Compound Movements vs Isolation Movements

Which one is better when it comes to Building Muscle and Losing Fat

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How many times have you been confused as to what kind of muscle building exercises should be a part of your Workout Routine? I guess every single time. And that makes us uncomfortable … Right?

So what we do? Go on any bodybuilding website or buy a Fitness Magazine and save energy and time by copying workouts of our favourite fitness models and bodybuilders. But is that productive? 9 out of 10 times you won’t get the results you expected. Ofcourse the culprits can be Diet and Recovery too, which are one the most ignored aspects of building muscle and losing fat but the other foremost reason is not having the right balance between the Compound movements and isolation movements in your workout.

Before we even dig into the Science and technical stuff as to which of the these moves is best for Muscle Building Workouts and Fat Loss Programs, lets take a look as to what do we actually mean by Compound Movements and Isolation Movements:

 

1. Compound Movements

Compound Movements are exercises that involves multiple joints and muscle groups.

For example, the squat involves moving the knees, ankles, and hip joint and requires a whole-body coordinated effort, with the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes bearing the brunt of the load.

On the other hand, an exercise like the Russian Leg Curl involves moving the knees and focuses on strengthening the hamstrings and glutes.coumpound-movement -main

Here’s a list of the Best Compound Exercises:

  • Squats
  • Deadlifts
  • Bench Press
  • Military Press
  • PullUps
  • Leg Press

2. Isolation Movements

Isolation Exercises are ones that involves just one joint and major muscle group (the participation of other muscles is limited).

The biceps curl is an example of an isolation exercise because the only joint involved is the elbow and the biceps muscles to do more or less all of the work.

Here’s a list of the Best Isolation Exercises:tricep-pushdown-bodybuiling1

  • Pec Fly
  • Leg Curls
  • Leg Extensions
  • Dumbbell Fly
  • Bicep Curls
  • Tricep Pushdowns
  • Lateral Raises



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Now that we have put some spotlight as to what these terms Compound Movements and Isolation Movements stand for, lets discuss which one has an upper hand?

Which one’s Better: Compound Movements or Isolation Movements

Now I know, conventional wisdom says that to gain muscle and strength go for compound moves, and for cutting and fat loss go for Isolation exercises.Thats completely B.S.

The problem is we as Humans tend to have a Black or White mentality for everything. Either this way or that way! But as with everything the answer is always in balance. Not to mention the biggest flaws in today’s workout programs, either too many Compound Movements or Too many Isolation Movements.

To bust this thinking let’s take a deeper look in the science as to how either of these type of exercises actually benefit us in reaching whatever goals we have without trumping the other one.

Benefits of Compound Movements:

  1. Muscle Builder:bench-press-pic

Trust me, I will be the first one to admit how ignorant I was towards basic Compound Exercises during Initial Years of my Training. Most of the times I was so caught up in those “Eye-Candy” workout machines that I completely forgot to second check my workout routines.

Result?

I never got the results I was looking for.

Reason: Because Compound Movements are better for Muscle Growth. If you are designing your Muscle Building Workouts and not including the major compound moves like Bench Press, Deadlift, Squats and Overhead Presses, you are so in for disappointment.

Why?

They train many muscles at once. And the more muscles you can effectively train in a given exercise, the more muscle fibres you can involve, and finally the more overall muscle you can build as a result.

This also makes them time efficient. One compound exercise can do the work of several isolation exercises.

2. Allow you to Lift Heavier Weightscoumpound-movement-2ndpoint

Ever heard of the analogy “A bigger Muscle is always a Stronger Muscle.” Well the same applies here.

There are so many incidents where people have asked me ” Abhinav, How to build more Muscle? Ive tried everything but nothing seems to work.”

Here’s the thing. You won’t be able to stimulate Muscle Growth until and unless you grow stronger and the foremost element of getting stronger is the ability to lift more weights.

And when it comes to lifting more weight, the isolation machines and exercises do not turn out to be so well as there’s always a limit to it. But when it comes to loading those Barbells, it becomes completely subjective and the possibilities of adding weight is limitless.

So if you wanna build more muscle: Focus on getting Stronger on these the basic compound movements every single week.

3. Better for Fat Loss and better Hormonal Responsebetter-fat-loss

Now this might raise some eyebrows. Yes, contradictory to your conventional wisdom that says “Light weight and More Reps = More Fat Loss” I am , better you are at your compound movements, more will be the fat loss.

So for all those who are dissapointed after trying all High Volume and High Cardio Workouts and still wondering as to “How to loose belly fat fast?” please change your focus towards getting better and stronger at the compound movements and you will lose weight and burn fat like crazy.

Also we all know how big is the contribution of Hormonal stimuli of exercise when it comes to both building muscle and losing fat especially Testosterone and Growth Hormone.

Researches show that compound exercises produce larger increases in both testosterone and growth hormone than isolation exercises. These effects don’t influence muscle gain as much as some people would have you believe, but still benefit is a benefit.

Now with all these Pros about Compound movements one may easily feel lopsided towards them and forget that in the beginning I said that its the balance that we are looking for.

But the question arises if Compound Movements have all these majority of benefits that are required to build muscle and lose fat , then why at all we need the Isolation Movements. Lets take a deeper look .

Benefits of Isolation Movements:

Many so called Bodybuilders would love to tell you that Isolation Exercises have no place in a real hardcore Muscle Building program.

I’ll say that its not true.

1. Administering Muscle Imbalances:one-arm-cable-preacher-curl

Firstly let us get one thing straight, Yes your Compound Exercises will be the Primary movers of your workout program but just lifting heavy or having stronger and bigger muscles is not what Fitness or Bodybuilding is all about. It’s about balance too. And here is when Isolation Exercises come into play.

Now compound movements can work on assistance but as greatly as the Targeted Primary Muscle Group. This means that compound exercises can create imbalances in the growth and progression of the various muscles involved.

For example for Shoulders if you only did Military presses, there’s going to a huge imbalance between your Posterior(back) deltoid muscles and Anterior (front) deltoid muscles. This Muscle Imbalance is going to lead to various conditions such Impingement and Rotator cuff injuries.

As a victim of these I can confidently tell you that you definitely need to include isolation exercises in your Muscle Building Routine to avoid those imbalances and potential injuries in future. That’s why you should always include Rear Deltoid Raises Variations for your Shoulder Workouts.

2. Volume TrainingLeg-Extension

Another thing that you cannot do with compound movements is go High Volume. Because these are highly taxing on your Nervous system, going high Volume every single time can result you going into Overtraining Mode which is detrimental for Muscle Growth and Fat Loss.

Just lifting heavy haphazardly won’t build muscle. You have to control the Volume too. Why?

Because if you do not have enough Training Volume in your weekly routines, you might gain strength but you will struggle to gain Size. I won’t be able to go really deep here as it would take me a whole new article to cater to this issue. Maybe in Future I will explain in one of my “What causes Hypertrophy?” articles

But for now just understand that because Isolation movements are less taxing on your CNS(Central Nervous System) and that Volume control has a major role to play in Building Muscle, Isolation exercises serve both purposes.

Final Verdict:

As you must have realised by now that when we are looking for getting Efficient results from any Muscle Building Program you need to balance both the Compound Moves as well as the Isolation exercises.

And guys stop taking the easy path every single time. As anything in life, there is one answer for any problem. You have to find the balance in each and everything you do in life, whether it’s fitness or your relations. Once you find that sweet spot, things will become much fruitful and easier for you.

Have any doubts? Please bring in your queries in the comments section below and dont forget to give a thumbs up if you found this useful!

Cheers!

  • diomidhs

    Hello Abhinav you do great work with these detailed articles of yours but i have a question how could we know the exact amount of training to do without overtrain a specific part of our body us you said in this topic?

    • Abhinav Mahajan

      Hi. Thank you for appreciating.

      This is a very subjective question. It will differ from individual to individual and they recovering ability from a workout.

      But to keep things simple, 10-12 sets of each Muscle Group twice a week should be more than enough to induce muscle growth, without pushing you in that overtraining zone.