Compound vs. Isolation Exercises – Why You Need to Isolate

You can visit any number of fitness and muscle websites and I guarantee that there will be several (if not dozens) of articles, posts, and support for the full body workout. More specifically, for the classics of muscle building. You know which ones I’m talking about: the squat, deadlift, and bench press. Don’t get me wrong; these exercises are kings for a reason. They are your ticket to dramatically increasing strength, muscle size, and overall performance.

These compound movements, while necessary, can become even more efficient when combined with isolation exercises. Isolating muscles isn’t just for bodybuilders. Isolation exercises can do a lot of good for you as you strive to meet your goals. Let’s take a look at why you need to start incorporating isolation work into your routine.


Before delving into the importance of isolation exercises, let’s first define what a compound and isolation exercise is.


  • A compound exercise is considered a multi-joint movement. This means that there are several muscle groups working together at the same time. The perfect example is the squat. During a squat, your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, hip flexors, and core are all working together in order to perform the movement.


  • An isolation exercise is just the opposite. It is considered a one joint movement. Only one muscle group is targeted at a time. An example is when you are working on your calf muscles. Calf raises completely isolate the calves, leaving out all other surrounding muscle groups.


Overall, compound exercises are superior; however, that doesn’t mean you should ignore isolation work. There are plenty of great reasons why you should incorporate isolation exercises into your program. Let’s take a look at a few.


If you’re like most people in the gym, you’re performing forward motion exercises. For example, you love doing squats, push-ups, shoulder front raises, and crunches. See what’s missing here? Your back! When you favour one side of the body over the other, you are setting yourself up for overcompensation.

Here is a perfect example: You have to work out your shoulders. You perform overhead shoulder presses, lateral raises, and front raises. (Trust me, this happens A LOT) You are completely ignoring the rear deltoid. In response, the surrounding muscle groups have to compensate for that weak deltoid.

Overcompensation dramatically increases your risk for injury. It also is reflected in your overall body composition. Think about the guy who spends way too much time bench pressing and no time doing squats.

Through isolation exercises, you can target those problem areas, helping to develop the muscle and allowing it to pull its own weight. This will boost your overall performance but also keep you safe. Here is a list of key problem areas for the average person:

  • Upper Trapezius
  • Rear deltoids
  • Triceps
  • Forearms
  • Gluteus medius
  • Hamstrings
  • Hip adductors
  • Calves


In the bodybuilding world, isolation exercises are arguably as important as compound exercises. Why? In bodybuilding, the idea is to emphasise each muscle by training it for pure aesthetic reasons. Isolation work is ideal for this purpose. They allow for complete muscle fatigue while bringing lagging body parts up to speed with the rest of the body. Remember that bodybuilders are judged on the overall appearance. This means one muscle group cannot be over or under emphasised. Isolation workouts allow bodybuilders to sculpt each part of their body perfectly for an overall balanced appearance.


In sports, you need a specific set of strengths. Boxers need power from their hips to their arms. Footballers need strength and power in their toes to their hips. With that said, certain muscle groups may need to be targeted in order to improve your overall performance. Isolation work allows you to strengthen and improve those muscles so that you can do what you do best. For instance, if you’re a cyclist, you aren’t going to spend hours each week working on developing upper body strength. You are going to focus on your quadriceps, hamstrings, and hip flexors. Isolation-based strength training in combination with sports practice is going to make the difference in how you perform.


If you’ve reached a plateau in your results and you want to shock your system to get back on the road to muscle and strength gains, use isolation work. In particular, you can use a pre-exhaust and post-exhaust training system to trigger greater results in muscular hypertrophy, endurance, and strength.


  • Perform 1 to 3 sets of isolation exercises BEFORE moving on to compound exercises.
  • Example: 2 sets of cable flys before 4 sets of bench press.
  • Advanced: Perform isolation & compound exercises as a superset (back to back no break in between)



  • Perform 1 to 3 sets of isolation exercise AFTER your compound exercises are completed.
  • Example: 2 sets of leg extensions following 4 sets of wide stance squats.
  • Advanced: Perform compound & isolation exercises as a superset (back to back no break in between)



Sure, compound exercises are great but when you need to correct issues of over compensation and strength imbalance, isolation exercises are going to be the key to success. Have questions about isolation work? Hit CONTACT US now and ask away.


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Nikos Saklabanakis

Nikos Saklabanakis

Being passionate about health and fitness enables me to achieve my all time goal of guiding and supporting people through achieving their personal fitness dreams and being a significant part of dramatically changing their lives for the better.

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