Compound Exercises vs. Isolation Exercises

Compound and isolation exercises are routinely seen at many gyms throughout the country, but what are they?

Compound exercises are those that engage two or more different joints within the body. Examples of compound exercises include rows, dips, and overhead shoulder press.

In contrast, isolation exercises focus on a single muscle, for example the biceps. Examples of isolation exercises include calf and lateral raises. The choice between compound and isolation exercises can have a significant effect on any workout and can be the key to success or failure.

When working out, compound exercises should always come first. This is because they are more physically demanding and require much more energy than isolation exercises. By doing them first you will be better able to complete them, which will increase the hormones secreted, and increase the effectiveness of your workout. 

Furthermore, isolation exercise ability does not translate into compound exercise ability. Just because you can do several isolation exercises very well, this does not mean you will show significant improvements in compound exercises; the two are very different. For these reasons, isolation exercises are generally considered secondary to compound exercises.

Depending on your goals, you may need a variety of both, or possibly to focus on compound exercises.

Benefits And Uses Of Isolation Exercises

While there are drawbacks with isolation exercises, they still have a valid place in many workouts.

  • If you wish to specifically target one area such as your chest without affecting your shoulders and triceps, an isolation exercise would be the answer. In this case, exercises such as dumbbell flyes would work the chest without making any difference to the shoulders and triceps.
  • Furthermore, if you are injured in some way, isolation exercises can ensure you are working other muscles and resting the injured one.

However, isolation exercises are in some ways less useful than compound ones for several reasons:

  • Isolation exercises will only target individual muscles and therefore won’t make the most of your workout.
  • It will take longer and more effort to build up muscles as you are doing them one at a time.
  • Following this, if you are only working out one muscle at a time, you will need to spend much longer in the gym to achieve the same result. It is unlikely that anyone has the spare time to work out one muscle at a time.

Benefits And Uses Of Isolation Exercises

In contrast, compound exercises work out several muscles at the same time, drastically reducing the amount of time you need to spend working out.

  • As they are working out different muscles at the same time, they are much less stressful on your body than isolation exercises. This means isolation exercises need to be regularly reviewed and changed to avoid overusing the muscles and risking injury.
  • Compound exercises have been scientifically shown to produce greater increases in testosterone and growth hormones.

Weight Loss

If you are aiming for weight loss, isolation exercises just won’t do it; to lose, you need to burn more calories than you are taking in. By performing compound exercises, you will burn more calories, which is only a good thing for weight loss.

So which type of exercise is best?

The simple answer is they are both useful for different purposes.

If you are focusing on weight loss, muscle, or appearance related goals, compound exercises should make up the majority of your workout. However, isolation exercises are still worth adding in to focus on key individual areas.

For those new to the gym and working out, isolation exercises should initially be avoided. Compound exercises will achieve your goals in a safer and more manageable way than isolation exercises.

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