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Compound Movements Versus Isolation Exercises: Which Should You Be Doing?

Ah, the age old question. Compound movements, or isolation exercises...which are better? Well, that all depends on the individual and their goals. You see, compound movements and isolation exercises each have their own benefits, but your body is another factor to consider. Are you injured? Do you have a disability? Or are you healthy and in need of improving your athletic explosiveness? There are so many questions that result in this debate.

Now, if you ask’s not a debate at all. Both styles of training have their benefits, but which should you be doing and when? I’ll describe both styles below so you can better decide which is more suitable for you.

Compound Movements

These exercises involve multiple muscle groups in order to complete a single lift. There are primary muscle groups that are incorporated to each compound exercise, and there are secondary supporting muscle groups that help to complete the lift. There are several compound movements you can incorporate into your routine, but the most common compound movements you’ll see are the big three:

Bench Press (Dumbbell, Barbell, or Machine)

Incorporates: Chest (primary), Shoulders (secondary), and triceps (secondary)

Deadlifts (Conventional, Sumo, and more)

Incorporates: Hamstrings (primary), Glutes (primary), back (primary)


Incorporates: Quads (primary), Glutes (secondary), hamstrings (secondary), and more

Isolation Exercises

Exercises that focus primarily on a single muscle group. Isolation exercises are intended for you to deactivate other muscle groups in order to prioritize the primary group. Bodybuilders heavily rely on isolation exercises in order to give specific muscle groups more attention in order to create the illusion of an ideal bodybuilding physique. Some sample isolation exercises are:

Dumbbell Curls

Incorporates: Biceps

Tricep Extensions

Incorporates: Triceps

Dumbbell Flies

Incorporates: Chest

Leg Extensions

Incorporates: Quads

With these training methods in mind, you can look at the benefits of both and decide which ones will aid you in your goals the most. A good rule of thumb I like to use for myself is to incorporate a mixture of both, so as to enjoy the appearance of a decent physique while promoting the function of athletic performance. Whatever the case may be, your goals will ultimately dictate what kind of training style you will adopt in the gym.

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