Let us clear the air right away: we are not going to declare a winner or say that one type of movement rules. That would be rather misleading and would certainly not reflect the truth. Both compound and isolation moves have their rightful place in training routines. In fact, weight training depends on them and uses these terms to classify two basic ways exercise trains out bodies. They play a crucial role for those seeking to shed some pounds and build muscles.
One for all
In a nutshell, a compound exercise is any exercise that recruits more than one major muscle group at the same time. Usually, one muscle group handles the bulk of the heavy lifting, while the others provide support. Some of the most common compound exercises are the bench press, overhead shoulder press, dips, rows, pull-ups, deadlifts, and squats.
As we have indicated, they target different muscle groups. For instance, while dips primarily work your chest and secondary triceps and shoulders, deadlifts focus on your posterior chain, but also engage much of the lower and upper body. In general, all exercises that involve pushing, pulling, lifting or squatting are compound ones.
Grasping the basics allows you to advance full steam ahead towards your goals. It prevents you, for example, from unknowingly training certain muscle groups too much and messing up the desired workout frequency or volume per muscle group. This knowledge pays dividends in terms of successful recovery and clear focus.
All for one
Contrary to compound workouts, isolation movement trains only one major muscle group. It is performed in such a fashion that the use of other muscles is deliberately eliminated. Every time you rise, curl and extend, you are basically doing an isolation workout: one muscle does all the work while the others remain dormant.
Isolation exercises that are most used in fitness are flies (flat, incline, or decline), bicep curls, lateral and front raises, leg extensions, leg curls, calf raises and triceps extensions. Some are pretty self-explanatory. As for the others, note that leg extensions work only your quads, leg curls train the quads, (lateral and front) raises recruit the shoulders, and flies target the chest.
It is crucial to understand that isolation exercises, due to their single-muscle policy, involve much lower amounts of weight, and thus slow down the rate at which you gain mass. That is the reason why most people may tell you that compound exercise beats isolation by a landslide. However, they overlook the fact that there are many situations in which isolation does the trick.
We come across isolation and compound moves in a wide array of training programs. They serve plenty of different purposes and help people achieve various fitness goals. There is a lot of hearsay floating around, though. Some people claim that isolation works best when you want to get toned and that compound is for those who seek muscle mass.
Alas, both statements are faulty, although it is true that compound movement empowers you to take on more weight and spurs faster and more consistent progression. And when making baby steps, it is recommended that you rely on it as the core of your training. A complete workout program for beginners is a nice example, as it includes exercises like squats, pushups, and overhead presses.
On the other hand, when you want to add some extra volume to certain areas, it makes more sense to go for isolation exercises. At last, this form is the only way to directly train smaller muscle groups, such as the biceps, triceps, and calves. So, even though compound exercise emerges victorious in general terms of progress and performance, isolation movement lurks as a specialized warrior, waiting for a chance to prove its worth.
Hit the mark
Both compound and isolation exercises can be of use for people on the long path to physical greatness. Therefore, feel free to implement both in your routines, but make sure you understand what muscles they target. As a rule of thumb, compound movements should serve as the backbone of your fitness endeavors, while isolation exercises equip us with a means of fine-tuning our programs and acquiring specific results.