a Balanced Workout Program
You need a good balance between compound and isolation to get more depth out of your strength training routine which will make you strong for the harder exercises.
This is How to get the Best out of Both Compound and Isolation Exercises
I wouldn’t suggest that this be done by any beginner. Firstly, work on your form before you give this a try. I would recommend that you consult your trainer to get the best mix of exercises to get the maximum results.
Supersets……. It’s Not as Scary as it Sounds.
A superset is when you perform one set of two exercises back to back, without resting between them. You then have a rest after completing the second exercise. This is a great way to get the maximum results out of your workout, and there are many ways to do them. Here are a few types of superset workouts that you can do.
Here you would pair two exercises for the same muscle group. The first one is an isolation movement and the second one is a compound movement. An example for the chest would be a set of dumbbell flies, followed with a set of bench press.
Here you swap the two exercises around of the pre-fatigue superset. You start with the compound exercise and then followed by the isolation exercise. An example for the chest would be a set of bench press, followed with a set of dumbbell flies.
This is the least liked type of superset and is rarely used. It consists of pairing two compound movements of the same muscle group. For example, a set of bench press followed by a set of dips. The problem is that it doesn’t help you to focus on the target muscle group.
This refers to pairing two isolation exercises for the same muscle group. The purpose is to focus on several parts of a muscle at the same time. For the biceps, that could be an exercise that focuses mostly on the long head and one that focuses on the short head.
In this method you pair two exercises for opposing (antagonist) muscles. As with other supersets, there’s no rest between the first and second exercises. With this approach, you can pair these muscles together:
Biceps and triceps
Quadriceps and hamstrings
Abs and lower back
Chest and back
Lateral/front deltoid and rear deltoid
So Which Exercise is Better? A Compound or Isolated Exercises?
Personally, I prefer compound exercises as an all-rounder. You work more muscle groups, burn more calories, lose more weight and get better results in a much shorter time than with isolated exercises. But, isolated exercises do have their place. I mainly use them to balance out a physical imbalance or to strengthen up an injured area.