When most guys step foot into the gym for the first time they're very quick to begin hitting the go-to isolation exercises - the bicep dumbbell curl, the tricep rope push down and the lateral raise.
Now don't get me wrong, these exercises are worthy of any good workout regime, however when we're talking compound exercises vs isolation exercises it's a whole different ball game.
If you want to build muscle mass and strength you cannot afford to go past compound exercises.
Every workout should start with compound exercises.
Hit the big stuff first then you may hone in with some isolation work if you like. Never isolate first, you'll cut your abilities short by the time you get to your heavy compound movements, while also increasing your risk of Injury as your muscles are fatigued from the previous isolation work.
Why am I so biased towards compound movements?
The first step to understand why compound exercises are king comes down to understanding how muscle mass and strength is actually built.
The guys that spend all day hitting sets of curl, chest flies and straight arm pull downs swearing that set after set of these exercises at a relatively light weight is the key to getting ripped are the same guys that'll tell you that 'the pump' equates to muscle growth.
It doesn't, that's a myth that's been debunked.
Strength and size come via way of progressive overload, not by the tight feeling in your arms after copious sets of curls.
This is where the compound exercise shines.
Compound movements are far better at providing this progressive overload we require.
Before we delve deeper into that though let's clarify what we're talking about when we say progressive overload... Progressive overload is the increase in tension on the targeted muscle - be it your chest, shoulders, arms or legs.
How do we increase tension? We do one of the following...
- increase the number of repetitions we're performing at a set weight
- Increase the number of sets we're performing
- increase the amount of weight we're lifting
- decrease our rest periods between sets
Simply put, compound exercises, due to the sheer amount of weight we're able to lift are far superior to isolation exercises as we're apply to fully apply progressive overload.
Bench pressing 315lbs is putter far greater stress on your chest than high repetition dumbbell incline flyes with 20lb dumbbells. Regardless of how great the pump in your chest feels from the flyes it's just not possible to compare the two and expect similar results.
Should you eliminate all isolation from your workout routine? Absolutely not.
Smaller muscle groups such as the triceps, biceps and calves all benefit from isolation exercises.
Yes, pull-ups will work your biceps to an extent but if you want beastly arms you're going to need to hit some heavy curls.
Same with calves, most guys have extreme difficulties coaxing their calves to grow - the squat and the leg press aren't enough... This is another situation where isolation is key.
Don't get sucked into the hype of excessive isolation exercises that most guys do when they join a gym.
Remember, compound have and always will come first - although many of the old school photos of Arnold that remain extremely popular to this day are of bicep curls and are isolation exercises don't forget that Arnold also stressed the important of the squat, deadlift and overhead press too.
Work your main muscle groups with the big mass moving exercises, then throw in a bit of isolation if you wish.
Growth is a result of increased tension on the muscles
Compound exercises overload the muscles in a way an isolation exercise simply cannot
Compounds are the key to growth.
Got it? Now get lifting!
What's Your Take On Compound Vs Isolation Exercises? Let Me Know In The Comments Below!
I’m SJ. I’m a fitness enthusiast and published author.
I transformed my body from a skinny fat 135lbs with 18% body fat to a solid 192lbs at 8% body fat. I became qualified in a field I was passionate about.
I founded several online businesses that allow me to pursue ideas and projects in my life that I am passionate about without having to constantly worry about money.
I published several eBooks explaining the training and dieting techniques I used to achieve the body I have today.
I learnt a plethora of new information on dieting and fitness by reading and applying what I read, to find out what does work and what doesn’t work, because as I’m sure you’ve noticed the health and fitness industry is full of non-sense claims and BS. I found out what was true and what worked for me and applied that knowledge.
And you bet I had fun during the whole process.