Think of compound exercises as your big meals like breakfast, lunch, anddinner which include all macronutrients like carbs, proteins, and fats. Whereas an isolation exercise is like a protein shake. It isolates the macronutrient specifically for what you want.

So in compound exercises, you are working multiple muscle groups and joints at the same time but in isolation,all the strain is on a single muscle and joint.

When designing a resistance training routine, a key step is to select a set of exercises that have the greatest impact on building muscle. There are two types of exercises based on the number of joints involved. Exercises that use a single joint are called isolation exercises whereas exercises in which multiple joints are used is called compound exercises. There are always controversies and debates around which exercise is the best for muscle growth. This article outlines the benefits and disadvantages of both. Also, you will find out how both of these can be used to maximize gains. 


As the name suggests, this exercise type isolates a muscle group. All the strain is put on a single muscle in this form of exercise. There is no support from other muscles around the isolated group of muscle. The main characteristic of this type of exercise is that only a single joint is involved. Triceps extensions, lateral raises, bicep curls, calf raises, etc. are some of the isolation exercises. 

All exercises that involve extending, curling, and raising can be put under the group of isolation exercises because they target a specific muscle. For example, bicep curl is an isolation exercise because the focused muscle group is biceps and the only joint involved is the elbow joint. 


Isolation exercises focus all the tension on a single muscle. The muscles targeted with this exercise type are generally small and weak. For certain muscles, there are no compound exercises. For example, all the exercises for biceps are isolation exercise. Pull-ups, pull-downs, and rows are compound exercises that, however, use the bicep muscles but the targeted muscles are back. 


Compound exercises employ more than one muscle group and multiple joints. Bench press, lat pull-downs, deadlifts, dips, shoulder press, pull-ups, rows etc. are some of the compound exercises. All these exercises use multiple muscle groups and joints. 

For example, take the bench press. Chest muscles are the targeted group of muscles in bench press but shoulder and triceps also play a huge part. The exercise uses both the elbow and shoulder joint which makes bench press a compound exercise. 


Isolation exercises use a single joint and all the strain is on a particular muscle group. To gain muscle mass, compound exercises are important. Compound exercises employ more than one muscle group which allows the lifter to lift more weight which ultimately leads to building muscle mass. 

Human growth hormone (HGH) and testosterone are of utmost importance for building muscle. According to a recent scientific study, it has been found that compound exercises increase the production of human growth hormone and testosterone. 


With isolation, you are just utilizing one joint whereas with the compound you are using multiple. A classic isolation exercise would be the bicep curl where you are just utilizing the elbow joint. A classic compound exercise would be the deadlift where you are utilizing multiple joints and muscles.

A question arises, which exercise type is better? Well, that’s kind of a gray area because really it depends on your goals and what do you seek to achieve. Isolation exercises can be really good for bringing up specific body parts such as biceps and compound exercises can be great for overall strength and size. 

Compound exercises will beat isolation for overall physical development but if you really want to focus on a certain body part and make sure it’s building, then isolation exercises are the best. Include compound exercises for major lifts but make sure you isolate the body groups that are lagging behind.

Each exercise type has different exercises included in it. For the overall development of the body, both isolation and compound exercises should be used.