Are Single-Joint Exercises Really Worthless?

So i read this and wondered what peoples thoughts were on it? I know that when i add in curls and other such things my arms grow. But just wanted some thoughts on this from some smarter people than me.

I’ve read a handful of articles through the years that claim single-joint exercises are unnecessary, irrelevant, or even worthless. For a couple years, I believed them and stopped doing anything but compound exercises. While I didn’t lose all strength and mass, my results were dissimilar from the study cited in the article.

As an example, during that period, my biceps exercise came from rows (barbell, dumbbell, t-bar, and cable), pullups, and pulldowns. Despite doing lots of compound pulling exercises a couple times each week for those years, I couldn’t curl as much, I developed bad elbow tendonitis, and my biceps weren’t as large or full.

I went back to doing compound and single joint exercises. For biceps, I added merely three or four sets of curls a couple times a week, one high-rep day with cables or dumbbells and one lower-rep day with the EZ bar or barbell. After a few months, the tendonitis disappeared. I could also row heavier weights and do more in weighted pullups.

The same holds true for other small but important muscle groups, like the triceps, delts, and calves. I know some studies and subsequent articles claim single-joint exercises aren’t necessary, but my experience says the opposite.



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No, and the studies used to justify that position did not, at all, show that.

All they showed was that if you hit a specific muscle with enough compound movements, you can probably take it to its maximum potential hypertrophy stimulous within that session, at which point adding MORE single joint exercises doesn’t mean more hypertrophy from that session.

In effect all they demonstrated was that, under these circumstances, an upper limit to stimulation based on volume exists, so at a point more does not equal more.

A comparison that would actually look at the value of single joint exercises would have one group doing compounds, and another group doing single joint exercises INSTEAD. Not on top of.

Oh wait those studies have been done. Both methods result in hypertrophy. Sometimes the hypertrophy is statistically insignificant, sometimes compounds are’better’ (varies with different program designs) but in none of them are single joint movements worthless.

Looking at one study on a topic, when many studies exist, just because it gives you a cool title is shitty research review.


You know at some point another study will come out and contradicting this one. Reminds me of the one that suggested spot reduction might actually be possible. Love how people will jump on a single study to back their position.


My arms only get bigger when I train them directly.

This study obviously has a small n, but no variance in results; therefore I’m touting its significance to the entire field!

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“The addition of single-joint exercises to a resistance training program that already contains multi-joint exercises brings no additional benefit in terms of muscle performance and anthropometric changes in trained men”

I find this very hard to believe and it doesn’t reflect what I’ve seen occur in people, but I have no reason to doubt the results of this particular study.

“These results might help to design more time-efficient resistance training programs, since it suggests that trained men can save time not including single-joint exercises in their routines and still achieve optimal results.”

Change the word optimal to acceptable or decent and I agree completely.

Isolation exercises aren’t necessary for all people all of the time. They’re necessary to build maximum muscle size, as well as playing a role in avoiding strength-limiting weak points and improving joint health. But all in all, a “compound-only” routine can deliver decent results for most people looking to “stay in shape” if the program is well-designed.


Actually, this gels exactly with what I have found for myself. I never do curls or tricep single joint exercises anymore (like, 5+ years) and mine are stronger and more “complimented” than ever. I think curls and tricep isolation are a waste of time if you do: chins, dips, rows, bench, etc… I find absolutely no difference. That said, perhaps if you are an elite BB and at 3% BF, maybe every little minutiae matters. I don’t know.

Mostly bullshit. Single joint exercises are very good for correcting specific weaknesses and rehabbing injuries. They can also be used to work around injuries.

They shouldn’t generally take more space in training than compound movements, but they absolutely have their place.


Being tall and having long arms for me has always meant that I get a better response by adding in single joint exercises. Glad on the same page and most others.

Cheers for all the thoughts people.


Can you raise your biceps to your lips, kiss them and wink at the hot girl walking by with a squat, bench or deadlift?

“Worthless”, my ass.


On top of what @Pinkylifting said, which I agree 100%, single joint exercises are much less fatiguing than compound lifts which means that you can easily add more volume for a particular muscle group and recover more easily. For example, if your triceps need extra work and you add a few sets of dips and close grip bench that is going to cause a lot more systemic fatigue than say tricep pushdowns and skull crushers, and the actual difference in training effect on the triceps shouldn’t be drastically different.

Too much fatigue means that performance in subsequent training sessions can be negatively affected, which means that your workouts will be less effective in stimulating hypertrophy and strength gains, plus you will have to deload more often. Looking at the progress made over a short period of time is one thing, but over the course of years it can add up to a significant difference.


I’m in the minority here. I find that doing compound moves (barbell and bodyweight) prevents you from having specific weaknesses, and also keeps you from getting injured. When I used to do isolation work, that’s when I would have tweaky wrists, elbows, shoulders from what I now consider unnatural movements (purposefully isolating single joints).

That said, I’m doing the Waterbury Method for a change of pace from 531, and following it exactly as written. There are some curls and tricep isolation work and leg curls, which are things I usually never do. I’ll keep an open mind and see how it goes.

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TC gonna TC.

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If you overdo it then that can be an issue, and some people have issues with certain things like tricep extensions irritating elbows and that sort of thing.

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Yeah, I agree with you. This is a subject that I feel personally pretty strong about in terms of my own training/preferences, but not to the extent I’m trying to tell anyone they’re “wrong”.

I will say that most lunchtime gym-goers do the following:
30-40 minutes of a cardio machine (elliptical seems popular here)
15-20 minutes of isolation work, mostly on machines.
Result: look like you’ve never lifted or seen the inside of a gym in your life.

So, for most people, I think they can achieve all their goals by BB compound lifts, and bodyweight moves (pull ups, dips, inverted rows, box jumps, and sprints, to be specific). Those certainly give me all the results I need. Also, I feel like building yourself from this type of training gives you a move athletic, well-rounded look. IMO, those that do lots of isolation moves often have weird, unnatural looking physiques.

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I kind of gave up on isolation lifts for awhile to save time and became more efficient at the gym.

But eventually I decided to program them back in. It only takes an extra 5-10 minutes to throw in 3 sets of curls once a week or so, and I have definitely noticed a difference.


As a strongman, I enjoy when other strongman think this way.


My main lifts: Back Squat, Conventional Deadlift, OH Press, Bench Press, BB Row, Chin-Ups

My assistance: Front Squat, RDL, Good Morning, Lunges/Split Squat, GHR, CGBP, DB Pressing (all variations), Dips, DB Rows, T-Bar Rows, Push Ups, Curls, Band Pull Aparts, Direct Ab Work, Back Ext

Other shit I do - Snatches, C&J, Farmers Walk, Prowler, Log Press

Idk what counts as single joint besides curls (i find them super important for elbow health), but I can’t imagine needing anything else lol.

It depends what your goals are. “Most people” aren’t very ambitious, so what works for them is irrelevant to whether or not certain exercises are useful.