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Health & Fitness: Compound vs. Isolated Exercises

By Kim Duke NETA & AFAA Certified Trainer

Exercise selection can virtually make or break a workout program. If you aren’t choosing the correct exercises, you are going to have a hard time reaching your goals and seeing progress.

Often, beginners think that the more exercises they can do, the better. After all, hitting a muscle from every angle imaginable must mean you are training it in the best possible manner, right? Wrong.

Isolated exercises are great for minor tweaking once you have already established your goals. However, for those looking to make significant muscle gains or to lose body fat, they are not ideal.

Isolated exercises simply will not give you the biggest bang for your buck because they do not target that many muscle fibers. Take a bench press versus a triceps kickback. The bench press is going to work your pectoral muscles, triceps and deltoids with your biceps acting like a stabilizer. The kickback will pretty much only target your triceps. Now, which one do you think will provide you with the most growth? Obviously, the former will. By choosing compound exercises to make up the majority of your routine, you will be sure you are getting the most intense workout possible.

Another reason why compound exercises are superior is that you are hitting more muscle fibers with each lift and are, therefore, required to spend less time in the gym. Now, who doesn’t want more results in less time?

By using compound exercises, you can perform three to five total exercises per session, stress your system enough to encourage muscular destruction, and then get out and allow your body time to recoup.

By spending less time in the weight room, you will grant yourself more time to pay attention to other aspects of your training such as cardio and flexibility.

Stretching is often the most forgotten factor in fitness but is actually vital to proper performance. By doing this, not only are you reducing your risk of injuries, but you are also increasing the range of motion in which you can perform your exercises. On a side note, always perform your stretching at the end of your workouts, when your muscles are warm and supple.

When trying to determine whether or not an exercise is isolated or compound, take a good look and try to figure out how many different muscles you are targeting. If it’s two or more, then it’s a compound movement.

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