Compound vs Isolation

compound vs isolation exercises for mass

Compound v isolation
Compound vs. Isolation Exercises: The Differences & How They Complement Each Other

Fitness is no walk in the park. Well, it is. But there is much more hard work involved. If you’ve been putting in the work required, then you must have heard about two methods of work out –  Compound and Isolation exercises. This article will give you a better understanding of the two.

In order to build your muscles correctly, you need discipline, consistency, and a lot of repetition. However, it doesn’t mean that your workout has to be monotonous. By understanding the difference between Compound vs. Isolation exercises, you can combine them to have an even more effective workout. What is most important is to ensure your training addresses all the 10 components of fitness

Now different groups sometimes tend to favour one method of training over the other. Athletes and sportspeople, for example, tend to follow a system of compound exercises like dumbbell lunges, squats, etc. While professional bodybuilders, on the other hand, prefer isolation exercises like the bicep curl to get those bulging biceps.

Although both groups swear by their preferred method of training, there are advantages to both compound and isolation exercises. It comes down to what are the fitness goals of the individual. Your personal trainer should be able to help you with that. Is a personal trainer worth it? – this article might help clear your doubts if you don’t already have a personal trainer.

Compound Vs. Isolation Exercises.

If you’re new to the fitness scene, then chances are you’ll probably be doing compound exercises. These tend to be the base of most exercise programs. Isolation exercises are a more advanced technique that tends to be used by more seasoned participants.

The primary difference between compound and isolation exercises is the number of muscles that are used.

Much like our daily life activities, compound exercises utilize several muscle groups in the body. For example, squats are a common compound exercise that works out your hip, knee, core muscles, hamstring, etc. Isolation exercises, on the other hand, tend to focus on specific muscle groups such as the biceps. The former focuses on improving overall functional fitness while the latter improves upon a particular muscle group.

There are advantages to both compound and isolation exercises. Compound exercises help improve your range of motion by working out all your 3 planes of motion. On the other hand, isolation exercises help you address and strengthen particularly weak muscle groups due to injury.

A right combination of both these types of exercises will generally yield the best results. That is why I, and most other good fitness experts, incorporate both compound and isolation exercises into the fitness routine for our clients. This article will give you a better understanding of each of these workout methods and help you make the correct choice from compound vs. isolation exercises.

So What Are Compound Exercises?

Well, you must have gotten a fair idea already. Compound exercises are the ones that make use of multiple muscle groups at the same time. If you are part of a fitness program or take part in any sports, then you are already using compound exercises to perform those activities.

A good example of a compound exercise is the Deadlift. To perform the deadlift correctly, you need to use the hips and knees together to let your body hinge forward and lift the weight. This movement triggers multiple muscle groups and joints, allowing you to pick up the weight. Another typical example of a compound exercise would be the Squats, which seems simple, but affects the quadriceps, glutes, and calves.

Benefits Of Compound Exercises:

Because compound exercises require using multiple muscle groups or joints at a time, the benefits of compound exercises are many.

It Strengthens Your Foundation While Saving You Time.

As a beginner, you need to build up your foundation first. By working multiple muscle groups at a time, compound exercises give you more results for the time you put in.

Consider standard compound exercises like push-ups, squats, pull-ups, etc. If you use even two of these into your workout routine with multiple reps, then you would have worked-out your entire body. Working out those parts individually will take you much longer.

Use Compound Exercises To Lose Weight

Have you joined a fitness centre with the goal of losing weight? Well, along with these Smart goals for weight loss that you should keep in mind, we got another tip for you. The quickest way to burn off some of that fat is to do compound exercises. HIIT is a relatively quick way to burn out a lot of calories in a short period.

As you already know, with any compound exercise, you work out different parts of the body simultaneously. This results in more calories getting burnt with every workout, compared to isolation exercise where calories are burnt from only the particular muscle been worked out.

It Boosts Muscle Growth & Increases Your Strength Level

Compound Exercises increases your strength by promoting muscle growth. This, in turn, will help you lift more weight over time, compared to isolation exercises. Why are compound exercises more effective in increasing muscle growth?

Since compound exercise engages multiple muscle groups at the same time, it causes a big hormonal response. This, in turn, releases a large amount of testosterone. The increased testosterone levels help repair any muscle damage caused by the work out while promoting muscle growth.

It Improves Your Overall Functional Fitness.

Compound exercises relate directly to functional movements we do in our daily life. Simple activities like picking up stuff, putting it up on shelves, bending down, squatting, etc., are all compound activities. The compound exercises you do in the gym, such as the squats, require functional movements similar to daily life activities. Thus such exercises help you get better at performing daily functional activities while reducing the chances of any injury.

Common Compound Exercises

  • Deadlift
  • Pushups
  • Dips
  • Chest press
  • Jumping rope
  • One-leg squat-and-reach
  • Squat
  • Lunge
  • Lunge with a twist
  • Shoulder press
  • Pull down
  • Pushup to overhead press
  • Pullup
Compound V Isolation Exercises

Disadvantages Of Compound Exercises

As is with any fitness program, an incorrect form can result in injury. Especially if you use weights that are above your current strength level.

If you’ve recently suffered an injury affecting a particular muscle group, then compound exercises may not be the right choice.

Some Tips For Compound Movements

First of all, since the proper form is so important, it is better to make sure you’re doing it right with a trainer’s help. Do your warmups before lifting weights and ensure your back and neck receives proper support when lifting.

Next, since compound exercises affect multiple muscle groups, you need to make sure your workout routine does not overwork any particular group.

As we’ve seen till now, compound exercises are time efficient for building a strong foundation and getting in shape. But what if a particular area needs more attention. This could be due to multiple reasons – injury, incorrect training, or just because you want those bulging biceps! Well, the answer, in that case, is Isolation exercises.

ISOLATION: Focus & Build Your Muscles

If compound exercises have an overall impact on your body, then why need isolation exercises? Because once you build your foundation, many situations demand a more focussed or isolated training. That’s why I often combine both compound and isolation exercises for my clients as per their fitness goals. Plus, this is also where you get to use those fancy gym equipment’s.

What are isolation exercises?

As the name suggests, isolation exercises isolate a muscle group and work on them. These typically target and use only one muscle group and joint. Such focus on a particular area has many benefits regarding improving and taking your fitness to the next level.

Benefits Of Isolation Exercises

Since isolation exercises focus on specific muscle groups, it is especially beneficial when a particular muscle group needs extra attention. Curls are an example of an isolation exercise that focuses on a specific area. Here are some other very useful benefits of isolation exercises.

It Helps Recover From Injuries

Isolation exercises are an excellent method to recover from any muscle injury or weakness. These exercises help focus on and activate such weakened muscles.  It is also essential to work out these muscles for them to fire again properly to avoid permanent damage. Other muscles usually compensate for the weaker muscles. Hence sometimes, you may not even notice the weakness. That is why a good personal trainer will incorporate the appropriate isolation training to ensure a full recovery.

It Helps Keep You Active Even During Injuries

You don’t have to give up on working out just because a particular area of your body needs rest. With isolation exercises, you can work on other muscle groups while keeping the injured one’s safe.

Fixes Muscular Imbalances

Well, it’s quite common to have a particular muscle group that is not as impressive despite the hours we put in at the gym. In that case, you need to put extra focus on such muscle groups. Isolation exercises can help with just that. So want to carve out those calves? Just ask your trainer to add in an isolation exercise.

It’ll Help You Get That Bulging Beach Body

And finally, the reason isolation exercises are so popular among the folks who love to have a beefed-up body – big muscles! By using isolation exercises, you can pump up individual muscle groups. If you’ve been dreaming of flexing your biceps at the beach, you know what to do.

Using isolation exercises, you move from one muscle group to another till you’ve worked out your entire body. Focussing extra attention wherever required to recover from injuries and fixing imbalances.

  • Common Isolation Exercises
  • Rope pull-downs
  • Front raises
  • Lateral raises
  • Tricep kickbacks
  • Calf raises
  • Bicep curls
  • Hamstring curls
  • Leg extensions

Disadvantages of Isolation Exercises

Isolation exercises, useful as they may be, does have it’s disadvantage too. Especially if you’re aiming to lose weight pretty quickly. Since isolation exercises only work on a specific muscle group at a time, it burns less amount of calories compared to compound exercises.

I tend to develop a customized fitness routine depending on the fitness goal and the individual’s health. And as any good personal trainer should, I combine both compound and isolation exercises as per the need.

Tips For Performing Isolation Exercises

You should be in a seated position whenever possible when performing isolation exercises. This prevents other muscle groups from been worked out as support.

Focussing on a particular muscle group too much can cause it to get exhausted. Hence, variety is very important to ensure you don’t end up Overtraining and cause injury.

Quite often, some muscle groups, such as the Gluteus Medii, tend to be neglected, causing issues later down the line. You can use isolation exercises to work on such neglected areas.

Isolation exercises can be combined with compound exercises to work out a particular muscle group. For example, adding a hamstring curl post to your deadlift can really work out those hamstrings!

Such combinations are why compound and isolation exercises work together so well.

Building A Fitness Routine Combining Compound And Isolation Exercises

It is easy to sometimes miss out on shortcomings of your body’s muscle development. That is why it is good to take the help of a personal trainer qualified to assess you properly. He or she may be able to notice any imbalance or muscle weakness. They can then tailor a fitness routine that addresses your fitness requirements.

Such fitness routines will contain a good mixture of compound and isolation exercises. Ultimately the aim is to reach your fitness goals. If you don’t already have one, this article on Goal Setting can get you started.

You can combine both types of work out together as isolation exercises along with compound exercises as accessory movements. Or you can spread them through the week by alternating between compound and isolation exercises.

Here’s an example of how you could design a fitness routine to include both compound and isolation exercises.

  • Barbell Squats (3 x 10)
  • Calf Raises (2 x 20)
  • Deadlift (4 x 8)
  • Hamstring Curls (2 x 12)

A personal trainer can again be of great help with making a fitness routine that best suits you. It’s always better to prevent injuries than to try and correct them. Ensure also to include some cooling off method so that your body recovers properly after an intense workout. If you can afford it, Float Therapy is one such very effective way to help you recover.

So Compound vs. Isolation Exercises? Use Them Both!

There are many benefits, as stated above, to both these methods of training. Some situations demand you use one of the two. If you’re just starting out, want to burn off calories quickly, etc., then it might be better that you start off with compound exercises.

On the other hand, if you have any muscle injury or weakness, then a compound exercise may not be suitable for you. Here you need to either isolate and work out that specific muscle in order to strengthen it. Or you need to avoid working out the weak muscle and let it rest. Isolation exercises come in handy in such circumstances.

All in all, when it comes to Compound Vs. Isolation exercises it is best to combine and get the best from both types of workouts. Ensure you don’t make any of these Common Fitness Mistakes, and make sure your workout routine helps to reach your fitness goals. If you’re down in Phuket and are looking for help with compound and isolation exercises, you can drop me a line, and I’ll be glad to help out.

Krix Luther


Krix Luther is a Health and Fitness Specialist and one of Asia’s leading Personal Trainers. He is an Ex Professional Muay Thai fighter and Avid Free Diver. At the same time, he is very active, has a passion for gaming, and has his own Twitch stream. You can contact him via his Instagram if you have any questions.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This