The benefits of compound exercises over isolation exercises

The exercises you choose make a massive difference in the results of your workout training meaning choosing the right ones is crucial. If I asked you which exercises would be better at strengthening and building the leg muscles – the squat or leg extensions – you would no doubt choose the squat. The reason? It recruits a higher number of muscle groups and places a higher level of stress on these muscles resulting in better strength and size. In this posting, we will outline the benefits of compound exercises in a brief and helpful discussion to show you why they could be a great addition to your workout.


  1. Compound exercises, what are they?

In the simplest terms, a compound exercise is an exercise that recruits two or muscle groups in a movement. Typically, there is one predominant muscle group performing the majority of the work with secondary muscle groups assisting. The following exercises are the best examples of compound exercises.

Bench press: one of the best and well-known chest compound exercises, this exercise recruits the pectoralis major (the chest) as the primary muscle with the anterior deltoids (front shoulders) and triceps acting as the secondary muscle groups in the movement.

Squat: considered to be one of the best compound exercises going, the squat utilises the quadriceps as the primary muscle with the glutes and hamstrings as the secondary muscles in the movement.

Pull-up:  the pull-up is a great compound exercise to for strengthening the back. The primary muscle group in this movement is latissimus dorsi with the biceps acting as the secondary muscle groups.


  1. How do compound exercises differ to isolation exercises?

As mentioned in the introduction, compound exercises recruit two or more muscle groups when completing a movement. Isolation exercises, however, do what they say on the tin and typically recruit just one muscle group. For example, the bench press recruits the chest, triceps, and shoulder muscle groups to complete the movement whilst the chest flies only recruit the chest muscle in performing the movement.

Whilst all movements recruit more than one muscle group, the essential difference between compound and isolation exercises is the number of groups each exercise type recruits to complete the movement. In isolation exercises, many muscle groups may be recruited, but as stabilisers whilst only one muscle group completes the works. In compound exercises though, multiple muscle groups are used to produce the movement.


  1. Benefits of compound exercises

There are a number of benefits of compound exercises over isolation exercises:

  • Better transfer to sporting performance: By better-replicating sporting movements, compound exercises are fantastic functional exercises. They do this by recruiting more muscle groups and mirroring the movements used in sports.
  • Reduced training times: By recruiting a greater number of muscles in each movement, you’re able to achieve a far higher degree of stress on the body and train more muscles at once. This reduces the time you need to be in the gym.
  • Better balance: As long as you train each body part and don’t neglect groups, compound exercises are better at keeping the muscles balanced thanks to the replication of real-life movements.
  • Increased hormonal release: When exercising, growth hormones are released to stimulate recovery and growth. By recruiting a higher number of muscle groups, more growth hormone is released which equates to greater muscle growth and strength.
  • Burn more fat: By recruiting a greater number of muscle groups, you burn more calories in the movement and therefore burn more fat overall.


  1. Should I include isolation exercises?

In short…yes. Isolation exercises may not be as good as compound exercises, but they do have their place. They are great for an extra push when you don’t want to include any more compound exercises. Chest flies are great at the end of the chest workout if you want to add some additional strain without recruiting the shoulders or triceps exercises, for example.

Not only this, isolation exercises are great for when you’re injured. If you have a lower back injury, barbell rows will be detrimental to your recovery whilst the seated bicep curls will still allow you to train your arms. As well as this, they are also great to focus on fixing any muscle imbalances that may have occurred from training or prior injury.

In conclusion, the best approach is to make compound exercises the majority of your workout with isolation exercises at the end of the workout.