Compound exercise and Isolated Exercise

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There are two types of exercise in weight training. Compound exercise and isolated exercise. Which one is better than another? And which is better for muscle building? Which one should I focus on?

As we always said, you should include compound exercise in your training, there is some confusion of why most of the programme will include compound movement. While sometimes we also found some programmes focusing more on isolated movements. As beginners, it is better to differentiate both of these and you will be more easily in your training.

Continue reading to find out more!

What is the difference of isolation and compound movement?

Where did the categorization of both isolation and compound come from?

The main difference between both movements is how much muscle group is involved in the movement.

The movement that works for multiple muscle groups at a time is considered a compound movement. Usually, it involves a major muscle group with assistance from its balancing muscle, as well as core stabilization.

Squats, lunges, bench press, push ups, deadlift is the most common compound movements.

While the isolated movement is those exercises that only involves one main muscle group. Such as bicep, triceps, or calves only. The movement itself only relies on the strength and capability of the muscle group itself to complete the movement.

Examples of isolated movement are bicep curl, calf lift, tricep extension, hamstring curl etc.

Isolation movement

We notice that general programme will place isolation movement after it is because isolation often not so exhausting then a compound movement is, and it’s often a favourite for almost every bodybuilder to build a specific muscle group. As the word refers, isolation movement is aiming to target that specific muscle. When you work on it, the whole stress is only placed on that certain muscle group, you will not feel exhausted overall, but that specific muscle will experience a high amount of soreness.


The most noticeable benefit of an isolation movement is that it is essential to build visible muscle.

Therefore you often see a bodybuilder will include more isolated movement in their programme. Their goal is to sculpt that specific part of the muscle, which is often compound movement unable to target for. The focus of the movement is more concentrated. If you have a specific smaller muscle group that wish to improve, adding in isolation movement is a great idea.

Someone would think that those who train for isolated movement only care about aesthetics, however, the isolated movement also has its benefits for functional. It is effective in helping activated those muscle that is currently underdeveloped.

For those that found they ended up training the other part of muscle, isolated movement can avoid you overtrained the other supporting muscle and focus on what you wanted to target.


If you are a busy person, then integrating too much isolated movement is not so suitable for you.

If you place too much isolated movement in your programme, you need to hit every single muscle group individually, it is often time consuming.

Also, for those that are currently wish to lose fat, then too much isolated movement is not effective in helping you lose fat. We know that to increase metabolism, the more moscle that is working, the better. Isolated movement is best for working individual muscle, but compared with compound movement that works the full body, the overall activity level would be lower.

Isolated movemement often need to paired up with exercise that works in a different angle. Let say when we said shoulder muscle, actually shoulder muscle composed by three parts, which is pectoralis major, deltoid, and teres minor.

An isolated movement only work one of these. Therefore if you wish to work the whole shoulder muscle, you should work with different movement to target each of them.

Compound movement

Compound movement, is often defined by those movements that are complex and need to involve a few muscle group to perform the movement. As we said, there is not merely just a ‘glutes’ exercise or ‘quads exercise‘ without using the other part of our body. But the compound movement is more obvious in involving a few muscle group at the same time, and those muscle group is often bigger.

Compound movement is found in most of the programmes, it should be a stapler for either both goals to lose fat or build mass. The difference between them is just the ratio of how much compound movement is in your workout.


The best benefit of compound movement is, it is able to improve overall strength. We are able to activate more body parts at the same time. We often use compound movement for beginners because it can help them get used to the training and also improve their overall strength.

This type of training type is more time-saving.

Imagine you need to work each part of your muscle individually just to build muscle. For those that are free, it’s okay as long as you did not get bored. However, for a busy person, we need to train in the most effective way. In this case, a compound movement is the best option.

Due to the compound movement often involving larger muscles, you often found you are able to lift heavier and avoid injury. A compound movement is more friendly if you wanted to work in heavier movements. You will find your strength gain faster than isolated movement.


For a person that just wanted to master movement and improve overall strength, compound movement is best because it is able to achieve all of these. However for trainers that wanted to train a specific muscle, compound movement might cause you to use the muscle that you did not intend to train. Eventually, leave that targeted muscle underdeveloped even more.

It’s true that compound movement is often recommended for beginners, however, to really master it was also quite tricky for beginners. As I said, compound movement sometimes will lead us to cheating movement, therefore it is more strict on the form to make sure the goal is achieved.

Which is better?

Everything had its pros and cons. Both of them should be included in your programme. And what we need to do now isn’t exclude one another, but to make use of the best of them.

It is because compound movement is more effective in activating full range motion and is also more functional. You can’t only train with isolation movement and avoid compound movement.

You can leave out isolation movement and only apply compound movement alone, in the case you really did not care about activating a certain part of the muscle and just wanted to maintain a healthy lifestyle. However, if your goal is to sculpt your physique, combining both is often helps you achieve your goal faster.

The difference here is the ratio on which you focus.

According to goals, if you just want to achieve overall wellness, you should place more compound movements with a few isolated movements that work on those underdeveloped muscles.

If you wish to build more muscle in specific areas. Then lift heavy with a few compound movements. then move towards smaller muscle groups specifically with isolated movements.

The right way to programme both

Usually, we will place compound movement before isolated movement. The reason to do so is that compound movement often needs more energy to do and is more challenging. If we place compound movement after isolated movements, the concentrated soreness found on that specific muscle will often cause us to fail to perform more reps of the full range motion.

In contrast, compound movement works for a few groups all at a time. Therefore when you go through the isolated movement later, you will have a sufficient amount of energy to work on each muscle group individually.

By programming the right proportion of both training method in your workout, you could achieve the best outcome

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