By: Joe Kozma

May 17, 2016

Compound vs Isolation Exercises: Which one is better?

squats with safety bar and spotterDoes this sound familiar? You’re four months into your new training program and suddenly–BAM! You have hit a wall. You don’t know why it happened but now your weights are barely going up and your muscles don’t seem to be getting any bigger.

So what can you do to change this? The key to your success is a proper balance of compound vs isolation exercises. But before I tell you the benefits of both, let’s get into some quick definitions.

According to, compound exercises, “engages two or more different joints to fully stimulate entire muscle groups and, indeed, multiple muscles.” For example, squats are a compound exercise that works the glutes, the lower back, the quadriceps, and hamstrings.

biceps curls figure competitorWhile isolation exercises target single muscle groups working the muscle independently, like isolated bicep curls.

Both exercises have great benefits, and they both have some drawbacks. Most gym-goers these days prefer compound exercises to isolated exercises because compound exercises work several muscle groups at the same time. The thought is this can shorten the time spent working out. The chances of overtraining your muscles when you perform only compound exercises are greater. Your body has a finite capacity of recovery. Compound exercises only don’t provide all of the shaping you desire. So if you are interested in a bottom that pops, then you need to add some isolated glute exercises too. Same goes for your chest, biceps, deltoids and more.

Isolated exercises, on the other hand, have a lower risk of over training. It can also help prevent strength imbalances, which greatly increases the risk of injury. However, if you are looking to improve overall muscle strength, then doing isolation alone is not enough. Isolated exercises prevent us from lifting too heavy while compound exercises allow us to lift heavier weights for better muscular strength and size.

Now the big question, which training method is better and what type of exercises should you do?

Frank Zane
Frank Zane

To truly know which type of training is better for you, you need to know what your ultimate goals are. For Bodybuilders, Mr. Olympia, 1977-1979, Frank Zane suggests isolation. ”I think one of the things that bodybuilders don’t realize so much is that bodybuilding is about isolation when you train. You do not want to train big groups of muscles at the same time. You do not want to do full body movements, like weight lifting movements. You do not want to do clean and jerks. They are not isolating. If you really want to focus on the muscle you need to isolate it and blast it.”

However, if bodybuilding isn’t your main goal and you just want to tone up and feel amazing in the long run, then a little of both never hurt anyone. The key is to not do too much in one day.

As for what types of exercises are better for both Compound and Isolation strength training, there are five example exercises and the muscles they engage listed below.

Compound Exercises:

Front Squat— Quads, hamstrings, core, back and shoulders
Barbell Thrusters— Quads, hamstrings, core, back and shoulders
Sumo Deadlift— Quads, Hamstrings, Core, Back and Shoulders
Kettlebell Swings— Quads, Hamstrings, Core, Back and Shoulders
Pullups (of all kinds)- back, shoulders, and arms.

Isolated Exercises:

Behind-The-Back shrugs – Traps
Dumbbell Lateral Raises— Deltoids
Leg Extensions— Quadriceps
Cable Crunches— Abdominals
Bicep Curls — Biceps

Building muscle size and shape takes time and smart training is the key to gaining muscle and losing fat. But please remember form is very important when performing any exercise. If you do not have the right form, you will not be hitting the target muscle and possibly risk injury. That is why personal training (with me) is a great investment in yourself.

To learn more about bodybuilding, strength training, anti aging and fat loss, please do not hesitate to get in contact with me. Like many of my satisfied clients, I can help you lose weight and gain muscle. My private or semi-private personal training sessions, along with custom designed diet regimes will help maximize your results. You can finally create the body that you deserve!

Body Building, Muscle Building