Compound vs Isolation Exercises: Benefits, Types & Exercises

man and woman doing push ups

With the rise in popularity of fitness types like calisthenics and High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), compound movements have come under the spotlight. The debate of compound vs isolation exercises has new life, and with it comes many questions.

If you’re here because you’re not sure which type of exercise would better benefit you, you’re in the right place. In this post, we’ll highlight the differences, benefits, and types of exercises that fall under isolation and compound exercises.

Keep reading to have your questions answered.

Definitions & Differences: Compound Exercises vs Isolation Exercises

Both compound and isolation exercises can be found in weight lifting workouts. You’ll even find both types in other regimes, like calisthenics workouts and HIIT.

Since they both overlap into different fitness disciplines, the easiest place to start is with the definitions and differences.

woman using dumbbell

Isolation exercises

Isolation exercises target and work a specific muscle group or body joint at one time.

These exercises are great when you’re looking to build a particular muscle. Or, develop a specific muscular region that you may have overlooked.

Two examples of this type of exercise are bicep curls and chest flyes. Flyes target the chest muscles in isolation. These are usually performed with machines or dumbbells. We’ll get into bicep curls later.

This category is a good starting point for beginners. In terms of form, it is easier to focus on one muscle group at a time. By repeating the movement and improving form, beginners can build confidence and muscle at the same time.

There are upper body isolation exercises and lower body isolation exercises. This is great as it means you can pay attention to a problem point and solve it immediately. For instance, a weaker left bicep or inferior right calf muscle.

Compound exercises

In contrast to isolation exercises, compound exercises target multiple muscle groups in one move. These movements require more exertion and energy.

Exercises like squats are the perfect example of compound movements. Squats target several muscles at once, such as the:

  • Gluteus maximus
  • Gluteus minimus
  • Gluteus medius
  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings
  • Adductors
  • Hip flexors
  • Calves

Another example is the squat press, which combines a squat with an upwards press. It’s a dynamic exercise that challenges muscles in the lower and upper body.

The squat press is suited to a more advanced level because it needs both stability and strength to perform. If you’ve never tried this exercise before we suggest starting with lighter weights and lower reps before progressing.

Benefits of Compound & Isolation Exercises

woman working out at home

With any kind of exercise, you want to see results. In the case of isolation vs compound exercises, both have benefits. Depending on your goals, you may want to use one or both types.

Let’s take a look at the benefits.

Compound movement benefits

Compound movements are excellent for strength-building and general muscle growth. It also has a great time-saving quality as you work several muscles at once.

Benefits include:

  • Burning fat at a quicker rate than with isolation exercises
  • Strengthening joint muscles
  • Perfect for cardio at-home workouts
  • Improved coordination
  • Muscle growth
  • Improved cardiovascular health

Isolation movement benefits

Isolation exercises can be performed in the comfort of your own home or a gym. As these exercises target one muscle group, it makes them easier to perform. As a result, isolation movements are a good start for beginners.

Benefits include:

  • Form improvement
  • Full attention on one particular area of the body
  • If you get injured, you can perform isolation exercises that don’t impact the harmed muscle. Compound exercises could lead to further stress on the damaged area.
  • Correction of any muscle imbalance or weakness
  • Highly targeted muscle growth

Compound vs Isolation Exercises: Examples

You’ve got the idea of isolation and compound movements involve. Now, let’s take a look at examples of exercises.

Disclaimer: If you’re not sure that an exercise suits your experience level or current physical condition, contact a qualified trainer or medical professional.

man working out in the gym

Compound exercises

Compound movements are great ways to work out different areas of your body, elevate your heart rate, and increase your power. Here are some of the exercises you can perform to do just that.

Push-ups

Push-ups are compound because these work several muscle groups at once. These include:

  • Chest
  • Triceps
  • Shoulders
  • Back
  • Core
  • Legs

When performed correctly, push-ups offer a whole-body workout in just one move. You also reap the rewards of increased energy expenditure thanks to the use of multiple large muscle groups.

Bench press

During a bench press, the upper body muscles are fully engaged. You work the:

  • Pectorals
  • Arms
  • Shoulders

Bench presses are one of the Big Three Lifts of bodybuilding training, alongside the squat and the deadlift.

Deadlift

Deadlifts are a great compound exercise because of how they increase muscle mass across several muscle groups. They work the following muscles:

  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings
  • Quads
  • Core
  • Hip flexors
  • Lower back & upper back

man showing muscles

Isolation exercises

These exercises may be more simple, but they’re still effective. Let’s take a look at some isolation options below.

Hamstring curl

A hamstring curl is also known as a leg curl. This exercise targets the back of the leg, mainly focusing on the hamstrings and calves.

These curls increase hamstring strength, which leads to a reduced risk of injury and pain.

Tricep extension

These are great for shaping and building your triceps. They mainly work the muscle on the back of the upper arm.

The triceps are important for the stability of your shoulders and your range of motion. Increasing your triceps strength makes pushing easier, such as in moving heavy loads. It also helps in sports like boxing or rowing.

Bicep curls

When you think of someone showing their muscles, the movement that usually comes to mind first is the bicep flex. A strong physique is usually linked with big and shapely biceps.

Biceps enable the elbows to rotate so you can move your palms to face up or outwards. This is also called supination.

The bicep curl is a single-joint move that helps to strengthen your arms. This improves your elbow flexion, shoulder stabilization, and forearm supination.

As a happy result, this exercise contributes to both upper body health and the development of an attractive physique.

Compound or Isolation Exercises: Which One Is Right For You?

woman stretching outside

Depending on your goals and physical condition, either one may work for you at different times in your fitness journey.

We like compound exercises because of the increased energy expenditure. You work more muscles in less time. You’ll also burn more calories.

Isolation movements are ideal for a beginner who’s not too sure about the what, why, and how of each exercise. It helps you to focus on one muscle at a time and to perfect the form of each one.

Isolation exercises are an excellent way to build strength and technique before moving on to more difficult compound exercises or heavier weights.

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