I found one of the most interesting and informative articles I have ever read in my life! (Me being a fitness head, it had to be). I can’t find the author’s name but I do know its from aworkoutroutine.com. A lot to take in but very important and easy to understand. Thought I should put up a summary.
Weight training exercises can be classified in terms of how they train our bodies and what or how many muscle groups are being used when they’re performed. There are 2 groups they can fall into: compound exercises and isolation exercises. Both exercise groups can serve many different purposes in lots of different workout routines (based on your goal and your body). So the only way to know for sure which type of exercise is best for you is by looking at the specifics of each.
Definition: A compound exercise is any exercise that involves the use of more than one major muscle group at a time. Typically, there is one larger muscle group that ends up doing the majority of the work and then one or more smaller muscle groups that are recruited (secondary).
Common compound exercises along with the primary and secondary muscle groups each one targets:
Flat, Incline or Decline Bench Press - (Barbell, dumbbell or machine). Primary muscle group: Chest. Secondary muscle groups: Shoulders and triceps
Overhead Shoulder Press/Military Press - (Barbell, dumbbell or machine). Primary muscle group: Shoulders. Secondary muscle group: Triceps
Dips - (On parallel bars with slight forward lean). Primary muscle group: Chest. Secondary muscle groups: Triceps and shoulders
Dips - (On parallel bars without forward
lean). Primary muscle group: Triceps. Secondary muscle groups: Shoulders and chest
Rows - (Barbell, dumbbell, or machine). Primary muscle group: Back. Secondary muscle group: Biceps
Pull-Ups, Chin-Ups, Lat Pull-Downs - (Any type of grip) Primary muscle group: Back. Secondary muscle group: Biceps
Deadlifts - (Many variations). Primary Muscle Group: Posterior Chain(hamstrings, glutes, back, etc). Secondary muscle groups: much of
lower body and much of upper body
Squats - (Many variations).
Primary muscle group: Quads. Secondary muscle groups: Most of lower body (glutes/hamstrings) and lower back
Basically, if you’re pushing, pulling, squatting or deadlifting, you’re training more than one major muscle group and that’s what makes it a compound exercise. As deduced now, all chest pushing/pressing exercises also use the shoulders and triceps. All shoulder pushing/pressing exercises also use the triceps. All back pulling/rowing exercises also use the biceps. Deadlifts and squats (including split squats, lunges, step ups, leg presses) also use a variety of lower body muscles and in
some cases, the lower and/or upper
We need to care about what secondary muscle groups get trained during compound exercises. Why? Because
typically we’re using workout schedules that will allow us to train each muscle group with an optimal frequency. Based on the information above its clearly easy to unknowingly train certain muscle groups more often than you’re aiming to, as a result of their secondary use during exercises that primarily target other muscles. In the same breath there’s the issue of recovery. For example, you might train chest one day and triceps the next. In reality, you’ve trained triceps 2 days in a row (because of their secondary usage during chest exercises)… You can now kind of surmise that biceps and triceps need less direct volume due to how much indirect volume they get during compound exercises. This is all stuff that needs to be taken into account when creating your workout routine.
Definition: An isolation exercise is any exercise in which only one major muscle group is trained by itself. The movement is done in such a way that the usage of all other muscle groups is avoided, which leaves one muscle group isolated and able to do all of the work. Most common isolation exercises along with the muscle it isolates/trains:
Flat, Incline or Decline Flyes - (Dumbbell, cable or machine). Muscle group trained: Chest
Lateral Raises or Front Raises -
(Dumbbell, cable or machine). Muscle group trained: Shoulders
Biceps Curls - (Barbell, dumbbell, cable
or machine). Muscle group trained: Biceps
Triceps Extensions - (Barbell, dumbbell,
cable or machine). Muscle group trained: Triceps
Leg Extensions - Muscle group trained: Quads
Leg Curls - Muscle group trained: Hamstrings
Calf Raises - Muscle group trained: Calves
So here, if an exercise involves raising, curling or extending, it’s usually training just one major muscle group, and that makes it an isolation exercise.
Compound Exercises vs Isolation Exercises
After getting complete understanding of both types of exercises, you can view comparison and pick which is best for you.
Round 1: Generally
Compound exercises allow you to engage more muscle groups, which in turn allows you to lift more weight, which in turn allows for faster and more consistent progression. They cause a lot of good stuff to happen that all leads to the results you want to get.
Isolation exercises isolate muscle groups so they are trained by themselves. This means you’ll typically be using MUCH lower amounts of weight, which in turn means there won’t be anywhere near as much consistent progression. The potential for results won’t be nearly as high as with compound exercises.
The author also wanted to explain in another way, posing a question: Which do you think has more potential to improve the way your body looks or performs… Adding 45kg (100lbs) to your bench press, or adding 4.5kg (10lbs) to your dumbbell flyes? Answer: Obvious, isn’t it? (Bench press) In general, compound exercises allow you to create much more of the right type of training stimulus than isolation exercises can. Compound exercises beat isolation exercises by a fairly large margin for most people, most of the time.
Round 2: Specifically
There are plenty of specific situations when isolation exercises can definitely be of use and serve an important purpose in your workout routine. If you’ve already done some bench pressing but still need to get some additional chest volume in. Although at the same time you don’t want any additional volume for your shoulders and triceps - since every compound chest exercise uses the shoulders and triceps secondarily, your best option in the scenario is to do a chest ISOLATION exercise like dumbbell flyes (rather than another type of press which will hit your triceps/shoulders).
Isolation exercises are the only way we can directly train smaller muscle groups like the biceps, triceps and calves without adding additional unnecessary volume to the larger muscle groups. While compound exercises win in terms of what tends to be best in general, isolation exercises definitely have a time and place in the workout routines of many people.
After all the information overload here’s what the author recommends about these 2 groups:
A). If your primary goal is performance
related (increasing strength, improving
performance, etc.) then compound exercises should comprise the majority
of your workout program. Isolation exercises should be limited or
possibly avoided completely.
B). If your primary goal is building muscle, losing fat, getting lean, etc, then compound exercises should comprise the majority of your workout routine and get your primary focus. However, a secondary focus on isolation exercises is fine and ideal in some cases.
So uh personally from me Aldon? I think I now know much more about exercise than I did yesterday, enough to re-examine my training program against my goals and have a fitting evaluation for optimum results! I wasn’t clueless about all of this but this article helped in rubber stamping that I was on the right track.