Compound Lifts vs. Isolation Lifts for Hypertrophy

Why Are Compound Lifts More Effective At Shaping Muscle Than Isolation Exercises? 

The great debate of compound lifts vs isolation lifts continues for decades as bodybuilding information has now entered the mainstream and is more visible than in previous generations. I myself have been guilty of dedicating hours a week to isolation lifts instead of focusing on compound lifts at some stages in my fitness journey.

What I would suggest to all of my readers is to become aware of the benefits of compound lifts so that you can work towards achieving progressive overload on all compound lifts and allow yourself to wiggle isolation lifts into your program by understanding their function.

First, I would like to present the main argument in this blog post and that is that compound lifts are more effective than isolation lifts for creating hypertrophy (Henselmans, 2017).  This is according to a study conducted by Mennho Henselman on his blog about this subject. What I would like to share with you regarding Henselman’s post is that each of these two lifts have different functions, one is primarily singular-joint whereas the other lift is multi-joint.

Compound lifts are the multi-joint lifts whereas isolation lifts are single-joint meaning that compound lifts strengthen more muscles than isolation lifts.

What Is a Compound Lift?

Compound lifts are multi-joint movements that aim at imitating every day actions which include walking and sitting down.

These are your big lifts that include bench press, squat , lunge and deadlift. While a compound lift is predominantly aimed at strengthening the entire posterior chain, it also has functional elements that can improve posture as well as entire lower body strength.

Other Benefits Include:

-Compound lifts burn more calories. (

-Save more time compared to isolation lifts in terms of work to results ratio. 

-Additionally can provide more strength gains compared to isolation lifts. 

What Is an Isolation Lift? 

Isolation lifts are the single-joint movements in your fitness program that include muscle-specific movements that do not necessarily provide any functional benefits outside of the muscle that it targets.

These lifts are your tricep kickbacks, bicep curls, etc. While these lifts can provide injury preventative benefits, they do not benefit your goal of progressive overload meaning that you cannot hit PR’s on them nor should you aim to as progression tends to be limited on these lifts.


-Develop a lagging body part

-Help with a particular injury

-Postural benefits

Finally, I wanted to address the myth that lifting weights is a dangerous thing to do.

The truth is that as long as you perform your lift, in correct shape (having been well-rested,eating well,drinking water) and using correct form, lifts are probably the only way of achieving your desire physique and can only be drivers towards strength gains.

The biggest take-away from this post is that  I want my readers to be empowered to attempt developing strength on compound lifts, to intelligently program isolation lifts into their programs and to develop a discourse of lifting weights as something safe.

Progressive overload is the main driver towards achieving that highly aesthetic and developed physique, and it requires strength gains on compound lifts like deadlifts and this means that lifting heavy simply cannot be feared, the minority that does think that these weights are dangerous probably have never even tried them. Do not be fooled and take it from these ladies whose fitness programs I have outlined, compound lifts are required for sexiness. 



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