Compound vs Isolation Exercises: Which Is Better?

Keeping a balance between compound and isolation exercises is the best way to workout. (Image via Unsplash / Milan Csizmadia)
Keeping a balance between compound and isolation exercises is the best way to workout. (Image via Unsplash / Milan Csizmadia)

One of the most common debates in the fitness industry is whether compound or isolation exercises are better for building muscle. On one side of the fence, you have people advocating compound movements, which involve multiple muscle groups during a single exercise.

Meanwhile, isolation exercises have their own followers who swear that only single-joint movements should be used for hypertrophy. If we look at the research, both have their benefits, but if your goal is to build muscle mass and strength, there's no clear answer. Before you make a decision, though, consider these factors:

Should You Do Compound Exercises or Isolation Exercises?

Compound exercises use several muscle groups at once and can help you build strength faster than isolation exercises, which isolate single muscles. The squat is a great compound exercise that works the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, glutes, lower back, and core.

Isolation exercises, meanwhile, work one muscle group and one joint at a time. The biceps curl, for example, works only the biceps muscle and elbow joint. Isolation exercises are often performed on weight machines in health clubs.


If you want to isolate one muscle group, you should do isolation exercises. They're frequently used in physical therapy clinics and rehab centers to correct specific muscle weaknesses or imbalances that often occur after injury, illness, surgery, or other conditions.

Benefits of Compound Exercises

When you're healthy, fit, and trying to get the most out of a workout, compound exercises are generally recommended. Some people prefer compound exercises, as they work many muscles at once and are more practical for daily life.


Compound exercises require you to engage multiple muscles at once and work the body as a unit, which helps build strength faster. These exercises also give you a cardiovascular workout and burn more calories than isolation exercises do.

Common compound exercises include chest press, deadlift, dips, jump rope, lunge, lunge with a twist, one-leg squat-and-reach, and more.

Benefits of Isolation Exercises

Isolation exercises are often recommended for people who have suffered an injury and have muscle imbalance or weakness. These exercises isolate muscles so that they can activate and increase their strength. After an injury, a muscle often becomes weak, so other muscles tend to compensate for that weakness.


If you never retrained injured muscles, they may develop weak spots that set up biomechanical imbalances. Even if you're unaware of your weakness, as other muscles are compensating for it, imagine how much stronger you could be if all the muscles are firing at maximum contraction.

Specific isolation exercises are done to strengthen a particular muscle group. If you want bigger biceps, doing isolation bicep exercises can help.

Which Exercise Should You Do?

Both compound and isolation exercises are effective in working different muscle groups.

If you want to get a complete, efficient, and effective workout, doing predominantly compound exercises during your training is ideal. There are times, though, when isolating a specific muscle, muscle group, or joint is necessary and recommended.


Eventually, the best course of action is to incorporate a combination of compound and isolation exercises into your workout regimen. While isolation exercises tone the muscles (or focus on them directly), compound exercises increase overall strength and help avoid injury.

It all depends on what you want to look like, but the goal at the end of the day should be health and wellness. Finding a happy balance between both types of workouts is key to achieving both a healthy body and mind.

Quick Links

Edited by Bhargav