Isolation Exercises vs. Compound Exercises

Isolation Exercises vs. Compound Exercises

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?

A compound exercise is any exercise that uses two or more different joints to fully stimulate entire muscle groups. Therefore more major muscle groups can be hit with a smaller number of 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

Isolation Exercises vs. Compound Exercises

Military press

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

Isolation Exercises vs. Compound Exercises


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.

Isolation Exercises vs. Compound Exercises

Front / Side / Bent Over Lateral Raises (dumbbell, cable or machine)

Muscles Trained: Front / Side / Rear part of Shoulders.

Preacher / Concentration Curls

Muscles Trained: Biceps.

Overhead Triceps Extensions (barbell, dumbbell or cable)

Muscles Trained: Triceps.

Leg Extensions

Muscles Trained: Quads.

Isolation Exercises vs. Compound Exercises

Leg Curls

Muscles Trained: Hamstrings.

Seated Calve Raises

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.

Pre-Fatigue Superset

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.

Isolation Exercises vs. Compound Exercises

Post-Fatigue Superset

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.

Compound Superset

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.

Isolation Superset

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.

Isolation Exercises vs. Compound Exercises

Antagonist Superset

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.


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