What’s best Compound or Isolation Exercises



Video taken from the channel: Ron Williams


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Video taken from the channel: Ron Williams

In general, compound exercises allow you to create MUCH more of the right type of training stimulus than isolation exercises can. And for this reason (and many other less important ones), compound exercises beat isolation exercises by a fairly large margin for most people, most of the time. Studies on untrained subjects show that compound exercises produce equal increases in muscle size and strength as isolation exercises. Brazilian researchers compared two workouts in trained subjects: compound and isolation exercises and compound exercises only.

Compound vs Isolation Exercises. The first step of designing an effective resistance training program is to select exercises with the greatest effect on muscle gain. Exercises can be categorized as either single-joint (isolation) or multi-joint (compound) exercises. There has been a great deal of debate and controversy over which type of exercises (isolation or compound) lead to better.

Compound exercises have many advantages when compared to isolation exercises. Using more than one muscle with each exercise allows you to burn more calories in less time as well as many other great benefits. Here is a list of just some of the advantages of compound exercises: * Uses multiple muscle groups at the same time. The EPOC effect when doing compound lifts is much higher than when your workouts comprise of isolation exercises.

This not only gives your heart a good workout but also burns more calories even after you have done your workout (EPOC-Exercise post-oxygen consumption). Compound Exercise works your stabilizing muscles to the T. Compound and isolation exercises both have their advantages and disadvantages when it comes to specific training adaptations, recovery, and performance benefits. Compound exercises give better muscle-building benefits than isolation exercises. It utilizes more muscles during the exercises.

Heavy compound lifts also boost testosterone production that further helps in building muscles. Along with that, compound movements strengthen your stabilizing muscles and improves overall body balance. If you were to pit compound vs. isolation exercises, many would consider compound exercises to be the clear winner. That’s because the movements are more useful for day-to-day life, they burn more calories and lead to more significant gains, and they kill (at least) two birds with one stone.

This is a finding in favor of compound exercises for ‘overall strength development’ and lends credence to the saying that compound exercises are more ‘functional’ than isolation exercises. However, here’s where the odd design confounds things. The multi-joint group trained with heavier weights (%1RM) and rested longer between sets.

COMPOUND PROS Opposite to isolation movements, compound exercises recruit multiple muscle groups and contribute towards more functional movements. With more muscle groups being recruited, you will also be able to take more load, resulting in faster and more consistent movement patterns, utilising heavier weights.

List of related literature:

Others will have a varied approach using a combination of compound exercises with isolation exercises, and others will have different approaches still.

“Vegan Bodybuilding and Fitness” by Robert Cheeke
from Vegan Bodybuilding and Fitness
by Robert Cheeke
Book Publishing Company, 2011

Single-joint (isolation) exercises (e.g., leg extension, biceps curl) (A) Technically easier (B) Allow for focus on single joint movement (C) Less coactivation about joint more shear force b.

“Sports Medicine: Study Guide and Review for Boards” by Jonathan T. Finnoff, DO, Mark A. Harrast, MD
from Sports Medicine: Study Guide and Review for Boards
by Jonathan T. Finnoff, DO, Mark A. Harrast, MD
Springer Publishing Company, 2011

Isolation movements require the use of lighter weights than compound movements.

“Sculpting Her Body Perfect” by Brad Schoenfeld
from Sculpting Her Body Perfect
by Brad Schoenfeld
Human Kinetics, 2008

While some movement is better than none, exercise in a single plane of motion, the feature of many common muscle-isolation exercise programs, will primarily engage the contractile element of muscle fibers, whereas moving an external load in different directions will involve more fascia and elastic connective tissue.

“Smarter Workouts: The Science of Exercise Made Simple” by Pete McCall
from Smarter Workouts: The Science of Exercise Made Simple
by Pete McCall
Human Kinetics, Incorporated, 2018

Alternate: One person spots and encourages while the other exercises.

“The Essential Guide to Fitness” by Rosemary Marchese, Julie Taylor, Kirsten Fagan
from The Essential Guide to Fitness
by Rosemary Marchese, Julie Taylor, Kirsten Fagan
Cengage Learning Australia, 2019

Choose two isolation exercises.

“Natural Bodybuilding” by John Hansen
from Natural Bodybuilding
by John Hansen
Human Kinetics, 2005

Examples of isolation exercises are the cable fly (which isolates the chest muscles), dumbbell curl (which isolates the biceps), and leg extension (which isolates the quadriceps).

“Thinner Leaner Stronger: The Simple Science of Building the Ultimate Female Body” by Michael Matthews
from Thinner Leaner Stronger: The Simple Science of Building the Ultimate Female Body
by Michael Matthews
Oculus Publishers, 2019

Two concepts that can help guide exercise choice are transference and isolation.

“Swimming Anatomy” by Ian A. McLeod
from Swimming Anatomy
by Ian A. McLeod
Human Kinetics, Incorporated, 2009

The second group has predictably better outcomes because extrinsic flexor and extensor muscles as well as intrinsic muscles to the index ray are normal.

“Plastic Surgery Secrets Plus E-Book” by Jeffrey Weinzweig
from Plastic Surgery Secrets Plus E-Book
by Jeffrey Weinzweig
Elsevier Health Sciences, 2010

In general, it is best for beginners to use compound, multijoint exercises rather than isolated, single-joint exercises.

“Optimal Muscle Training” by Ken Kinakin
from Optimal Muscle Training
by Ken Kinakin
Human Kinetics, 2009

Alexia Lewis RD

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Heath Coach who believes life is better with science, humor, and beautiful, delicious, healthy food.

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  • Which is best??
    1-full body workout or
    If u do once a week full body workout!
    Is this is bad?? 0ther days
    Chest n triceps!! Back n baicep!! Shoulders! Last legs!!???

  • A question please: I got a back injury thus it is difficult to do exercises such as deadlifts and squads. Any suggestions or modified versions for those suffering from weak backs? Many thanks in advance

  • Mr Ron Williams natural mr world, natural mr universe, 15 time ifbb natural mr olympia, aau and nabba bodybuilder of the century…..back at it again jk

  • Hey got a question.
    I’ve been reading many articles and watched some youtubers saying something like compound movements boost testosterone which leads to build more muscle after your workouts, but according to some researches and doctors the testosterone level raises after compound movements yes, but no it doesn’t link to more muscle gains.
    Don’t get me wrong I love and do compound movements but I think testosterone myth after compound movements should be clarified.
    Although I can’t give you the exact articles I found on the internet months ago, I’m pretty sure there would be plenty of articles explaining about this issue.

  • Unfortunately, compound exercises hide imbalances and in the long run will continue to do so. I personally believe you should start with isolation workouts and then your compound exercises will take off.

  • I started doing the P.H.U.L program 2 days ago, hopefully I will build some nice strength and size these next few months. I have already been training for about 2 years but have never focused on progressive overload or dieting at all. I am currently in a surplus of maybe 150-300 cals at estimated 12% bf, ill find out soon after a few weeks of weighing myself whether I need to adjust anything. With the new calorie counting (something I wish I did from the start… lack of knowledge until I watched fitness videos on youtube) and P.H.U.L plan, I am hoping to see more results the next 6 months then I have seen in the whole last 2 years hahaha. Do you think that is a possibility???, cause I haven’t really put on significant size for someone who has trained for 2 years lol.. obviously due to never tracking anything

  • I’m glad someone mentions the different requirements and responses between natural and enhanced. By the way, the greatest natural bodybuilder of all time (other than you possibly) started as a powerlifter also, John Grimek.

  • I still prefer compound exercises and full body workouts after all these years for strength and overall challenge. But I will admit, that I’m seeing some really nice aesthetic improvements throwing in some isolation for accessory work.

  • Buff dudes I got a q, what do u do if you work on an assembly line and your joints hurt, especially elbows and wrists, but you wanna work out still? So far I use biofreeze, joint pain supplements, and lift sets from lighter weight to heavier

  • Igor, your physique is attainable naturally. More than I can say for other YouTubers. I hope you are natural still however and I believe you are.

  • no offence to you ron the 100lbs bicep demonstration i think your elbows were going up to high that motion will involve your front delts a more vertical arm is correct just an observation

  • Does training an muscle group twice a week have any effect? lets say Mondays and thursday is chest and triceps. tuesday and friday is biceps, forearms and back. and Wednesday and saturday is legs(glutes and calves included) and shoulders. Will i have any benefit for following a program like this?

  • Woah. 4 & a half years ago.

    This is one of the benefits of having a YouTube channel with frequent uploads.

    You get to see yourself in action going back YEARS. That is awesome.

  • Based from your argument about swimming using more muscles than squats, try squating on water with no weights. If that should be your point you should compare swimming with running etc. Just saying

  • I just came across your channel and i think that your channel helps a lot and brings a lot of information that are really helpfull and well organized. Keep up the good work and thanks for giving us these guidelines/information!

  • This is the best overall fitness channel I’ve found yet! Thank you for all of the instructional videos and solid science! I would love to hear about your take on intensity and volume in a workout. I personally use the same strategy of compound exercises first then isolation but I often sacrifice the isolation in favor of compound lifts if need be. How can I increase my speed in the gym but still maintain hitting PR and volume goals? I would love to have more time for isolation, just for physique purposes. Strength always comes first for me, though.

  • I’ve heard some bodybuilders on YouTube say that carbs from corn (corn starch, corn syrup) are inferior to other carb sources like rice or oatmeal. can you explain why?

  • While the answer is it depends on a persons goal. There aren’t too many goals that isolation movements satisfy. One can’t sculpted if they don’t have any clay.

  • After a car accident I had to go to physical therapy and the PT asked me what workouts did I do before the accident. I told them compound movements and they looked at me like an idiot. “What’s that” and I explained it. I was then lectured about how deadlifts are the worst thing I could do loooooollll

  • I read that powerlifters build a strong skeleton and connective tissue which act as the foundation for later body building. Didn’t Columbo follow the 5×5 routine first? Arnie power lifted first too.

  • What do you think of the following? Translated with google translate so don’t mind the crappy english;)

    In practice you as intermediate a strength of nine heavy sets for legs (squat, front squat and leg extension) are repaired within 33 hours. In another study in which every day 6 heavy sets to be done for the legs (squats), is due to decreases neuromuscular fatigue and resilience can be shortened to 22 hours.

    This means that you can improve your recovery by increasing the frequency. It also means if you do less volume per session, you can recover faster. This explains why experienced every day may work the same muscle group.

    A higher frequency of training improves your resilience by making you more resistant to fatigue (muscle damage), the advantage of repeated stress (so there is less muscle damage) and by the quality of the performed works to improve, because you spend less training time in a tired state.

    recover faster and less muscle damage experienced is a good sign, since more developed muscles recover faster. Larger muscle groups have more satellite cells and blood vessels. This linked to be able to recover more quickly.

    Training with a high frequency is also a form of active recovery. You have more blood flow and an increased rate of tissue turnover. In addition, high frequency training can significantly improve your quality of sleep.

  • +Buff Dudes Workouts what do you do when a group of skinny ass teenagers high jack the cable crossovers for 45 minutes? Compound movement: pick them up. Isolation: verbal abuse (using only the jaw joint)

  • I hate my life I started working out only when I turned 31 now I’m 33 and regret that I did not start earlier with my dedication I could have become amazing in my 20s what a waste. Anyway I’ve been in isolation land for a year and although it is ok I think compound movements are best to lose love handles and belly fat this is a problem I face imagine having a v taper suddenly interrupted by a muffin at the hip that is my problem. The next 2 years I’m going compound with only Saturday dedicated for biceps tricep isolation.

  • I was similar to your physique about 6 years ago with body fat percentage, but I had about the same mass at age 23-24. I’m currently safely working on getting my former self back to where I was. I’m going to be 33 in July. I heal and show results about the same but from past lifting experience I’m more prone to injuries which kept me from lifting since last October of 2016. I messed up my wrists. They are healed now but need to get strength back without the pain. I’m just working on calisthenics, resistance bands and light weight for focusing on volume. I will get shredded fast because I’m lean now because during my long break to heal my injuries I never gave up on my nutrition and sleep, I did reduce my calorie intake to more of a sedentary daily caloric intake so I would not get overweight. My friends think my genetics are great for being 32 with still a fast metabolism. I tell them it’s slowed some but not much. I just eat whole food, cut out the crap and eat mainly a healthy Mediterranean diet. That’s easy since I’m Italian American. I cook my own food a rarely eat out. My friends feel fat when they eat lunch with me at work. They’re eating take out while I’m sitting at the table with home made food. My desert is cottage cheese with 1/4 cup of raw almonds, organic Saigon cinnamon and thawed frozen berries. By the way I love Toronto, I live in Rochester, New York so we are like neighbors. I was on Toronto in July 2015 for my birthday weekend. Super friendly people, even the homeless are friendly. I love Canadians. Growing up I had a Canadian babysitter from New Market, Ontario. I’m still close with her family. Anyway sorry for rambling.

  • Can you pls gimme some advice, so i do my shoulders every wednesday and i rly exercise hard and try to push to if not over my limits (like for any other muscle group) so now i have the strength in the shoulders but i just can’t get dem side delts to POP, so i’d realy appriciate if you could gimme some tips and/or and exercise that would help me resolve the issue. Ty in advance.

  • one thing i like about your videos, before you release any of it, you do your homework and research the shit out of the topic you wish to discuss, respect.

  • What people don’t ever realize even though it is the definitive factor is that compound movements are mentally taxing. That is the reason why people skip on leg day! you can’t just take away the motivation factor. Doing isolation work will simply cost less willpower to do! That is why you should consider them if you want to visit the gym more often.

  • Are protein shakes good or bad for your health? (ive done a decent amount of research but i asked a few nutritionists and dieticians who say you get problems in the future coz of it)

  • Finally someone says this, for me too has no sense, what is gonna give you bigger biceps, curs or pull ups, with curls you will get more pump, and pump matters too

  • I think everyone should have figured out by now that you must do both. For compound, choose what’s SAFE; for isolation, choose what you think is MORE EFFECTIVE.
    Hack Squat, Front Squat and Leg Press are safer than normal Squat. Sumo Deadlift, Jefferson Deadlift, Lunges are safer than Deadlift. Dips, Incline Bench Press, machines, cables… exercises are safer than Bench Press. I feel they’re great alternatives: Sure they may not as effective, but once you know it’s safe, you won’t have fear, and having no fear encourages you to push the limit!
    If you really want to reap all the benefit with as less confusing as possible, try Weightlifting one Clean and Press to rule them all:3 or Gymnast Two Rings to rule them all:3 You can always do some more isolations later or skip straight to the cardio and head home, shower, eat and sleep.
    You can always train as a Bodybuilder! There’s absolutely no need to use heavy weights like the athletes do, no one can force you to.

  • so does it mean that only isolation workout  will help to get bigger arms (purely for aesthetic reason) provided that nutrition and recovery is at optimum level? waiting for your answer scooby

  • You said compounds give you more strength but wouldn’t you say it’s like 3 points and if it’s a few muscles it would be distributed to each muscle and if it’s isolation all 3 points would be in the same muscle

  • Great video! As a begginner I really learned something useful from this! I just didn’t got one thing clear… Are you saying I shouldn’t do in the same session variations of the exercises? I mean, usually when I’m working out I’ll do bench press, decline bench press and inclined bench press because I thought I was working different parts of the muscle, which I should do…

  • I have a question that needs answering please, is intermittent fasting good for making gains?, will it make me weaker or have less gains?

  • Is it better to do a fullbody workout every 2 days (for several hours) or have a day for 1-2 muscle groups as most social media people do it? (i m a beginner i train for 7 months now)

  • I say Compund movnets is the best coes if i had to choose one exersize to do for the rest of my life nothing else woud be alowed i would go for the deadlift not the leg extensjon or bicep curl right? so now Whats Your Stack:p

  • Damn you are one of the most funny fitness you tubers there are man! and still give useful information:) That posing at the end look ridiculously cocky though haha

  • I have a question. I injured my left knee and right ankle last year from overdoing deadlifts and a lot of people told me that i wouldn’t be able to do anymore of extreme cardio exercises (running, etc). honestly that scarred me until today. can you give me an advice(s) on how to recover from the injury (routines, medicines)? and please give me some alternative for kinds of exercises that I can do without harming my legs and feet, and could help me to lose some fat. thanks.

  • Hey dudes, i have a pretty confusing question. I hope you guys understand. How do you tailor workout which increases your strength and speed eg overall strength and speed?

  • Hi
    I want to ask if my goal is to gain strength for parkour then what should be my compound exercises and isolated exercises. And are isolated exercises gonna make my body uneven?

  • Buff Dudes, I have a serious predicament. I’m burning tons of calories because my GF wants the D TWICE a day every day, and I’m trying to achieve my yearly summer bulk. What should I do?

  • Hey dudes I got a question that I just can’t seem to find a solid answer for. I’m signed up for multiple races this year including OCR, 5ks and half marathons but at the same time I really don’t want to lose out on any muscle building potential or overdo it and injure myself. What’s the best way to balance out race training and weights training? Should they be done on the same day? Which comes first? Should I run on leg day? Ok maybe that was more than one question… But I would really appreciate any input you dudes have. Thanks!

  • I’m a good deal older than most of your subscribers. i’m 50 years old. I still weight lift regularly. My issue with weightlifting at my age is that my joints are not as limber as they were when I was 25. It hurts my shoulders when i bench press with free weights with an Olympic bar. I use a bow flex machine because it doesn’t hurt my shoulders to push. It could be that my Smith machine which i use is set for me to push at a level that is not good for my joints? It didn’t bother me when i first bought this smith machine 20 years ago but i was a lot younger and limber back then. I have tried to change to height that makes it easier to push without making my shoulder hurt but it is impossible for me to get a smooth movement with the machine i have. Do you think using a bow flex machine is o.k. for bench pressing and making gains?

  • my friend is 6’3 and 160lbs. now i dont know about skinny people so i told him to eat about 2800 calories. and to do compund workouts. is that good

  • Oh my Gosh dude! You look so different! You’ve almost like gotten 10 years older in these past 3 years! In a good way btw.
    Not necessarily your body but your face as well you just look 17 ish.
    I can’t believe you’ve been around for so long. I almost forgot about that time.
    I love how basically it was still the great informative and funny way of explaining everything and doing these videos but you’ve defended came along and became much better!

    Keep up the good work man!

  • Bodybuilding is natural…. guys on gear are NOT BODYbuilding, they are MUSCLE-building…. this is not building your body and health

  • Hi guy’s.I’m 44 and have recently taken up lifting again.I did some training around 20 years ago,but not seriously(too much gym wildlife).Now i’m an old man with a paunch and the old ball and chain around the ankle,I was wondering if I could still make good gains.I do seem to have good genes,if that makes any difference.I am training at home though,but have everything I need bar the machines.The home training series has been a great help by you guy’s.Cheers.

  • First of all I think Bicep curls or biceps exercises are also fundamental movements because we often pull things close to our faces sometimes for a better view which activates the biceps and I guess biceps exercises are also isolation exercises.
    2. I disagree. Isolation exercises like bicep exercises builds mass and bicep strength faster than compound exercise. The definition of muscular strength is the amount of force a muscle or muscle group can exert during a contraction.

  • Tip to keep that camera focus in check. Put a peace of tape on the ground on the spot where you are going to stand. Set the focus manually, and leave it there:) Thanks for the upload

  • Someone answer me please, i have a lagging chest, my other muscle groups are very strong, thats mean i need to do more flys than presses?

  • this video is the reason why I imcorporated squats, pullups and dips into my routine. Thanks Igor for the inspiration and city gains.

  • why do I feel it in my upper traps so much when doing rack pulls as if I’ve been doing shrugs all day. I never do shrugs but got over developed upper traps

  • is it better to workout after you ate or before? not In a full stomach but when is a good time. And how many times per day. I only do it once at 2pm-330

  • Can you do a video on working out in the morning vs working out in the evening? In which period is ot better to do the cardio while maintaining muscle mass ans still get the pump.thks dudes.great videos.

  • Unsure if you’re still doing the Q&A, but here goes. My back is weak due to two ruptured discs 22 years ago and a sedentary lifestyle. I fear deadlifts and heavy squats, so what can I do besides leg curls to work out the proper muscles?

  • speaking from experience if you can leg press 400lbs chances are, a 100%, you can’t squat that amount. But if you can squat 400lbs, the leg press is pretty much walk in the park. squats and deadlifts builds you.

  • when i do deadlift, I just feel my hamstrings mainly activated, not my back. Could someone help how to use your back in deadlift?? Thanks

  • That’s so true, I now have stretched too far my knee joint while trying to do splits, so my options left for dumbells are while sitting. I can overhead press, bicep curl and tricep extend. If it wasn’t for the knee injury, I’d o b v i o u s l y rather take underhand dumbell rows (vs. bicep curls) and floor dumbell chest press (vs. tricep extensions.)

  • is it better to first finish all the compound movements and than proceed to isolation work or should you just do a compound for a certain muscle group (bench for example) and proceed with chest exercises (and after you finished chest you proceed to a overheadpress for example and after that you do dumble shoulder press ect)?

  • “Swimming uses even more muscles”. You need to learn the difference between aerobic and anaerobic exercise. A difference between an endurance exercise and strength training.
    Also, how many professional athletes have you trained using mostly isolation exercises and how did their results improve after that type of training?
    How many senior citizens have you trained and did their problems with joint pain and poor posture improve after training isolation exercises on machines?
    I’m sure you have a wealth of experience you can share with us on that subject since you’ve probably trained many of them.
    Thanks in advance for sharing that information with us.

  • Thank you for doing a video which states something that I have to deal with in conversation all of the time, which is that how you lift, what you lift, and how often you lift depends on your goals. This was a great video. Thanks for posting.

  • A better explanation would be in compound movements involve primary movers and secondary movers. Also a pull up example would have been a under hand pull upwhich involves a higher percentage of bicep contribution to the pull up

  • Many people are ignorant enough to mistake a person being outgoing as ego. They can’t process and differentiate the face expressions. Poor fellas

  • Is it a myth that when working out 2 different body parts, (example chest and shoulders) one should do pushing motions on same day and pulling on others? I hear so many different ways to lift…but is there a right and wrong way? Im 40 years old and brand new all over again in the gym. What is a good upper body routine? Thanks!