Compound Vs Isolation Exercises

There are a lot of misconceptions between multi joint (MJ) and single joint (SJ) exercises. Often people swear by one or the other. Others believe compound exercises don’t stimulate enough muscle growth and or strength. Let’s break this down and see where the truth lies.

What do they mean?
● Essentially, compound exercises are multi-joint exercises i.e. moving multiple joints. Examples of these exercises include: Squat, Deadlift, Lunge, Bench press, Dips, Push-ups, Pull-ups and bent over rows.
● Isolation exercises are exercises that target a single joint. Thus, only one joint is moving. Examples of these exercises include: bicep curls, tricep extension, leg extension, leg curls, lateral raises, calf raises


Studies have been conducted to compare the two modalities of exercises and investigate which creates an increase in muscle torque and hypertrophy size. One study found that both MJ and SJ exercises were both equally effective in increasing upper body strength and muscle size. It must be noted this study only looked at the upper body. Another study found that MJ exercise showed a greater increase in muscular strength in lower limb vs SJ muscles. As for hypertrophy (the size of the muscle), the evidence is mixed. However, it is a possibility that SJ exercises can build more muscle mass size vs MJ.

Weight loss

MJ exercises work more muscles, thus sets and reps will burn more calories compared to SJ. If you’re looking to lose weight, MJ exercises plus a health-balanced diet will help you achieve those goals.

Cardiovascular fitness

Simply put, compound exercises are more demanding and require more cardiovascular function. This was supported by a study that showed peak VO2 max significantly higher in MH vs SJ. As MJ exercises are more cardiovascularly demanding, this exercise will subsequently cause more fatigue to the muscles. Delay onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is much more likely.

What does this all mean?

Simply, you can incorporate both. However, the evidence shows that MJ exercises have more benefits than SJ. If you’re limited on time, do a lot of strength training and don’t want to add weight – MJ will most likely be your best friend. If you’re new to the gym, it is imperative that you learn the MJ exercises properly and with good technique.

SJ exercises have their own benefits and are commonly prescribed by allied health practitioners for rehabilitation. SJ exercises do have a place and if you want to maximise hypertrophy, SJ exercise can help you.

We hope this sheds some light and what you should and shouldn’t put in your program. Why not include both. They both have many benefits. If you need help to maximise performance, require a periodised strength program or anything else come on down and book an appointment with one of our lovely Physiotherapists.

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Read more….

To learn more about whether you can over train or not check out our blog HERE
To learn more about what is mind to body connection check out our blog HERE
To learn more about plyometric training, check out our blog HERE

Gentil, P., Soares, S., & Bottaro, M. (2015). Single vs. Multi-Joint Resistance Exercises: Effects on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy. Asian journal of sports medicine, 6(2), e24057. https://doi.org/10.5812/asjsm.24057
Paoli, A., Gentil, P., Moro, T., Marcolin, G., & Bianco, A. (2017). Resistance Training with Single vs. Multi-joint Exercises at Equal Total Load Volume: Effects on Body Composition, Cardiorespiratory Fitness, and Muscle Strength. Frontiers in physiology, 8, 1105. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2017.01105

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