Compound vs. Isolation Exercises: What’s the Difference?

When it comes to strength training, there is no “one size fits all approach.” As with all workouts, setting fitness routine goals varies from person to person. And even with a specific goal in mind, there are many options to get you there. Today we’re diving into all things compound vs. isolation exercise so that you can best assess your fitness goals and choose the right workouts for your personal needs. 

All strength training exercises can be categorized as either compound or isolation movement exercises. Both have their benefits and drawbacks, so having a solid understanding of these pros and cons can help you decide which is best for your fitness and strength goals. 

Compound Exercises vs. Isolation Exercises

What are compound exercises?

Compound exercises are strength-training movements that work multiple muscle groups at the same time. People often refer to compound exercises as functional exercises because they replicate real-world movements. Lifting a heavy storage box in your garage, for instance, is a real-life example of a compound exercise. You’re engaging arm, shoulder, glute, and core muscle groups, rather than isolating one specific muscle group. 

What are isolation exercises?

Isolation exercises, on the other hand, specifically target one muscle group at a time. While there are some real-life applications of isolation exercise—like lifting a drink to sip on at the dinner table—the purpose of isolation exercises is to narrow in on one muscle group without influencing any other muscle or body part. 

When Is It Best To Do Isolation Workouts vs. Compound Workouts? 

The benefit of isolation workouts is that you can strengthen one muscle group without strengthening the rest of your body. This is useful when one muscle is weaker than the rest. 

People recovering from an injury often turn to isolation workouts to regain their strength in whatever was injured. For example, someone who breaks their ankle and is on crutches for a month has plenty of muscle in one leg and lacks a month’s worth of movement and strength training in the other. Regaining strength in their weaker leg helps restore balance within the body and prevents overcompensation of other muscles, potentially leading to further injury. 

Isolation exercises are also popular among bodybuilders because they allow you to grow specific muscles and have more control over aesthetics. So if your fitness journey has a visual ideal in mind, isolation exercises may help support some of your goals. 

With isolation exercise, it’s important to be cautious of your effort not to strengthen one muscle group and create a new muscle imbalance. Always check in with your whole body to make sure everything feels aligned, safe, and healthy.

If you’re healthy and want to work on strengthening your entire body efficiently, compound workouts are the way to go. Compound workouts are like pressing fast-forward because they speed up your progress and help you achieve your fitness goals faster. You can split your time in half at the gym if you do completely compound movements because you’re checking off multiple muscle groups at the same time. 

Ultimately, there is no right or wrong time to do isolation exercises—it all depends on your personal fitness goals.

Compound Exercises vs. Isolation Exercises

Looking for some inspiration? Below is a list of easy compound and isolation workouts to get you started.

Compound exercise examples:

Exercise Muscle group
Pull-ups Arms, core, back
Lunges Glutes, quads, core
Squats Glutes, core, quads

Isolation exercise examples: 

ExerciseWorkout Muscle group
Calf raises Lower legs
Bicep curls Arms
Sit-ups Core

Where Is the Best Place to Do Compound and Isolation Exercises? 

Strength training can be done both at home and in the gym. Find a Chuze near you or on our virtual fitness platform iChuze Fitness and level up your workout routine in our state-of-the-art facilities. As mentioned above, compound exercises are functional, so you often do compound exercises even when you aren’t working out! Isolation moves require a bit more intention and focus but also can easily be done from anywhere. 

Gyms can be useful if you’re new to strength training. With fitness equipment available to members, working a specific muscle group requires less thought because the machines are designed to isolate specific areas of the body.

No matter where you are, though, knowledge is power. Knowing the benefits of isolation exercises compared to compound exercises can help you decide which exercises are best for your fitness goals.

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