Compound Exercises vs isolation exercises

Compound Exercises vs Isolation Exercises – Why You Need to Focus on COMPOUND Lifts!

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Hey guys, I would like to touch on a highly important issue today – and that is Compound Exercises vs Isolation Exercises.

So many people want to focus on all the small “bull-shit” things in the gym that makes their life easier (they believe) yet severely stalls their progress or even hinders it altogether.

This debate has been going on for a long time – and we need to put a rest to it today.

Quite frankly, there isn’t even a debate to be had – compound lifts have their time and place, and so do isolation lifts.

However, in terms of the scope of this article, we’re going to be focusing on Compound Movements because as a beginner, and, unless you’re on steroids, you do not need to do any isolation work. 

They key to fitness, in general, and life actually in general is progressive overload. That means tackling just a little bit more today than you were comfortable with today in order to prevent stagnation and getting nowhere fast.

There’s a Time and Place for Isolation Work


Once you have advanced significantly in the realm of body building you may choose to look at certain isolation exercises.

These could be used to:

  • correct muscle imbalances
  • add more volume to a specific muscle group that is lagging behind
  • pump training if you’re using anabolic steroids
  • hit a particular muscle group from a slightly different approach than a compound equivalent would
  • squeeze every little bit of performance out of your muscle (the more advanced you are, the more important this could be)

Compound Exercises vs Isolation Exercises: When to Choose Which?


Firstly, compound lifts need to dominate your gym life otherwise get out of the gym because you’re wasting your time and everyone else’s that’s trying to use the equipment you’re using.

If you want to become stronger, you need to focus on compound lifts.

Not only are compound lifts a fantastic indicator of relative strength (strength vs body weight), they are the most well-suited for consistent, near-linear progress in the gym.

You’re never going to consistently get stronger every time you go to the gym, but compound movements will ensure that, over a period of time, your key lifts will go up.

Another issue with adding isolation work is that most times people add it at the end of their workout which generally adds too much volume – unless you are extremely advanced or on drugs, adding volume screws up your central nervous system’s ability to recuperate and has been shown to actually reverse any muscle gains in the gym.

Adding volume by adding isolation work may not be the best approach for you. 

Combining heavy compound movements with accessory work has been proven to be the most effective way to train – and world-class trainers all over the world have bee employing these two methodologies in tandem to yield the most incredible athletic results. Click here to learn more about how I am employing these two strategies in my workout program.

Other Benefits of Compound Movements


Now don’t take this the wrong way. As outlined above, there are some fantastic reasons to look at isolation training but I’m assuming if you’re reading this then you’re not too sure why that is. So go read above.

As described, stick to compound movements to build relative strength. Muscles can’t get bigger unless they’re stronger, and if you’re babying them they can’t get stronger and therefore can’t get bigger. It’s paradoxical – so, stick to the big lifts.

One very big factor people overlook when thinking about compound movements is the fact that they recruit other muscle groups as well and utilise stabilising muscles as well.

When you focus on compound lifts, you are literally effectively strengthening complimentary muscle groups without hitting them directly. Isolation work? Nope. Not the same.

Most Popular Compound Lifts/Muscle Groups to Choose From:


BACK (secondary muscle group: BICEP)

  • Pull Ups
  • Australian Rows
  • Reverse Grip Australian Rows
  • Chin Ups
  • Close Grip Variation Pull Ups and Chin Ups
  • Bent Over Dumbbell Flys
  • Superman on the Floor
  • Rear Lever Pulls (very advanced!)
  • Roman Chair Sit Ups (equipment required)

CHEST (secondary muscle group: TRICEP)

  • Push Ups
  • Close Grip Push Ups
  • One Arm Push Ups
  • Side-to-Side Push Ups
  • Barbell Bench Press
  • Incline Bar Bell Bench Press
  • Dumbbell Bench Press

LEGS (secondary muscle group: GLUTES, HAMSTRINGS)

  • Squats (obviously. . . )
  • Pistol Squats (one legged squats)
  • Bulgarian Split Squats
  • Weighted Box Squats
  • Squat Jumps
  • Weighted Lunges
  • Walking Lunges
  • Weighted Walking Lunges

ARMS (secondary muscle group: CHEST, SHOULDERS)

  • See above BACK section (minus the bent over flys)
  • Barbell Bicep Curls
  • Body Weight Skull Crushers
  • Reverse Grip Australian Rows
  • Body Weight Tricep Extensions
  • Push Ups
  • Close Grip Push Ups

SHOULDERS (secondary muscle group: CHEST, TRICEPS)

  • Pike Push Ups
  • Pike Push Ups with Feet Up on a Platform
  • Handstand Wall Push Ups with Feet Against the Wall
  • Free-Standing Hand Stand Push Up
  • Back Bridging

ABS AND CORE STABILITY – This one’s going to be huge but bear with me.

Sub-Category: FLOOR

  • Crunches (NOT RECOMMENDED!)
  • Planking
  • Push Ups
  • L-Sit Hold (If you’re strong enough)
  • Tucked-In L-Sit Hold

Sub-Category: PARALLEL DIP-BARS

  • Knee Raises
  • Leg Raises
  • L-Sit Hold
  • Tucked-In L-Sit Hold
  • Dips Themselves

Sub-Category: PULL UP BAR

  • Knee Raises
  • Leg Raises
  • Front Lever Pulls
  • Side-to-Side Knee Raises (boxer work out)
  • L-Sit Hold
  • Any Pull Ups or Chin Ups will also work your core.

Summary:


When you go to the gym your muscles must get stronger in order to get bigger. I am assuming most people’s reasoning behind going to the gym is to get stronger and look better.

Therefore, check the ego at the door and discard isolation work (for now). Compound lifts get you stronger, offer a steady rate of progress, and are the golden ticket to your dream physique.

Isolation work is great to prevent imbalances, correct them, fix lagging muscle groups or for pump training in athletes that have been enhanced by androgenic anabolic steroids use.

Keep it simple – focus on the main lifts, compound movements, get stronger, grow bigger and go home to enjoy the life that you have outside the gym.


Thanks for stopping by guys and let me know what you think in the comments below!

Make sure to head over here to find out more about my personal workout – the Kinobody Greek God Program.


As always,
Yours Truly,
Michael

4 comments

  1. Hi there Mike,

    I find myself very intrigued by this content as I was just in the gym the other night doing squats of just 40 lbs. Yikes! Only to have my boyfriend come over to tell me to put more weight on. But this is basically what he was trying to say, in other words, push yourself to your limit! I totally agree with your post, well said!

    1. Hey Courtney,

      Ah your boyfriend is a smart man! Seems to know what he is talking about. The idea is to lift about 4-8 reps. So if you’re using a weight with which you can do 20 reps, well then I am afraid the weight you’re using is too low. Add more weight until you get those reps down to 4-8. It’s been shown that this is the ideal strength gaining rep range. Low to medium is the sweet spot.

      Thank you for stopping by to read the post!

  2. This is great. I lift weights 4 days out of the week for about 6 months. You would think i would have made a bunch of muscle gains, but I’ve only made little progress. And it’s so frustrating because i’m actually in the gym and trying. I never knew about compound exercises and the benefits you can gain. I’m definitely applying this to my workout regimen. What are the best weight supplement products that you suggest. Thanks, great article.

    1. Hi Garrett, this is a pretty serious question that demands some attention to detail. Let’s first start off saying thank you for your valuable comment!

      As far as the “best” supplements to take depends on your goals and your eating style. Generally, I do not recommend any supplements (besides one or two) because for the majority of people they’re useless.

      I do, however, like I said, recommend two:

      1. Creatine Monohydrate. This can be useful because of the intramuscular water retention that helps to increase ATP levels (adenosine triphoshate) which is basically the energy required for your workouts. You can get in a couple more reps by using creatine (I personally use it and love it)

      2. Protein Powder. If you’re having difficulty hitting your protein requirements you may choose to look into purchasing some protein powder to help supplement your protein intake. Just keep in mind for bulking you want to eat about 0.8 – 1g per pound of body weight and for cutting, about 1 – 1.2g per pound of body weight.

      Cheers!

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