Torre Washington, shirtless and wearing white shorts displays his ripped physique.
Torre Washington

Compound or isolation: what builds muscle better?

Torre Washington

Building muscle requires consistency and repetition, but that doesn’t mean you can’t mix up your training. I’ve introduced more compound movements, as well as cable isolation exercises, into my newest Centr workouts to not only give you fresh challenges, but help get you to your goal faster.

A compound exercise is a multi-joint movement that works several muscles at one time – like a squat, which moves both your hip and knee joints and engages your core, glutes, quads, hamstrings and calf muscles. Isolation exercises target one specific muscle group – like a barbell curl working your biceps.

There’s a lot of debate about which is best for muscle building, but here’s why you need both in your training.

Torre Washington demonstrating a barbell back squat.

Compound: The foundation of your power

If you’re a beginner, compound exercises help you build your foundation quicker by giving you more for the time and effort you put in. They help you lift heavier loads and build more strength overall. Let's talk benefits:

1. They'll save you time.
Think about exercises like squats, clean and press, push-ups, and pull-ups – you could incorporate just two of those exercises into a workout, do 10-12 reps in five sets, and have a great full-body workout because you're utilizing the multiple joint movements. To hit all of those muscle groups one by one would take much longer.

2. They're super effective.
The more muscles you engage, the more testosterone your body releases. More testosterone means you’re capable of more muscle growth. Think of a squat, where you’re balancing the barbell on your traps. You’re using your torso and core and you're engaging your shoulders, legs, glutes and stabilizer muscles to balance that weight as you bring it down and up. So that compound movement increases your growth factor, allowing your body to really build up power and strength.

3. They'll increase your functional fitness.
You’re doing compound movements every day: reaching up to get something off the top shelf, squatting down to pat your dog. Adding functional exercises to your training will help you move easier through life. Plus, getting all-over strong will help you lift more weight in isolation.

Torre Washington demonstrating an isolation exercise using a cable machine.

Isolation: Your muscle-building accomplice

Isolation exercises still have an important part to play in a well-balanced muscle-building regimen. That’s why I’ve added cable machine moves into my newest workouts to help you target specific areas – and make use of that fancy gym equipment. So, why should you do isolation exercises as well?

1. They help target spots you might have missed.
Some muscles need isolated exercises. For example, the bicep is used in a lot of pulling movements – think rows and pull-ups – but as a secondary or supporting muscle rather than the primary one. There isn't a compound exercise that can really target the bicep on its own.

2. They'll keep you active all over.
If injury strikes or your muscles need time to recover from a tough workout, isolation exercises allow you to work on individual muscles while avoiding those that are overworked or injured.

3. They're perfect for fixing imbalances.
We’ve all got one – whether it’s biceps that won’t bulge or pecs that won’t grow. Isolation training lets you zero in on a muscle and bring it up to speed. In my new workouts, cables help to connect the mind with that muscle, so you can sharpen and fine-tune.

Our muscle-building program will help you reach your fitness goals, featuring different Torre Washington workouts each week, expert advice and a specialized meal plan.

Torre Washington

Vegan bodybuilder Torre Washington is a championship-winning IFBB Pro and NASM Certified Coach in physique. Having followed his dream of sculpting a body like the comic book superheroes he grew up idolizing, Torre is our resident muscle-building expert, offering tutorials, full-gym workouts and at-home alternatives to ensure you don’t miss a muscle.

Torre Washington
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