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Muscle Growth, Muscular Adaptation, Resistance Training

Compound vs. Isolation Exercises

By Beau Bachety on Nov 18, 2022 9:00:00 AM
4 Minutes Reading Time

There are two types of exercises in the lifting world: compound and isolation movements. In this article, we'll discuss what compounds and isolation exercises are, which are better for your goals, and how you should implement them in your training program to get the best results.

Without further ado, let's get started.

First up, let's discuss compound exercises. I'm going to cut right to the chase; compound exercises should be the focal point of any well-thought-out strength training program. Compound movements force you to utilize more than one muscle group to perform a repetition. Think of the deadlift, for example. You use your back, hamstrings, hips, core, and traps in this movement. Your entire body must work together to complete a rep of the deadlift.

Other compound movements include squats, bench press, pull-ups, overhead presses, dumbbell rows, and hip thrusts.

On the other hand, an isolation exercise uses one muscle group at a time. Think of exercises like chest flies, bicep curls, lateral raises, tricep press downs, etc. Unlike compound exercises, you only utilize one muscle group to complete a rep. Your entire body is not required to perform the movement. If you are performing a bicep curl, you are hitting your biceps and that's it.

Both compounds and isolation movements have their place in a resistance training program.

However, compound exercises should be the main course in your program, and isolation exercises are the dessert. In other words, give compound movements most of your attention and throw in some isolation movements for good measure, but don't overdo it.

Since you utilize more than one muscle group with compound exercises, they give you a better bang for your buck. These exercises allow you to gain muscle mass, burn more calories, and elevate your heart rate for cardiovascular benefits. They help you develop the lean, muscular physique you are after.

In fact, you can still get a very muscular physique by only doing compound exercises without including isolation exercises. On the other hand, if you only did isolation exercises with no compound movements in your program, it would be hard to make any progress. That is unless you are a genetic freak.

One thing we need to be aware of with compound movements is the increased risk of injury. Because they allow you to lift heavier weights, they come with risks if your form isn't dialed in.

Before you increase the weight on a compound movement, the rep needs to look the same with the heavier weight as it did with the lighter weight. If you can back squat 135 pounds with clean form, but at 225 pounds, your back is rounded, and it's more of a good morning than a squat, you need to get stronger. You aren't ready to be doing reps with 225 pounds yet.

Just be smart about progressing the weights. You need to lift heavy weights to get strong, but if you blow your back out and are designated to the couch for 5 months, it means nothing. Slow and steady wins the race when lifting weights.

Follow any of our MAPS programs, and you'll see compound movements are the focal point of the sessions. They also include isolation exercises to aid your physique transformation, giving you the best of both worlds.

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Beau Bachety

Beau is a writer from Long Island NY. He graduated from Rutgers University in 2013 where he played Division 1 football. Beau began his career as a walk-on before eventually earning a full scholarship and starting role. He credits his passion for strength training and dedication in the weight room as the key to closing the gap between him and more talented players, and ultimately what allowed him to succeed at the D1 level. To this day, training remains a key pillar in his life, a daily non-negotiable… and he believes very few things are better for your physical, mental and emotional well being than “iron therapy”. He’s teaming up with the Mind Pump crew to spread the word to the masses on the life changing benefits of strength training.

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