Why do Compound Exercises?

You might have read in my last blog post that I was kind of making fun of some guys in the gym who were pumping iron doing bicep curls… (or bicep girls). 😉

Isolation exercises such as bicep curls are fine for some situations, but it’s well know that compound exercises are better. Here’s a bit more about compound exercises and isolation exercises and why I prefer to use compound rather than isolation exercises:

What are Compound Exercises?
Compound exercises are multi-joint movements that work several muscles or muscle groups at one time. A great example of a compound exercise is the squat and press exercise, which engages many muscles in the lower body and core, including the quadriceps, the hamstrings, the calves, the glutes, the lower back, arms and the core (or even just a squat).

What are Isolation Exercises?
Isolation exercises work only one muscle or muscle group and only one joint at a time. Examples of isolation exercises include the biceps curl or the quadriceps extension. The idea is to isolate one muscle group and move to the next muscle group until you “work” your whole body. For example: Legs one day, upper the next day.

Isolation exercises are frequently used in order to correct a specific muscle weakness or imbalance that can occur after injury, illness, surgery or with certain diseases.

Why use Compound Exercises?
For athletes (like you and I) 😉 who are trying to get the most out of their strength training, compound exercises are generally preferred and recommended.  Ever wonder why circuits classes and classes like Metafit are hard? It’s because you’re giving your body and all over workout and not just working one or two muscles.

There are many reasons to use compound exercises during your workout, including the following:

Using more muscle groups. . .

  • means more calories burned during exercise.
  • simulates real-world exercises and activities.
  • allows you to get a full body workout faster.
  • improves coordination, reaction time and balance.
  • improves joint stability and improves muscle balance across a joint.
  • decreases the risk of injury during sports.
  • keeps your heart rate up and provides cardiovascular benefits.
  • allows you to exercise longer with less muscle fatigue.
  • allows you to lift heavier loads and build more strength.

Examples of Compound Exercises

Try my recently updated strength workouts here for ideas of how to do your own strength workouts which mainly involve full body compound exercise: Super Lean Strength Workouts  or here: Friday’s Strength Workout

Why use Isolation Exercises?

Isolating a specific muscle is sometimes necessary to get it to activate and increase its strength. Often, after an injury, a muscle becomes weak and other muscles compensate for that weakness. If you never retrain the injured muscles to fire properly again, it may set up a biomechanical imbalance that is difficult to correct.

Even if your weakness isn’t noticeable because other muscles are compensating, imagine how much stronger you would be if all the muscles were firing at maximum contraction. That alone is a good reason to occasionally do isolation exercises.

Another reason to perform specific isolated exercises is to increase the size or bulk of a specific muscle group. If you want big biceps for your spring break beach vacation, you’ll probably want to add some bicep isolation work to your regular exercise routine.

Most of us should use compound exercises for the majority of a training program and use isolation exercises to complement that program as needed.

Examples of Isolation Exercises

  • bicep curls
  • tricep kickbacks
  • lateral raises
  • front raises
  • rope pull-downs
  • leg extensions
  • hamstring curls
  • calf raises

The bottom line
If you are interested in getting a complete, efficient and functional workout, train with predominantly compound exercises for a hard workout and the best results.

There might be times when isolating a specific muscle, muscle group or joint is necessary and recommended.  If you aren’t sure what is best for you, a personal trainer in your gym might be able to help locate any muscle imbalance or weakness you may have and design a program to fit your needs.


(See another post about reasons to do Compound here and the Dos and don’t of strength training here)


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