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

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

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 bodybuilding 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.

Related: Renegade Rolls and its benefits

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 utilize stabilizing 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:

  • 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)

Bodyweight Workout Pull Ups

Related: Overhead press for full body development

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

What Do Squats Do - Woman Squatting in Gym

Related: Weighted Squats – Benefits for full functional strength

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

Related: Building triceps with cable pressdowns

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


  • 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.

Related: Strength training with what you have at home


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 of the gym.

Related: Workout routine for men over 50

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

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