Compound Exercise versus the isolation exercise, the famous debate of all time. Some believe the compound exercise to be superior and more effective in building muscle. While others prefer the isolation exercises over compound exercise to aim a good overall body composition.

And then, there are some who suggests you to include a combination of both exercises to achieve maximum muscle growth and strength.These different advice and approaches are getting you confused and intimated. You are not able to decide whether it is the isolation exercises or the compound exercise that will give you the desired results?

In order to make it simple for you, just keep in mind the fact that both the compound exercise and isolation exercise works on your muscles but in a different way. Shortly, you will understand why the title says ‘Compound Exercise and not the Isolation Exercise to become bigger’. All of which we have covered in this article.

So grab a cup of coffee and let us dive straight into this article.  

What are Compound Exercises?   

You probably have seen a lot of strongman and bodybuilders pushing heavy weights on bench press, squats and deadlifts. For the starters, these are some of the typical examples of compound exercise. The Compound exercise mimics your day to day movements and provides you all round functional fitness.

In simple terms, the compound exercises are those exercises which involve several muscles and multiple joints to work in coordination at a time. It is due to this characteristic of compound exercise that it has been a crucial part of most famous bodybuilders and athletes training routines.

With more muscles moving in shorter time, you get compounding results. Even, Arnold once said that the multi joint exercises or the compound exercise is the single most component of gaining muscle size and strength [1]. 

What are Isolation Exercises?

The isolation exercise is more focused way of training a certain muscle. While performing the isolation exercise, you isolate one of the specific muscle and a joint to perform the exercise movement. A bicep curl is a classical example of an isolation exercise where the movement only involves your elbow joint and biceps muscle. 

The isolation exercises are in general performed on machines you see in gyms and health clubs. These can be preferred choice for anyone whose sole aim is to work on a specific muscle. Often, these exercises are performed to promote muscle growth and strength in lagging muscles.

You will see many athletes occasionally including isolation exercises along with the compound exercises. This will help them build any specific muscle which is lagging behind or some muscle which needs rehabilitation and recovery after an injury.

Why Compound Exercise over Isolation Exercise?

After getting the basic idea about both the type of exercise, you can clearly see that compound exercise hit more muscles in a time than what you can in isolation exercise. But some of you may think that isolating one muscle is a better way as the chance of growing that muscle increases with isolation. 

Compound Exercise Vs Isolation Exercise

It may be true but think whether are you building a specific muscle in your body or targeting for an overall growth? I guess the answer is clear now.  Compound exercise is your way to go and aim for maximum muscle strength and size. And if you are someone who has just started lifting, it is the compound exercise that can give you a pretty solid foundation. (Also Read: The only Beginners Guide to aim for 5X Muscle Growth)

Let us now see how Compound Exercise trumps over Isolation exercise for building muscle?

  • You will have More Efficiency:

As you know that the compound exercise hit more muscle and joints at a time. This means that you can achieve more strength and muscle gain in comparatively short period of time. The efficiency of your workout increases and you can aim for all rounded developed physique.

  • You can make Quick Progression:

You need to keep on making progression in your workout to increase strength and muscle gain. And with compound exercise, making progression is fairly easy. You can easily increase the amount of weight you lift during a compound movement than what you can do during isolation movement.  

  • You will have more Muscle Building Hormones:

The two major hormones responsible for building muscle and strength is testosterone and growth hormone. Your body gifts you with the release of these two hormones after an intense workout. And according to a study, a large release of testosterone and growth hormone is experienced after performing compound exercises than with isolation exercises [2].

  • You will burn more Fat:

During the compound movements, you use more muscles in less time. This enables your body to work more and consume extra energy. As a result, you will spend more calories and burn more fat. This way you can achieve a more lean and muscular body by doing compound exercises.

  • You will have a less risk of injury:

The risk of injury reduces while you perform compound exercises. With the compound exercise, you are only performing functional day to day movements. There are more joints involved during the compound exercise. So, there is less stress on any single joint which reduces the chance of getting an injury.    

So should you only do compound exercises?

Compound Exercise has the most advantage where gaining strength and building muscle is concerned. But then you should not ditch the isolation exercises completely. Instead you can use it for your favor.

There is no match of a well planned and the strategic training to maximize your gains. The right combination of Compound exercise and isolation exercise can do wonders for your body. But for that, you should have a basic understanding of what muscles are you training and your prime goal with the training.

These are some instances where you should use Isolation Exercise

  • Recovering from an Injury:

Getting an injury is a common sight when you workout or play some sport. An injury can occur any time due to a flaw in your form or pushing heavy weights that are way out from your league. Many a times during an injury, you develop weakness in a specific muscle.

At such times, in order to completely recover that muscle, you can get benefit from doing isolation exercises. It is only with isolation exercise that you can revive the full potential of that muscle again by hitting it with complete isolation.  

  • To Force Growth of a lagging muscle:

If you are a fan of compound exercises and has been doing only the compound movements from a long time. There is a strong chance that you might have developed an imbalance in growth of various muscles. With the compound exercise, there are multiple muscles involved at a time.

There are prime mover muscles which get the maximum benefit. And there are synergist muscles that stabilize the movement but not get the same benefit as the prime mover muscle. Due to which, an imbalance occurs in the growth of muscles. For which isolation exercise is the perfect way to force growth in a lagging muscle. 

  • Refining your Physique

Doing Isolation Exercises can refine your physique, the same way as they assist growth in lagging muscle. For instance, performing military press or overhead presses for shoulders alone can`t give you a three dimensional muscle growth on your shoulder. As, this compound exercise only targets the front deltoids and use side deltoids as stabilizing muscles.

This way you definitely are developing strength and size in your shoulder. But in order to get a complete refined physique and shoulder in this regard, you must include isolation exercises like side and lateral raise to get that 3D look.


The Verdict

All of the above understanding simply boils down to the point that it is the compound exercise that provides maximum muscle growth and strength in least possible time. However, you also should not clearly eliminate the isolation exercises out of play. (Also Read: The Negative Rep Technique to increase Muscle Growth)

You should plan your workouts in and around by including isolation exercises more often to target the complete growth. But, your prime focus should always stay on doing compound exercise if you want to get bigger in terms of muscle gain and strength.

For someone who wishes to build a solid muscle foundation, it is only the compound exercise that will fit in place. Remember to have a focused training and put close attention to your goal. It is the growth that you should first aim for before even thinking about refinement.

How to improve the efficiency of Compound Exercise?

This article will not be complete without this extra bonus tip which can improve efficiency of your compound workouts. As you know that Compound Exercise hits multiple muscles at a time. So, you will experience more muscle breakdown and increased recovery time.

So, it is better you plan your workouts in a way which don’t involve similar stabilizer muscles every then and now. The best way to recover faster and increase muscle gain is by splitting your workouts in a way that similar stabilizer muscles don`t get train more than once within 48 hours. 


  1. M. Bill Geiger, “31 Arnold-Approved Training Tips,”
  2. K. T. K. M. S. G. Hansen S, “The effect of short-term strength training on human skeletal muscle: the importance of physiologically elevated hormone levels,