Compound Exercises vs Isolation

 As any bodybuilder will tell you, adding muscle to your frame is one of the most complex and stressful processes you will ever endure. When people lift weights in the gym, they do so for different reasons. Some want to strip away body fat and build a lean and aesthetic physique. Others, however, don’t mind a little meat on their bodies, as long as they’re able to build some good quality muscle mass. When it comes to building muscle and strength however, it’s important to understand your training. Some lifters swear by compound exercises, whereas others emphasize isolation movements. But which, if any, is considered superior? Well, that’s what we’re going to attempt to establish now. Take a look at our detailed guide listing the differences between isolation exercises and compounds.


What are compound exercises?

To begin with, we’ll start by looking at what many hardcore strongmen and powerlifters consider to be the ‘meat and potatoes’ of the gym world – compound exercises. Compound exercises may sound complex, but in reality, they’re surprisingly simple. These exercises are multi-joint movements which recruit multiple muscle groups simultaneously. Many powerlifters for example, will throw on a set of lifting straps and perform deadlifts as part of their training, as deadlifts are a great example of a compound movement. Another example is the barbell bench press. This exercise primarily targets the pectoral (chest) muscles, but on top of that, it also works the triceps, your core, and your delts. To help get more from their benching, lifters will often incorporate lifting grips into their routines. Some of the main benefits of compound exercises include:


  • Build more muscle
  • Increase strength
  • Work multiple muscle groups at once
  • Burn more calories
  • Save time


What are isolation exercises?

Now that we’ve looked at compounds, let’s take a look at what isolation exercises are. As the name implies, these exercises are basically exercises which isolate specific muscle groups, allowing you to focus on just the one muscle group at a time. You see, we mentioned how the barbell bench press is a great compound for the chest. Well, if you were to use the chest press machine, even though the machine is designed to mimic the action of a bench press, the machine allows you to isolate your chest so it is just the chest that does the vast majority of the work. Most machine-based exercises are isolation exercises, though some free weight exercises such as concentration curls, are also classed as isolation. Some of the main benefits of incorporating isolation exercises into your routine include the following:


  • Target specific muscle groups
  • Reduced risk of injury
  • Bring up lagging body parts to help balance out symmetry
  • Easier to master
  • Strengthen weaker body parts
  • Assist with rehabilitation after injury


So, which is better?

In truth, neither one nor the other is better than the other, as it all depends on your own specific goals and objectives. If you’re looking to pack on heaps of muscle mass and increase your strength and power in the process, much of your training should consist of heavy complex movements. If you simply want to bring up lagging muscle groups and balance out your symmetry, isolation exercises are perfect. In an ideal world however, your training should consist of a healthy combination of both compounds, and isolation exercises.

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