Compound Exercises Versus Isolation Exercises

As a fitness professional, one of the most common questions I’m always asked 85% of the time happens to be the most popular question of all time. Compound exercises versus isolation exercises – which are more effective?

From the twin perspectives of both strength training (ie. building muscle mass) and weight loss (ie. burning fat & losing inches fast), compound exercises are the way to go.

As its name suggests, compound exercises are multi-joint movements that work several muscle groups at the same time. There are many benefits of compound exercises. I list seven of them below:

– Burns more calories while exercising (who doesn’t want this?)

– Keeps your heart rate up and definitely resembles a good cardio workout (you will perspire loads) 
– Allows you to get a full body workout (so that no muscles are isolated)
– Helps you to build strength and lift heavier weights (as more muscles are involved simultaneously)
– Reduces the risk of injury

– Simulates real-world activities outside the gym (we rarely use only one muscle in isolation while playing sports)
– Allows you to spend less time in the gym (45 minutes is more than enough if all your exercises are compound exercise)

Despite all these benefits, it doesn’t come across as any surprise as I still see people working hard to ‘isolate’ their muscles in the gym by working their biceps, triceps, abs to the maximum. My first internal response is always “why in the world would they want to isolate it?”

I’ll let you in a small secret of mine. I hardly even bother to work my biceps and triceps. I just let them grow naturally on their own. And grow they do as I choose to focus more on compound moves, especially with my favourite exercises – pull-ups and push-ups.

If I can activate more muscle groups at one time and recruit as many muscle fibres to work together, I would rather do that than work them separately. Yes, some may argue that working them separately gives you more ‘pump’, but they are just an excuse to defend your laziness. Trust me – it’s a totally new workout you will experience if almost all your exercises are the compound type. You will understand the true meaning of perspiration and what it means to get your heart rate beating faster. But these are all for a good cause!

Yet, one has to be fair and point out that isolation exercises are not totally redundant. In fact, I would still highly recommend isolation exercises for newbies who have just started working out as it helps to lay the critical foundation. Once the foundation is laid, then you can start building up the body. Think of it as a house. Without a solid ground floor foundation, there is no way you can build a ten storey apartment which is strong enough to withstand anything.

If I were to use an analogy, compound exercises would be the must-have main meals of a day and isolation exercises, the good-to-have desserts. Check in with me if you would like to find out more!