Compound or Isolated?

Compound or Isolated?

Compound or Isolated? that is the question.

If you are relying exclusively on compound exercises to grow muscle, you may not be utilising your full potential. Doing compound workouts will allow you to hit the most muscles doing fewer exercises, but this doesn't necessarily translate into building muscle at the most optimal rate.

Personal Trainer doing standing dumbbell curls for training his biceps

On the other side of the spectrum are isolated exercises. While they might not be as functional in terms of real world applicability. (When was the last time you actually bicep curled something that wasn't a weight?) Isolated exercises are useful, because they put all the focus on the target muscle, making it the sole recipient of the training stress.


Compound exercises are more efficient in allowing you to build multiple muscles at once, but you're only as strong as your weakest muscle. This essentially means that if you aren't aware of the condition of your muscles while doing a compound exercise, you may start relieving the stress from one of your overworked muscles by relying on different muscles or incorrect technique to get through sets. For example, doing a compound exercise like barbell back squats is great, but there's a risk your lower back might give out before your quads, and continuing from there is a sure way to injure yourself. That's where leg extensions come in. When you take a set of leg extensions to failure, you can be confident that only your quads are getting the work.

Together we are better

Like so many lifters, instead of thinking with an either/or mentality, lets embrace the idea that neither compound nor isolation exercises are inherently better than the other. They're just different exercises with different results. There is no clear evidence that one is universally better for overall muscle growth. So if you're looking for the best possible way to gain muscle, then your best bet would most likely be a combination of both compound and isolated exercises. Start with a compound exercise and once you begin feeling your technique slip or certain muscles not engaging as much, switch to isolated exercises to continue hitting the muscles you intend. This will allow you to hit multiple muscles and experience overload at an efficient rate without risking injury from over exerting yourself on compound exercises.

By Xavier Wills

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