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Compound Exercises vs Isolation Excercises

Compound exercises are the most underutilised advantageous method of increasing all round strength and performance. Machines are great and have their place in complimenting any training routine but are far too often relied upon, more so due to the fact that people aren’t confident in the correct execution of a compound exercise or just not sure how to program them into a routine in an effective way. Compound exercises and isolating exercises should be used in conjunction with one and other. 

What Is a Compound Exercise? 

Compound exercises are any exercise that require multiple joints to perform, such as deadlifts, squats, bench press, over-head press, all of which require multiple joints and multiple muscle groups to complete the movement.   

What Are Isolation Exercises? 

Isolation exercises are designed to isolate a singular muscle or muscle group and quite often this is easily achieved via the use of machines. The machines are designed to put the body into a position where the target muscle or muscle group is isolated and minimising the chances of ability of other muscles or muscle groups interfering in the movement. Not only are isolation exercises great for targeting singular muscles but also play in important role in fixing muscular imbalances, working around injuries, rehabilitation, for people with disabilities and beginner gym users. 

Benefits of Compound Exercises 

There is a heap of benefits of compound exercises, they are always going to be the preferred method of strength training in health athletes. It’s quite common that compound movements will simulate the same movement pattern of an athletes chosen sport.  

Compound exercise benefits include: 

  • Generally burns more calories during exercise 
  • Simulates real-world exercises and activities 
  • Allows you to get a full body workout faster 
  • Improves coordination, reaction time and balance 
  • Improves joint stability and improves muscle balance across a joint 
  • Decreases the risk of injury during sports 
  • Keeps your heart rate up and provides cardiovascular benefits 
  • Allows you to exercise longer with less muscle fatigue 
  • Allows you to lift heavier loads and build more strength 

Common Compound Exercises

Benefits of Isolation Exercises 

Isolation exercises are often recommended to correct muscle imbalance or weakness that often occurs after an injury. Isolating a specific muscle is sometimes necessary to get it to activate and increase its strength. After an injury, a muscle often becomes weak and other muscles compensate for that weakness. If you never retrain the injured muscles to fire properly again, it may set up a biomechanical imbalance that is difficult to correct. 

Even if your weakness isn’t noticeable because other muscles are compensating, imagine how much stronger you would be if all the muscles were firing at maximum contraction. That alone is a good reason to occasionally do isolation exercises. 

Isolation exercises will also help increase the actual size of the muscle, should the correct training principles be followed. 

Most healthy athletes will use compound exercises for the majority of a training program and use isolation exercises to complement that program as needed. 

Common Isolation Exercises

  • Biceps Curls 
  • Leg Extension 
  • Machine Pec fly
  •  Side Lateral Raises
  • Triceps Extension 
  • Standing/Seated Calf Raise 
  • Hamstring Curl 

Compound Exercise vs. Isolation Exercise 

Compound exercises should be the base of any training routine as they will form a solid foundation for the rest of your training, they will build over-all strength and stability, they are also very functional. Compound movements imitate normal day to day physical tasks of the human body, these will get easier. Isolation exercises most definitely have their place and play a very important role in exercise routines but don’t focus purely on these one dimensional movement patterns. Diversify your training with a good mix of compound exercises and isolation exercises.  

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