Any kind of exercise involves movement. Exercise, and so movement, helps in increased calorie expenditure and strengthens muscles by working them. Movement, in the context of exercise, can be categorized into two: Compound and Isolation.
Compound exercises use multiple muscles in unison with each other to perform a certain task, which is ideal for greater strength increases. For healthy adults who are trying to get the most out of a training program, compound exercises are generally preferred and recommended. There are many reasons to use compound exercises during your workout. Since it uses more muscle groups, it:
- means more calories burned during exercise.
- simulates real-world exercises and activities.
- allows you to get a full body workout faster.
- improves coordination, reaction time and balance.
- improves joint stability and improves muscle balance across a joint.
- decreases the risk of injury during sports.
- keeps your heart rate up and provides cardiovascular benefits.
- allows you to exercise longer with less muscle fatigue.
- allows you to lift heavier loads and build more strength.
A great example of a compound exercise is the squat exercise, which engages many muscles in the lower body and core, including the quadriceps, the hamstrings, the calves, the glutes, the lower back and the core.
Isolation exercises work only one muscle or muscle group and only one joint at a time. Isolating a specific muscle is sometimes necessary to get it to activate and increase its strength. Isolation exercises are often recommended to correct muscle imbalance or weakness that often occurs after an injury. Often, after an injury, a muscle becomes weak and other muscles compensate for that weakness. If you never retrain the injured muscles to fire properly again, it may set up a biomechanical imbalance that is difficult to correct. Therefore, isolation exercises are also frequently used in physical therapy clinics and rehab centers in order to correct a specific muscle weakness or imbalance that often occurs after injury, illness, surgery or certain diseases.
Another reason to perform specific isolated exercises is to increase the size or bulk of a specific muscle group. For example, if you want big biceps, you’ll probably want to add some bicep isolation work to your regular exercise routine.
Most healthy adults will use compound exercises for the majority of a training program and use isolation exercises to complement that program as needed.
Therefore, if you are interested in getting a complete, efficient and functional workout, doing predominantly compound exercises during your training is ideal. However, there are times when isolating a specific muscle, muscle group or joint is necessary and recommended. If you aren’t sure what is best for you, a personal trainer or athletic trainer can help locate any muscle imbalance or weakness you may have and design a program to fit your needs.