Compound vs. Isolation Exercises: Benefits and Differences

Curious how compound vs. isolation exercises compare to each other? We’ll attempt to get to the bottom of it here. Regardless of whether you’re just beginning your fitness journey or you’ve been on it for a while now, you can benefit from both types of exercise. We’ll show you how!

What are compound exercises?

Simply put, a compound exercise is an exercise that targets and utilizes multiple major muscle groups and joints at the same time. If you’re following a fitness program or you participate in sports, you most likely perform at least some of these movements during practice.

Need an example? Let’s take a look at the good ol’ squat. Squats primarily target the quadriceps, but they also require you to engage your core, hamstrings, glutes, and calves to perform the movement. Thanks to the multi-functional nature of squats, they’re an excellent addition to nearly any workout routine.

compound exercises squat

Another great compound exercise is the deadlift. The hips and knees work together to allow the body to hinge forward to pick up the weight, triggering a whole host of muscles to work together to create the movement. Believe it or not, when done properly, the deadlift makes use if almost all of the joints and muscle groups in the body.

compound exercises deadlift

Compound exercise benefits

Because compound exercises require using multiple muscle groups or joints at a time, the benefits of compound exercises are many. We like them because they’re efficient, saving us time by utilizing multiple muscles at once. You’ll see all kinds of compound exercises in your 8fit workout plan.

If your goal is to get fitter, compound exercises are an excellent addition to your fitness routine. By working multiple joints and muscles at the same time, you may end up burning more calories just because you’ll expend more energy. Similarly, the multiple movements that take place during a compound exercise prepare your body to lift heavier loads than an isolation exercise. Why’s that? It’s because your body utilizes more muscles to complete the workout, in turn signaling a larger hormonal response of testosterone which can repair structural damage and help you maintain your gains.

Compound exercises are also ideal because they allow the body to move functionally and complete daily tasks with ease — that’s because exercises like squats and deadlifts simulate every-day movements like sitting down or standing up. If you’re looking to improve at sports or other athletic activities, compound exercises can help you reach your goals.

In a nutshell, compound exercises can…

  • Save time.
  • Burn more calories.
  • Make you stronger.
  • Help improve coordination.

Our take: The best compound exercises

Want to know which moves we think are the best compound exercises for different muscle groups? Check our best-of lists below!

Best chest compound exercises

  • Barbell bench press
  • Inclined dips
  • Wide grip push-ups
compound exercises push up

Best back compound exercises

Best leg compound exercises

  • Barbell back squat
  • Leg press
  • Bulgarian split squat

Best bicep compound exercises

  • Close grip chin-ups
  • Plank position hammer curls
  • Inverted rows

Best shoulder compound exercises

  • Standing military press
  • Arnold press
  • Rear delt rows

Best compound exercises for triceps

  • Diamond push-ups
  • Dips
  • Close grip bench press

Compound exercises provide a great way to get in shape — they’re efficient, fast and effective. But if one part of your body needs extra attention, like the biceps, for example, you can work on them individually by doing isolation exercises. Not sure what we mean? Keep on reading.

What are isolation exercises?

Isolation exercises are movements that target a specific muscle group and make use of only one joint like the biceps in a bicep curl, whereas a compound exercise utilizes multiple muscle groups and joints.

Curls, raises, and extensions are typically considered isolation exercises, and you may want to do them to grow a particular muscle or work an area that had you’ve neglected for some time. Isolation exercises do precisely what their name suggests — they isolate. By placing the attention on one muscle group only, these exercises can achieve significant muscle gains in specific parts of the body.

Isolation exercise benefits

Adding isolation movements into your routine can be beneficial if you want to target and work on a specific area of your body. For example, if you’re recovering from an injury and need to strengthen a particular muscle, then adding in isolation movements are ideal until you build up your strength again.

Pro tip:
Seated positions are usually preferable depending on the exercise, as this prevents other muscles coming from coming into play and supporting the movement.

Isolation movements can also be an excellent addition to a training plan with compound movements because they tend to exhaust a particular muscle, ensuring gains and targeted results. For example, after completing a series of deadlifts, you could add in a hamstring curl to target the hamstrings and take your workout to the next level.

The benefits of isolation exercises include…

  • Targeting specific muscles without stressing any others.
  • Helping with injury recovery because you can target one muscle without getting the injured ones involved.
  • Strengthening an area you feel is weaker than the rest of your body.

Now that you know a little more about isolation exercises, let’s talk about our favorites!

These are the best isolation exercises by category

Best chest isolation exercises

  • Seated cable chest flyes
  • Dumbbell incline bench flyes
  • Pec deck machine

Best back isolation exercises

  • Cable stiff-arm pulldown

Best leg isolation exercises

  • Hamstring curls
  • Leg extensions
  • Weighted calf raises

Best bicep isolation exercises

  • One Arm Preacher Curls
  • Concentration curls
  • Standing barbell curls

Best shoulder isolation exercises

  • Standing dumbbell lateral raises
  • Reverse Pec deck flyes
  • One-arm front cable raise

Best triceps isolation exercises

  • Lying triceps extensions
  • Cable push down
  • Decline dumbbell tricep extensions

compound exercise overhead triceps

Compound vs. isolation exercises: Our verdict

If you were to pit compound vs. isolation exercises, many would consider compound exercises to be the clear winner. That’s because the movements are more useful for day-to-day life, they burn more calories and lead to more significant gains, and they kill (at least) two birds with one stone. That’s not to say that isolation exercises are useless. On the contrary, they can be a great addition to your workout routine, especially combined with a variety of compound exercises. And, if you’re recovering from an injury, isolation exercises may end up being a life-saver.

Still a little bit lost? Don’t worry. Sign up for the 8fit app to get a workout program — complete with mostly compound movement — that suits you perfectly. Best of all, you can perform all of the exercises on the app without the use of gym equipment. It’s perfect for those on a budget or anyone who doesn’t have a lot of time on their hands.