Last Update  On January 13, 2012
Compound Exercises Vs. Isolation

by Vladi
The fight between compound exercises and isolation movements is probably one of the most ridiculous things when it comes to training. There is absolutely no doubt that if you have to choose one it will be the compound movements because they build more mass, develop more skills and are more fun and satisfying to do in general.

However to me the question: “Compound or isolation?” is like asking me “Car Tyres Vs. Complete Car?” I think you get the idea.

The isolation exercises were never meant to replace the compound movements. Never. They should be used just to supplement your training not to form the heart of it. Actually I would even say that it's close to impossible to see a decent routine made solely from isolation exercises. Let's see. If you are going to train quads using only isolation moves what are you going to do: leg extensions? leg extensions with one leg?. It just won't work. You won't build any mass from leg extensions alone. On the other hand if you perform squat, leg press...etc only you may be missing that all important knee stabilizer called vastus medialis/teardrop muscle. The leg extensions hit it hard as well as other muscles around the knee. That's a situation when you will get more benefit from supplementing your compound exercises with isolation.

In general the main idea behind isolation movements is to target a specific weakness. I look at isolation exercises as tools to improve the general condition of my car. If I have a great car but my tyres are poor quality they will hold me back. That's where isolation comes - I improve the tyres.

I like to use my hamstrings as an example. I developed rock solid hips/glutes from squats. However my hamstrings are still weak and smaller. That's why I like to target them using the leg curl which hit the hamstrings with almost no hip involvement. In my case that's good because I don't see how I will perform a compound exercise for hamstrings without just as much involvement from the glutes. It's just physically impossible but isolation exercises allow you to achieve it.

" true that compound exercises build more mass faster? Why?"

Yeah. It's 100 % true. There is no doubt about it. Leg press will get your quads bigger much faster than leg extensions will. It's just the way it is. Compound exercises work more muscle mass and therefor you end up gaining more muscle. The body has just more damaged tissue to repair.

For example leg extensions are all quads. Squats hit quads, glutes, hamstrings, lower back, upper back. It's not hard to figure out which exercise will make you gain more muscle. The bigger the muscle damage the bigger the growth.

Conclusion: Isolation exercises were never meant to replace compound movements. They are just a useful addition that can improve the big lifts. As always the best is a combination of both - compound and isolated exercises. There is no need to avoid one or the other.
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