If you ask the typical guy who goes to the gym on what types of exercises he does, he’ll probably list off a bunch of isolation exercises, such as the bicep curl, because he thinks that’s the best way to build muscle and strength. This false pretense that I’ve come to discover over the years is why people, including myself, have become injured, develop muscular imbalances (learn more here), and fall short of truly growing stronger. I’m not saying completely eliminate isolation exercises, but do them in moderation in conjunction with compound exercises making up the majority of your workout routine.
For those of you who don’t know, a compound exercise is an exercise that uses “multi-joint movements that work several muscles or muscle groups at one time” (Quinn). One great example of a compound exercise is the squat. The squat is one of the best compound exercises because it’s not only a functional natural movement for everyday life, but also works practically the whole body from head to toe. This is why you predominantly see all athletes incorporate the squat and other compound exercises in their training program because it is the best way to build strength that can best replicate what they will have to do in their sport. This can’t happen from isolation exercises.
Even Arnold did squats! (Photo Credit)
As stated earlier, many people spend a lot of time and effort on isolation exercises because they want to build big, sexy muscles. This, no doubt, can certainly happen, but the way most people approach doing them is wrong. It is very common for many people to get in love with one or a few isolation exercises, such as the the glorified bicep curl, because they want those big guns (who doesn’t?). What the average person doesn’t realize, however, is that when you constantly do a bicep curl in absence of compound movements or exercises you develop faulty neuromuscular recruitment patterns that inhibit your body to be able to function properly.
For example, if you consistently do a leg extension that completely isolates your quads, overtime, your body will come accustomed to that particular way of muscle activation. As a result, if you perform a squat (a compound exercise) your body will compensate your ability to do the movement by overusing your quads that may result in injury (Elliott Hulse).I know this is true because I used to do them all the time and then when I started to play football I dislocated my knee (Ouch!). Dr. Mark Cheng also explains that your body doesn’t recognize this faulty recruitment pattern and instead seeks ways for the body to remain in homeostasis or balance (Mark Cheng).
This is why I think everyone should let compound exercises be the focal point of their workouts. They not only support proper posture, functionality, and integrity of your musculoskeletal system (which helps prevent injury), but they truly allow you to build true strength and muscle mass at the same time. Tony Schober, a personal trainer and fellow blogger, says that compound exercises are able to deplete glycogen stores in various muscles allowing for increased insulin sensitivity that support muscle growth (Coach Calorie). This fact is what allows your body to develop more muscle mass than from isolation exercises. If you don’t believe, go take a look at any strongman. They’re huge!
Although I make compound exercises the centerpiece of my workout routine, it is ultimately everyone’s choice and right to do what they want to do. I just think think compound exercises are awesome and that’s why I do them. Feel free to leave a comment and tell me what you do.