Compound Lifts vs. Isolation Lifts
Too often in the gym do I see people hitting standing single arm curls expecting their arms to grow. Standing single arm curls have their place, but for beginner lifters and also some intermediate lifters I can tell you there are better alternatives. Today we'll be discussing compound lifts and isolation lifts. We'll talk about what separates them from each other, we'll talk about the importance of form, and most importantly, we'll discuss how to implement them in your workout routine.
Compound lifts are exercises that include multiple muscles, sometimes even entire muscle groups. These include flat barbell bench press, back squat, deadlifts, and snatches, just to name a few. Each of these movements, when done correctly, engage multiple muscle groups and can create massive amounts of progress in strength or mass building.
Isolation lifts are exercises that target specific muscles such as the biceps in the earlier example. These exercises include calf raises, single arm bicep curls, single arm tricep extensions, quad extensions, and hamstring curls. There are many more in this category but those are a few.
Compound lifts and isolation lifts can be used together or separately to reach your goals. If you are a strength lifter it's very likely you will do almost exclusively compound lifts. This is because they engage the most muscles at one time giving you maximum growth in many muscles at once, but also because straining so many muscles at one time stresses the central nervous system which as we know, increases strength. As a strength lifter if you combine compound lifts with the rest periods and the programming from previous Training Room posts, you'll see development in your strength.
If you are a bodybuilder you'll likely use both types of lifts in conjunction with one another. The compound lift can be used at the beginning of a workout to strain a large amount of muscles, then you can go back and lift the isolation lifts that target your specific weak areas or areas you're focusing on to develop. If you're a bodybuilder or training for hypertrophy and combine both compound and isolation lifts, utilize proper rest times, and use programming from the fundamentals of hypertrophy Training Room post, you'll see development.
Let's talk form. The internet is filled with proper form videos and they're a great asset. Using correct form isn't only important to prevent injury, which we'll talk about in a future post, but also using incorrect form can take a isolation lift and turn it into a compound lift. That sounds like a positive thing at first until you realize that now the lift that you thought is focusing on one or two muscles is lifting a bunch of other muscles and leaving your main focus muscle small and weak. As you continue to lift improperly, you'll get more and more unbalanced. Avoid all of this trouble and learn to lift properly. If you're lifting the squat (any variation) and think that you might be doing it wrong, take a video from the side and then compare it to proper form videos from reputable names in the industry. Compare your video to multiple videos you find. Some peoples' form varies slightly even though they're technically still solid. Do this until all of your lifts are doing what you expect them to and don't stop seeking perfection until you are getting maximum results in the gym.
BEGINNER LIFTERS: If you're a beginner in the gym it's best to avoid isolation lifts at first. Stick with compound lifts until your results start to taper off. Make sure you're doing everything you can to avoid a plateau! Once you've stopped seeing the growth you're used to from the compound lifts then still include them but afterwards hit some isolation lifts to squeeze out every last bit of effectiveness out of your workout.
Let's recap. Know your lifts, know what they do, know how to use them, and know how to do them properly.
That's it for now, if you have any questions email any member of the team. Stay swoll!
This post was written by Marcel Blood with input from Joseph Peery, former Strength and Conditioning Coach.