Differentiating Isolation and Compound Exercises

by Gabriella Patel on April 3, 2015

Exercises can be categorized as either single-joint (isolation) or multi-joint (compound) exercises. For best results, it is often recommended to implement both of these types of exercise into your daily workout regimen.

Dumbell PressIsolation Exercises

Isolation exercises are single joint movements in which only one muscle group is trained alone. These exercises are used to “isolate” single muscle groups with minimal involvement from other supporting muscles. The types of exercises that are considered to be isolation exercises are:

  • Lateral raises
  • Calf raises
  • Bicep curls
  • Preacher curls
  • Leg extensions
  • Triceps extensions
  • Peck Machine Fly’s

Typically, if an exercise involves curling, raising or extending, it’s usually an isolation exercise that targets one major muscle group. You can see this with biceps curls, where the weight is curled up with only the contraction of the biceps muscles and movement at only the elbow joint.

Why Are Isolation Exercises Important?

The specific muscle isolation provided by this type of exercise allows you to apply direct isolated tension on a single target muscle. This is beneficial in the case of “hypertrophic imbalance” where there is greater growth in some muscles than others. Selectively targeting smaller, weaker muscles can improve symmetry, leading to not only growth of the target muscle but greater functional strength.

Another advantage with isolating certain muscle groups is that you can train the muscle through its full range of motion to a maximum degree. For example, to really develop your biceps you would need to perform isolation exercise such as dumbbell curls, because there are no compound exercises that primarily target the biceps.

Compound Exercises

Compound exercises are multi joint movements that involve the use of more than one major muscle. These exercises target one major muscle group but recruit several other smaller muscles secondarily. A few examples of what a compound exercises are:

  • Lat Pull-downs
  • Dumbbell or barbell bench press
  • Rows
  • Pull ups
  • Dips
  • Deadlifts Squats
  • Overhead Shoulder Press

Typically this type of exercise consists of pulling, pushing or deadlifting that train more than one major muscle group at a time.

The bench press is a good example of a popular compound exercise. The primary target muscle in this exercise is the chest but the shoulders and triceps muscles are also heavily involved. The bench press works both the elbow and shoulder joints, making it a compound exercise.

Why Are Compound Exercises Important?

Effectively training to gain muscle mass means your routine should largely consist of compound movements, which are widely considered to be more effective muscle builders because they recruit greater amounts of muscle fiber overall, allowing for more weight to be lifted.

This larger muscle-recruitment positively impacts how anabolic hormones (muscle building hormones) respond to training. Post-exertion hormonal elevations correlate with how much muscle mass was involved in the exercise. Compound exercises tend to require significant stabilization of the entire body, thereby involving numerous muscles that otherwise might not be stimulated with isolation exercises.

A training session always starts with compound exercises performed first, followed by isolation exercises. Compound exercises are more physically demanding and performing them first means you will have the energy to perform these exercise with maximum intensity, resulting in greater release of anabolic hormones and greater overall workout intensity.

In summary, if you are looking to achieve maximum overall muscle development, it is important that you use both isolation and compound exercises.

Gabriella Patel

Gabriella Patel

Health Contributor at Creative Bioscience
I grew up in a family who has a long history in natural supplements. I've always found such a greater level of health and well being because of the choices I've made to seek natural and organic products. I've taken a lot of my knowledge now to be able to help others make the right decisions to achieve a higher level of wellness. From what I've seen most of where the problems come from is what we put in our bodies, and what we're not. I hope to shed some light on many issues we all face. Subscribe to my work Gabriella's favorite product is Detox Diet 1234
Gabriella Patel

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