Compound Exercises or Isolation Exercises?

Isolation vs Compound

Round 1: Generally

Compound exercises allow you to engage more muscle groups, which in turn allows you to lift more weight, which in turn allows for faster and more consistent progression, which in turns causes a lot of good stuff to happen that all leads to the results you want to get. Isolation exercises isolate muscle groups so they are trained by themselves. This means you’ll typically be using MUCH lower amounts of weight, which in turn means there won’t be anywhere near as much consistent progression, which in turn means the potential for results won’t be nearly as high as with compound exercises. Let me explain that another way. Which do you think has more potential to improve the way your body looks or performs… adding 100lbs to your bench press, or adding 10lbs to your dumbbell flyes?? Obvious, isn’t it? In general, compound exercises allow you to create MUCH more of the right type of training stimulus than isolation exercises can. And for this reason (and many other less important ones), compound exercises beat isolation exercises by a fairly large margin for most people, most of the time.

Round 2: Specifically

But wait, this battle isn’t over just yet. You see, there are plenty of specific situations when isolation exercises can definitely be of use and serve an important purpose in your workout routine. For example, let’s say you’ve already done some bench pressing but still need to get some additional chest volume in. However, at the same time, you don’t want (or need) any additional volume for your shoulders and triceps. Since every compound chest exercise uses the shoulders and triceps secondarily, your best option in this scenario is to do a chest isolation exercise like dumbbell flyes (rather than another type of press). In this case the isolation exercise allows you do a second exercise for a muscle group to reach the optimal amount of volume, and it does it in a way that isolates that muscle so that no other secondary muscles are being trained with unwanted volume. Another similar example is in the case of people who are training primarily for building muscle and have a hard time actually using their chest when bench pressing. This is somewhat common, and it means your triceps and shoulders are taking over and doing most of the work. Aside from trying to correct this issue as much as they can, how else is this person supposed to properly train their chest? That’s right… with an isolation exercise like flyes. And here’s yet another example. Let’s say you are doing chest and shoulders in the same workout. You’ve already done some flat bench pressing and some incline bench pressing, and your triceps (which are used secondarily in both) are pretty much dead at this point. Does it make sense to do some kind of overhead press for shoulders and therefore use your already very fatigued triceps? In this case, a shoulder isolation exercise like lateral raises might be a better choice for some people. And let’s not forget that isolation exercises are really the only way we can directly train smaller muscle groups like the biceps, triceps and calves without adding additional unnecessary volume to the larger muscle groups. So really, while compound exercises are the winner of this battle in terms of what tends to be best in general, isolation exercises definitely have a time and place in the workout routines of many people.

Silly Myths

Before ending this with my recommendations, I figured I should probably mention the silly myth that “isolation exercises are for getting toned, lean and defined” and “compound exercises are for building lots of muscle and bulk.” Um, no. That’s 100% lie. The big point is that compound and isolation exercises are complete equals in terms of being for “tone” or “bulk” or whatever dumb words are associated with this myth. It’s all nonsense. Ignore it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>