Compound movements are the backbone of any great workout program. They stimulate many muscles in a single given exercise. Think of a deadlift for example. You are stimulating your hamstrings, glutes, low back, mid-back/lats, and traps. Name an isolation exercise that hits that many muscles?
If you want specific exercises to look at, be sure to read my article on Weightlifting Exercises Everyone Should be Doing.
Compound vs Isolation
An isolation movement is usually what you see guys doing on the machines or cables (but not always). Tricep pushdowns, cable flys, curls, etc. These are movements that very specifically target one muscle. This is a great tool for bringing up lagging body parts, and that’s how they should be utilized. Don’t just add in isolation exercises for the sake of it. Have a purpose that it is serving because it’s time not being spent on a compound that could be hitting more muscle under more load.
The other beauty with compound movements is the fact that they can utilize way more load than an isolation exercise can. For a cable exercise you are probably using anywhere from 30-60lbs most of the time. Meanwhile, for a compound you are literally using HUNDREDS of pounds. Think about the different types of stimuli that are placed on the muscles comparatively. Your body will adapt to way more muscle and growth from a compound movement than it will from isolation.
Building a Base
I think the default for a lot of hardgainers is to just copy and do everything they see happening in the gym. The truth is, your body is unique to you. Your lifting career starts with building a foundation of strength. The quickest way to see all your muscles grow, is by focusing your first couple years on the main lifts (squat, deadlift, overhead press, bench, row). I don’t know any lifter who can deadlift 400lbs, squat over 350lbs, bench 315lbs, and overhead press 185lbs, that doesn’t have a good looking physique.
Change your mindset. Instead of focusing on making your muscles bigger, let the goal be to make them stronger. It creates a better mental relationship with food, and lifting. Just make sure to check your ego at the door. When I say focus on strength, that includes a strict attention to proper form, and never sacrificing quality for the sake of going up 5lbs.
Strong Looking Physique
I’m going to guess if you are a hardgainer, that you want that wide, v-tapered physique? Compound lifts create that for you. Hardgainers tend to have a hard time putting on raw size. The best, and quickest way to achieve that is through compound lifts. Focus your sessions on hitting those big lifts a couple times a week, and you’ll groove in proper movement patterns to get really strong at those lifts. The weights will go up, and before you know it you’ll have big shoulders and a small waist.
Feed Your Gains
I’d like to make one final note on strength. When you do these compound lifts, you are burning more calories. This is a good thing, because it’ll keep your cardiovascular system strong, and also allow you to eat way more calories. So make sure you are eating to fuel your workouts! Hardgainers are notorious for not eating enough. It isn’t for lack of trying. I haven’t met a hardgainer who ate less than at LEAST 3500 calories to grow. This is a lot of food to put away. Most describe it as feeling like a second job. This is the price to pay if you want a big physique as a hardgainer. The tradeoff is, you’ll put on weight while staying leaner. I eat 2500 calories, and I start softening up, and thus have to be way more on top of how much I eat.