All resistance training exercises can be separated into two main categories: compound exercises and isolation exercises.  Each have pros and cons, and when strategically implemented into your routine, you can maximize the benefits of each and tailor them to any goal.  A random selection of exercises will give you or your client random results.  To ensure your goals are met, it is crucial to know what types of exercises will deliver the best results.  

Compound or multi-joint moves are any exercise where there is movement at more than one joint.  Take chest, for example.  An example of a compound chest exercise is the bench press because there is movement at both the shoulder and elbow joints.  Squats, presses, and dips are other common compound exercises.  An isolation exercise, on the other hand, only involves movement at one joint.  For example, when performing the dumbbell fly, there is movement only at the shoulder joint.  Leg extensions, biceps curls, and lateral raises are frequently used isolation exercises. 

Compound Exercises: What they are and when you should incorporate them

There are several benefits to compound exercises, the most significant being the ability to use maximum resistance.  Multi-joint exercises will allow you to use heavier weight because you are using more than one muscle group, and activating more muscle fibers.  Using the example above, on the bench press, you will activate your triceps and deltoids, which will give you more power, as opposed to the chest-only dumbbell fly.  Using heavier resistance-with good form-leads to increased muscle hypertrophy.  In addition, the more muscle fibers activated during an exercise, the higher the energy expenditure and calorie burn.  Regularly using compound exercises in your routine will help you build a solid base, increase muscle size and strength, and burn more calories than isolation exercises. 

While compound moves should serve as the foundation of any fitness program, there are a few drawbacks.  Multi-joint exercises are perfect for improving strength and promoting muscle growth, but are not as effective at enhancing muscle endurance and conditioning.  Since you will generally be using heavier weights, your rep range will be limited, which will limit the amount of reps you can complete.  Some multi-joint exercises are difficult to learn and involve lots of muscle groups working synergistically, which can be challenging for a beginner. 

Isolation Exercises: How to incorporate them into your workout with maximum efficiency 

Single-joint exercises are important to have in your routine because they will allow you to target each muscle group with pinpoint accuracy.  If you want to exercise your triceps only, you can perform a cable pushdown and activate muscle fibers in the triceps muscles almost exclusively.  Since you will be using less weight than you would during compound exercises, you can perform more repetitions to improve muscular endurance.  Another benefit to isolation exercises is that they are generally easier to learn than compound moves because there is only movement at one joint.

Isolation exercises do have their flaws as well.  Since you can’t use as much weight on single joint exercises, it will be more difficult to gain strength and build muscle.  Isolation exercises also do not yield nearly the same calorie burn as their multi-joint counterparts.

How to seamlessly blend both types of exercises into your workouts

Now that you know the benefits and drawbacks of compound and isolation exercises, how do you apply this to help your workout?  While everyone has different goals, a good place to start is to organize your workouts so that you perform compound exercises first while you’re fresh.  You will be able to use more resistance with good form, which will lead to a higher calorie burn and promote muscle growth and strength.  After a few compound exercises, you can add some single-joint moves to finish off the workout. 


Isolation exercises follow simpler movement patterns, which are easier to do when you are tired, and you will be using less resistance which will allow you to reach failure on some sets.  This exercise ordering will help you achieve your fitness goals.