Workout Basics: Compound Movements vs Isolation Exercises

Body composition

Our bodies are lovely and super-efficient at improving and healing. When we engage in physical activities,r bodies are uniquely made to work hard and keep the engine going for quite a while. Our muscles and body, in general, are designed with compound movements in mind, where instead of choosing one muscle group, we use many to get the job done. When we do heavy labor, we aren’t using just our biceps or quads but a whole host of muscle groups to complete the task. You can read on to find out why isolation exercises are dangerous and what can be done to improve our workouts.

Isolation is deadly

What I mean by an isolation workout is when people decide to lift weights to work out their biceps for a while and then do tricep extensions afterward. The problem is that if a person engages in isolation exercises, they increase the strength of one particular part of their body and ignore everything else. This can easily cause muscle imbalance as certain body parts will be vital and others weak. Isolation exercises are dangerous and have a severe tendency to cause injury because when one muscle is more critical than another, it will tear the weaker one up. If you have huge biceps, but your forearms are ineffective, you will try to live 65 lbs, but your forearms can only handle 30. You can only imagine what will happen next when one body part tries to keep up with another. Broken bones, pulling muscles, and permanent injury can easily take place in this scenario.

Our bodies are built for compound movements.

When you play football, you aren’t working for one muscle group at a time; instead, you are performing a multitude of muscle groups working as a whole to get the job done. This is key for healthy and effective muscle growth and fitness health. If all the muscles in the area you are working on are strong and work well, they can perform a heavier lift or more significant stress. Stabilizer muscles aren’t strained while bigger muscles are worked each day, but instead, all forces are worked and come together as a more robust unit. It’s a lot like a chain link. The chain is only as strong as its weakest link. If the lowest link breaks, the whole chain is worthless and falls apart. When we do compound movements, everything gets used and robust together.

Isolation exercises aren’t perfect for people looking to get fit and in shape because of this imbalance. We don’t want to be huge in some areas and tiny in others. A healthy individual will have a generally strong balance and core for all of their muscles, leading to less strain and injuries on the job and in sports and activities. It’s also much more efficient to work a whole group of muscles at once than individual muscle groups because it saves time and allows you to let everything grow evenly in your workouts.


Some great compound movements and exercises work for many muscle groups.

  1.  Deadlift – The deadlift is a motion where you stand with your feet shoulder length apart with a bar on the ground with lots of weight on it. You bend down, pick up the bar, stand up straight, and then bend back to put it down. This one lift works your forearms, traps, abs, glutes, hamstrings, quads, calves, and lower back. Talk about one excellent movement! If you were to do isolation exercises individually, not only would it take you 10 times as long to get the same workout, but all the stabilizer muscles that work as a unit with this lift wouldn’t get a workout and would still cause you to be weaker than if you just did deadlifts.
  2.  Bench Press – The bench press is a compound movement where you are lying on your back and lifting a bar with weight on each side from your chest and back down. This exercise works your pectoral muscles, abs, triceps, and shoulders. Another movie winner, ent, is done with one action instead of many isolation movements.

While I could make quite a list now, you get the picture. The point is that movements that work for multiple muscle groups simultaneously are more efficient and cause your body to work together to stabilize the lift and get the job done.

Now you know

Now you understand why compound movements are superior to isolation exercises. Our bodies are not made for isolation but instead for group movements. Next time you work out at the gym or at home, make sure that all your workouts include exercises that work multiple groups of muscles each time and that you are on the road to success in your fitness journey.

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