Hardcore muscle heads and bodybuilders will tell you that you have to perform compound exercises in order to maximize your muscle stimulation. While this is true, isolation exercises are a must for anyone seeking optimal growth.
First off, a quick explanation of what each type of exercise is.
A compound exercise is a multi-joint exercise that works multiple muscles or muscle groups at the same time. Some of the best compound exercises are the squat, lunges, deadlift, barbell rows, bench press, shoulder/military press, and pull-ups or chin-ups. These movements should leave you exhausted and primed for mass growth.
So where a compound exercise is a multiple joint exercise, the isolation exercise focuses on a specific muscle without the assistance of other muscle groups. These include but are not limited to bicep curls, tricep kickbacks, leg extensions, leg curls, calf raises as well as lateral, front, and side raises. Generally an isolation movement uses on joint or muscle.
Benefits of Compound Exercises
Compound exercises are true mass building movements that stimulate much of the body through the wider range of the movement. They are great because you can lift heavier weights which in turn stimulate more muscle fibers from more muscle groups all at once. Benefits of compound movements include: stimulate more muscle fibers, cause a greater release of anabolic hormones which leads to more growth, burn more calories, simulate actual body movements, stability and balance improves, cardiovascular benefits.
Benefits of Isolation Exercises
Isolation exercises work exactly as the name implies, they will isolate a specific muscle group or target a muscle directly more than a compound exercise can. While they only work one muscle or joint they are functional in order to stimulate that muscle in a specific body part and are a necessary compliment to your compound joint movements. Some muscles, such as the biceps, simply cannot be worked as well as an isolation movement does. Yes, back movements will involve the biceps, but in terms of function nothing targets biceps specifically as well as a bicep curl. Another use for isolation exercises is to pre-exhaust a targeted muscle before performing a compound muscle movement.
The best exercise program is one that involves all the major compound exercises and is enhanced with isolation movements. The exhausting compound exercises should be performed first, in the 6-8 rep range, before moving onto an isolation exercise
On days that I train legs, as en example, I use the Squat compound movement with good form for 8 reps, 2-3 intense sets, before moving onto leg presses and then the isolation movement of leg extensions, leg curls and calf raises. Back workouts always are centered around the multi-joint deadlifts, barbell rows and pull-ups or chin-ups followed by lat pulldowns and seated cable rows. The bench press, flat and incline, make up the basis of a chest routine and can be complimented by fly movements.
This gives you an idea of how to incorporate both compound and isolation exercises into your weight training program. Remember that the multiple muscle movements should be done heavier and with good form at the start of your program when you have the most energy to maximize these lifts. Compliment those exercises by focusing on a single joint movement afterwards but remember that you must utilize compound exercises as the core of you muscle building program.