Isolated vs Compound Exercises – Which is Best for Bodybuilding?

Compound and isolated exercises have different impacts on your unique bodybuilding goals.  Knowing how each type of exercise affects your fitness goals will help you adjust your routine accordingly for maximum results. Which one is right for you?

What are compound exercises?

Compound exercises are multi-joint and linear exercises requiring the use of several muscles at the same time.  Using compound exercises helps you target groups of muscles effectively while improving your body’s performance in everyday activities. 

One of the more advantageous effects of compound exercises on muscles involves muscle tension which is best developed at middle lengths or halfway in a standard movement (this is more technique). Your body also uses leverage to create more tension.  This happens whenever you take large body movements, your body demands that your muscles work harder to complete the body movement, making compound exercises a very efficient workout.

As your body moves, one section lengthens at a certain joint while shortening at another joint.  This maintains the muscle tension your body needs to strengthen its muscles. Compound exercises allow your body the ideal muscle tension to strengthen and tone.

Examples of compound exercises include lateral pull downs, pull ups, barbell bench press, overhead shoulder press and deadlift squats.

What are isolated exercises?

Isolated exercises are exercises that focus on a single muscle at a time. While isolated exercises are great to strengthen injured muscles or rectify any muscular imbalance, they fail to keep sufficient muscular tension found in the compound exercises. If used regularly, isolated exercises can encourage muscles to be worked at poor joint angles, thus placing unnecessary strain on the joints.

Despite all of this, isolation exercises do help improve mind-muscle connection allowing your brain to mentally control the required strength and force for a particular isolated exercise.  You are also able to develop the isolated muscles more thoroughly, thus maximizing its strength and development.

Examples of isolated exercises include, bicep curls, calf raises, leg extensions, lateral raises, rope pull-downs, triceps kickbacks and hamstring curls.

When to use isolated exercises vs. compound exercises?

Isolated exercises are used mainly by two types of people:

  1. The bodybuilder who has reached their fitness goals and is wanting to focus on specific muscle groups to build additional strength or definition.  Examples include, focusing on biceps, neck muscles or chest muscles. A bodybuilder might also use isolated exercises to improve the strength in a specific muscle which is imbalanced in relation to the rest of its surrounding muscles.
  2. People with injured muscles often will undergo specific isolated exercises aimed at strengthening the injured muscle.  Not only will the isolated exercises ensure that the muscle does not experience atrophy, it will also prevent the surrounding muscles from strengthening further, thereby leaving the injured muscle in a constant weak state.

For the average fitness lover and beginner bodybuilder, isolated exercises are not necessary until your desired bodybuilding goals have been attained. Compound exercises will help any bodybuilder or fitness lover develop a strong and defined body while maintaining proper muscle balance. 

Should you wish to engage in isolated exercises, we strongly recommend seeking the advice from a personal trainer who can give you a tailor-made exercise regime for your goals while helping you use isolated exercises for optimal results.

A well-balanced routine

In order to get a well-rounded bodybuilding workout, begin your training with several compound exercises.  This will ensure that you get a full body workout.  Once you have completed this stage of your exercise routine, move onto those muscles that you want to focus on for improved strength and definition.