The task of selecting the best muscle building exercises is simply summed up by many as ‘choose the exercises which allow you to lift the heaviest weights’. This may make sense, and it is true in part, but there’s a massive piece of the puzzle missing here which will be explained in this article to hopefully talk you out of taking an inferior path in your training. It’s important you understand the importance of the 2 main categories of exercise and how and when to exploit them – or you won’t get anywhere near as big and strong as you could.
Category 1: Compound exercises
Usually praised as the ‘best’ type of muscle building exercise, ‘compounds’ incorporate more than one muscle group into the lift. Therefore, a compound movement such as the bench press which heavily involves the triceps, deltoids and pectorals (and many more muscle groups) allows you to handle far more weight than would triceps extensions, deltoid raises or chest flys. This is because you are getting the benefits of the combined strength output of all these muscle groups.
Compound exercises work the body as a system which tends to make compound exercises more effective for overall strength and muscle gains. However, one has to remember that the load is effectively being shared between each of these muscle groups to varying degrees – a fact many people overlook entirely.
And therein is the big problem with compound exercises… you really don’t know how much of the current potential of each muscle group you’re truly using because you’re always limited by the weakest muscle group involved in the lift. Some muscle groups may be capable of far more weight but are in fact being held back due to a weak muscle group – a runt in the litter!
In fact, one simple slogan which you absolutely must subscribe to (because it’s absolutely true) is ‘you’re only as strong as your weakest link’.
With compound exercises, you have limited ways of targeting the weaker muscle groups holding your overall lift back, so you have to think beyond compound exercises and break your training up into more precisely targeted exercises, which brings us to…
Category 2: Isolation exercises
The antithesis of compound exercises is isolation (not to be confused with isometric!), which involve one primary muscle group to effect movement. Isolation exercises are best used to fill in the gaps the compound exercises can’t. You can use them to directly target weak muscle groups for strength purposes, to improve your compound lifts, or purely for aesthetic purposes. They really are invaluable and don’t let anybody kid you otherwise.
An ideal bodybuilding/strength program will make the very best use of both of these exercise categories. It is an absolute fact that the very strongest and biggest people in the world did not get where they are by either banging away strictly with compound or isolation exercises but by smartly using a mixture of both. I strongly suggest you do the same.