Compound Vs Isolated Exercises

How you arrange these types of exercises can help you get the most out of your workout


By Maddy Bond


People typically think that the best way to build muscles is to lift the heaviest weights possible. While this isn’t too far off being true, weight alone isn’t the most efficient way to put on mass. Compound exercises (CE) and isolated exercises (IE) allow you to organize your workout to optimize muscular activation and allow for an increase in muscle development.

What are compound and isolated exercises?

The terms CE and IE are used to categorize different exercises by the number of joints used in each movement. IE refers to single joint movements, whereas CE refers to movements that utilize a number of joints. Each category of movement is crucial to building muscle, as well as the order you perform them.

How does CE build muscle?

Multi-joint movements, or CE, are often referred to as big lifts. These big lifts involve the activation of your larger muscle groups — the glutes, lats, pecs, etc. So, during CE, not only are you using multiple joints, but also multiple muscles. This is going to burn more, but will also help you build an overall balanced and muscular look. Here’s some examples to get started:

Compound Exercises



-Shoulder press

-Push up

-Bench press

-Pull up


How does IE help me get those gains?

Single joint movements, or IE, can also be referred to as accessory lifts. These exercises typically involve smaller muscle groups and isolate the movement, as the name suggests. Some of these smaller muscles are key players in our bigger lifts, so training your IE muscles will strengthen any imbalances or weaknesses you may have. Accessory lifts can also help prevent injuries. Here’s a few to start with:

Isolated Exercises

-Bicep curl

-Tricep kickback

-Hamstring curl


-Leg extension

-Calf raise

-Shoulder external rotation

What’s the secret formula?

Now you have an idea of what movements to do, the key ingredient is the order you perform them in: always start with CE first, followed by IE. After your warm up, start with the big lifts. This will help you lift safely, as your muscles will be fresh. For example, you don’t want to go into pull ups after exhausting your biceps with curls.

Then move into your smaller, accessory lifts to exercise the individual muscles that have already been slightly worked. You’ll definitely feel the burn and get more out of your workout!

This method can be broken down throughout a session. A good routine might be a set of squats immediately followed by a set of bridges. Do this three times with different leg exercises and you’ll have wobbly jello legs for days. Happy lifting!

Maddy has worked in the health and fitness industry for 5 years. She has a bachelors in Exercise Science and has recently received her Masters in Exercise Physiology. She has worked with a wide demographic of clients as a Personal Trainer and loves helping people reach their goals and continue to grow.  She is an outdoor enthusiast and dedicates her workouts to rock climbing, hiking and whatever new experiences may come her way.

Main Photo Credit: BLACKDAY/; Second Photo Credit: Artem Varnitsin/; Third Photo Credit: cirkoglu/

Jul 10, 2022

Definitely worth reading. Thanks for sharing