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Compound or Isolation Workout – Which Is Better?

August 26th, 2007 · 4 Comments ·


When I first started my weight training with resistance machines before I learn the dumbbells workout, most of the workouts were actually isolation exercise. Isolation or compound exercises, I had no idea at all. I thought that in order to target a certain muscle, I had to focus more on isolation exercises. Fortunately, I did not take long to realize this misconception.

So, what is actually isolation workout? How about compound workout?

OK, an isolation exercise is one where the movement is restricted to one joint and one muscle group. For instance, the leg extension is an isolation exercise for the quadriceps. No other muscle groups are involved, and movement occurs only around the knee joint.

Other isolation exercises include:

But, after learning squats, I realize the benefits of doing compound exercises. Compound exercises incorporate the use of more than one muscle groups and include movement around two or more joints. Therefore, they allows heavier load. More muscle mass is working at the same period of time.


I do not really like squat but I never miss that out as one of my leg exercises ever since two years ago. Squat works the quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus, lower back, calves, abductors and even abdominals.

The other example will be bench press which not only stresses the chest, but also stresses the deltoids, triceps, and upper back muscles to a certain extent.


Examples of compound exercises:

Personally, I find that compound exercises are generally similar to the ways that we naturally push, pull and lift objects, whereas isolation exercises gives me a little unnatural type of feeling. For instance, moving a heavy box is not an isolation exercise.


Having said that, I still do isolation exercises. Isolation exercises are useful for directly exercising muscle groups that cannot be fully exercised in the compound exercises. So, isolation exercises should be used as supplements to your major compound lifts, not in place of them. For example, let’s say that you have been lifting for three months, doing a good program based on compound exercises, and you realize that your calves are lagging behind the rest of your legs. In that case, adding an exercise that isolates your calves may be needed.

In short, compound and isolation exercises complement each others.




Category: Weight Training

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4 responses so far ↓
  • baladev // May 26, 2008 at 11:00 PM

    thanks! i discovered this site of yours hours ago and i’m totally hooked! my browser are loaded of your site pages, very imformative for bodybuilder like me (well, a trying hard bodybuilder =D)

  • bagira // Jul 11, 2008 at 9:13 AM

    le régime de musculation

  • Adriel // Oct 2, 2008 at 8:27 AM


    This article is amongst the first I’ve read regarding body building, despite working out for over five years on and off.

    People used to call me crazy in the gym when I did bench-press, legs, shoulders and biceps all in one day. I found that I liked this way of working out. My exercises composed of pull ups, sit ups, bench, pushups and biceps all in one day. 3 sets of 10 except for the sit ups those were more.

    I never knew that this was called compound workout.

    Thanks now I have something to defend my self with when isolationists…give me a hard time lol.

  • Roabin // May 18, 2009 at 4:29 AM

    Just wanted to know your opinion on Arnold’s concentration curl, as opposed to the one illustrated on your website. Although genetics must be considered, he has the best peaked biceps in bodybuilding history. As you know his method for this exercise is a radical departure from the standard version! Your comments on this are important to me!



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