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Compound vs Isolation Movements

May 31, 2017

Looking for a shortcut? Want to build muscle quick and boost your metabolism through the roof? No, this isn't some lame sales pitch, I'm talking about compound lifting.


What is a compound lift?


A compound lift is an exercise that fully engages multiple joints simultaneously, resulting in large chains of muscles to fully engage. Deadlifts, Squats, Bench Press, Overhead Press, Lunges, Snatches, Farmers Walks and other Loaded Carries, Cleans, Kettlebell Swings and many more qualify as compound lifts.


The other style of weightlifting is known as “Single Joint”, or isolation movements. Isolation movements are designed to target very specific muscle groups. For example, performing hammer curls to hit the outer head of the bicep or supinated preacher curls to hit the inner portion.


There are also exercises that require zero joint movement that are known as isometric lifts, but for the sake of this article, we're going to focus on compound vs isolation.

Preacher Curls (Isolation) VS Incline Bench Press (Compound)


There are many different opinions regarding the effectiveness of compound movements versus isolation movements, but the overall consensus is that compound lifts are far more efficient at burning fat and packing on dense muscle mass. It takes much longer to burn the same amount of calories using only isolation exercises due to the lack of participation from multiple muscle groups.


The only real catch is that compound movements are much more complicated in form than isolation exercises. Many queues need to be dialed in, and for some of the more complicated lifts like deadlifts and snatches, extensive reading or hiring a coach are almost required. These exercises can be extremely dangerous if performed with bad form and can result in permanent injury.


Deadlifts are no joke, and using your back instead of your legs to get the weight up is a quick way to cause catastrophic damage to your spine. Sure, your spinal erectors, lats, and traps are used to help get the weight up, but you should focus on driving with your legs above all else.


 My 520 pound deadlift at an IPA competition at York Barbell, 2015


Even bench press is a highly technical, often underestimated, compound lift. Not using good form on bench can cause all kinds of problems to your shoulders and elbows.


The bottom line is that if you're going to attempt a technical lift, you should have someone familiar with good form to help you get everything working the way it should.


Curls, leg extensions, and kickbacks have their places as isolation movements, but should only be used to help build up parts of your muscles that are lacking in growth. Being balanced is key, so don't completely ditch isolation exercises, but I do highly recommend that you make compound movements your bread and butter.


Boost your metabolism more quickly and pack on dense muscle, just don't go full Crossfit...never go full Crossfit ;)


In Strength,


Coach Bryan


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