Compound vs isolation exercises

Monday August 19 2019


By Joan Salmon

Whether you are starting out or already into exercising, understanding the kind of exercises you are indulging in helps you understand what you are getting into as well as the benefits. Fitness instructors Robert Ddamulira of Robbie Fitness and Elly Barangi explain what compound and isolation exercises are.

Compound exercises
These target and use of major muscles groups and joints all at once. Ddamulira cites examples such as push ups, lunges, and bench presses.

Pull ups
In this workout, the major workout is on the lats, a large muscle located on the back side of the body but also help with training for posture. This compound workout strengthens the lats hence better spine postural stability as well as that of the lower pelvis because it is attached to the lats. Ddamulira adds that the workout also trains one’s back, shoulders, pelvic floor, shoulders, core as well as grip.

He says the downfall is that many do them the wrong way, mainly due to lack of core strength, poor body awareness as well as lack of postural stability. That said, when done well, push-ups should engage your arms, lats, glutes, legs while helping you to maintain straight line.
While anyone else can do push-ups, Ddamulira says they are highly recommended for athletes because they reproduce movements that are close to what they do on the track while helping them train efficiently.

Other benefits
With Push-ups, Ddamulira says, more calories are burnt as one exercises since several muscle groups are engaged. They also allow one to work more muscle groups in one go in a short time span which makes the workout more effective and efficient.

“With workouts such as push-ups, and deadlifts, one’s coordination and balance is improved with time and there is better cardiovascular health owing to an increased heartbeat during the workout,” Ddamulira says.
Isolation exercises
These are workouts that target a particular muscle group. Barangi explains that these exercises use one joint such as biceps curl that flexes the elbow joint and targets the front upper arm muscles.


Other isolation exercises include wrist curl which targets the forearms, tricep press-down that works on triceps, quadriceps leg extensions which are usually done to strengthen quadriceps, and hamstring leg curls that strengthen hamstrings.

Barangi advises that irrespective of the isolation one is doing, assuming a seated position when doing them is usually preferable and more effective.
“That is because assuming a standing posture means involving several muscles than is intended in this workout,” he says.

Barangi says its benefits include therapy. Isolation workouts are also referred to as physical therapy because a physiotherapist can choose a particular body part that needs therapy.

For example, if one suffered an injury, an isolation workout is the ideal exercise to help that person recover.
“Even when someone desires to fortify a certain body part without any injury, paying attention to a particular muscle group ensures targeted results,” Barangi adds.

However, when these are done without the help of a trained fitness coach, Barangi says, an imbalance may develop as one muscle group gets more developed hence stronger while others are unattended to.

“No muscle works in isolation of others. Therefore, a synergy of all the muscles will help stabilise muscle movement,” he says, adding that for maximum overall muscle development both isolation and compound exercises must be used.

It is important to establish what your goals are when planning a workout. Function or aesthetics? Do you want to increase strength and performance or are you looking for a tonned body?

If you want to work on a specific area of the body, say building muscle and toning your arms, isolation exercises are perfect. However, your main focus should be on compound movements that work a combination of upper body muscles.