T Nation

Compounds vs Composite Isolations


Say its back/bi day, and you just finished your "money" set with some sort of row. For the next exercise, what would be the physiological differences in the body between doing say 3x8 of chin ups vs 3x8 or lat pulldowns and 3x8 of BB curls? What differences in terms of strength development, hypertrophy, metabolic demand etc would a trainee expect to see? Would there even be a noticeable difference? This is out of curiosity more than anything


Speak English please


is that seriously difficult to understand?

I'm just wondering the what differences doing a set of a compound exercise will have on the body vs. doing two isolation movements that effectively make up that compound movement, if there even is a noticeable difference.

Say 3x8 bench vs 3x8 tricep extensions and 3x8 flyes.


No, I understood the question. I actually do something very similar.

See, I like to split my quads into 4 separate days. It allows me to focus more on each section of my front thigh. Mondays, after a brief warm up on the stationary bicycle I train my Rectus Femoris. Later on this day I also workout the medial head of my tricep (but thats for another post, they're both pushing muscles... you get the point).

On Tuesday, I train my Vastus Lateralis and then do about 20 mins of low intensity cardio (I don't want to burn any valuable leg muscle). I take Wednesday's off because I don't want to overtrain, I can't afford the down time. Thursday's, Im back in the gym FRESH... like a new man. Man, do I really pound on my Vastus Intermedius'. I usually get such a good workout in here. Friday I train my Vastus Medialis and keep the intensity HIGH. I've noticed that they respond really well to 75% of my 1rm.

I really prefer this training split to what the other guys are doing. So what they're bigger and stronger than me. Why waste my time and Squat with heavy weight to stimulate my entire thigh in one compound movement that will overload the muscle with much more stimulus than any isolation exercise can provide?

Besides, I like being able to not make significant strength progress, to constantly add progressive stimulus to the muscle on these smaller exercises... I don't want to get all big and strong anyways.

My .02


Oh you are just the worst type of person...

...I see what you did there.


point taken hahaha

I didn't mean to say isolations were better, or that I wanted to change my program around, I was just curious if there might be any situations where the two isolations would be used over the corresponding compound movement.


Yeah. lol. IMO, heavier compound exercises allow for a much greater load on the muscle. This creates a bigger stimuli and should in turn create a bigger response. Also, more progress can be had on these heavier movements compared to smaller iso-exercises. You can add 100lbs to your bench in a year, but you're not going to be able to do that to your flies.

I view weightlifting as all about progress. As long as you can progress in some way, your on the right path. Eventually, progress will stall everywhere, given enough time. However, you can count on that happening alot sooner with the weaker exercises.


or just do chin ups, lat pulldowns and BB curls...just a thought


I think there is a time and place for everything. Here's a few ideas:

Compound (Squat)
Superset isolations/small compound (Leg curl, leg press)
Compound (Squat)


Compound (Squat)
Lighter compound (Leg press)
Isolation (Leg extension)


Isolation (Leg extension)
Compound (Squat)
Lighter compound (Leg press)
Lightest compound (Bulgarian Split Squat)


HSS-100 style (not too sure about how this one goes, never tried)

Heavy movement (squat)
Superset (lunges, leg extension)
Special technique (Sissy squat)

I mean, there are a lot of variations that work, and ultimately you can probably benefit from most of them. Experiment.


the point wasn't to design a program, I was just wondering about the physiological differences between the two options.

elusive- thats the kind of thing I was looking for. Makes sense, especially regarding progression of compounds vs isos.

I was never really questioning whether I should be using compounds or isolations primarily- I know generally compounds are superior, especially for strength, I was just kinda bouncing ideas around. Thanks for clearing it up though


I also wasn't trying to suggest that isolation exercises aren't useful and don't have a place. I just feel, for larger muscle groups the main exercises should be heavier compound movements. Iso's can be added for additional help, of course. However, I don't think that was your original question.


You have made my day!!!!!!!!!


You can try my split if you'd like. I won't mind.


Well, your orignal examples were a little confusing, as lat pulldowns are not an isolation exercise, they're a compound exercise, just like chin-ups.

In general isolation exercises will have a more focused affect. In your original example, curls will build the biceps better than chin-ups.

What's the goal?

Generally you want at least one exercise specifically geared towards building each muscle group. But you also want exercises that allow for a good strength progression.

So, I'd probably do 1-2 exercises for chest (maybe incline DB bench and flyes/pec deck) and 1-2 exercises for triceps (maybe Reverse grip smith bench and PJR pull-overs) if I were doing a chest/triceps day. The first exercise is the high strength potential exercise and the second one is the "pump" exercise, or the one to hit a part of the muscle that wasn't hit by the first exercise).


I really don't want to get big and strong either. I think if u split your quads into 5 days, You might see better results in less str and less gains. Doing squats is just crazy...Why share one muscle group with the other when training Quads, when u can just work them all at different times to get the full benefit of each muscle.