Top 5 Compound And Isolation Exercises For Each Body Part

Compound vs. Isolation Exercises

Compound exercises are the meat and potatoes of muscle building. They work multiple muscle groups and are the most challenging and rewarding lifts. Compound exercises provide you with the most bang for your buck. They should always be performed first in your workout plan.

Isolation exercises work only a single muscle group at a time. In general they utilize a lighter weight, and don’t allow for as much progression as compound movements. Because isolation lifts are less taxing, they work better as finishing exercises, helping to work an already fatigued and taxed muscle.

Because the focus of compound exercises is to tax several muscle groups, you should not worry as much about feeling the muscles work when using them. Focus on proper form and progression of weight, and trust that this combination will build plenty of muscle. It will.

Isolation exercises allow you to feel a muscle working. They allow you to zero in on a mind-muscle connection, and a strong muscular contraction and pump. Make sure to keep proper form at all times. Sloppy isolation exercises with too much weight quickly turn into mild, less than effective compound lifts.

Top 5 Exercises By Muscle Group

Now that you have determined which training split you would like to use, it’s time to select exercises. Each list contains the top 5 choices for each category as well as a link to more options from the Muscle & Strength website.
Each top 5 listing is ranked in order of effectiveness and impact. Use the best possible exercise choices if and when you can.

Here are some tips to help you maximize your workouts:

  1. Don’t shy away from the most difficult exercises. They are your best tools.
  2. If you are unfamiliar with exercises such as squats and deadlifts, make sure you take time to research proper form.
  3. Resist the urge to add exercises to these workouts. Instead of adding volume, focus on progression of weight and remain patient. Results will come.

Abs Exercises – Isolation

  • Sit Ups Lying
  • Floor Raise
  • Floor Crunch
  • Side Bends
  • Plank

Back – Lat Exercises – Compound

  • Pull Ups
  • Lat Pull Downs
  • Chin Ups
  • Rope Lat Pull Down
  • Close Grip Lat Pull Down

Back – Upper Exercises – Compound

  • Barbell Rows
  • Dumbbell Rows
  • T-Bar Rows
  • Seated Cable Rows
  • Hammer Strength Rows

Biceps Exercises – Isolation

  • Barbell Curls
  • Dumbbell Curls – Seated or Standing
  • EZ Bar Preacher Curl
  • Hammer Curl
  • Concentration Curl

Calves Exercises – Isolation

  • Seated Calf Raises
  • Standing Machine Calf Raises
  • Leg Press Calf Raises
  • Standing One Leg Calf Raise With Dumbbell
  • Standing Calf Raises Holding Barbell

Chest Exercises – Compound

  • Bench Press
  • Incline Bench Press
  • Dumbbell Bench Press
  • Chest Dips
  • Hammer Strength Bench Press

Chest Exercises – Isolation

  • Dumbbell Flyes
  • Pec Dec
  • Cable Crossovers
  • Incline Bench Dumbbell Flyes
  • Decline Bench Dumbbell Flyes

Hamstring Exercises – Compound

  • Stiff Leg Deadlifts
  • Good Mornings
  • Reverse Hack Squat
  • Dumbbell Stiff Leg Deadlift
  • Smith Machine Stiff Leg Deadlift

Hamstring Exercises – Isolation

  • Seated Leg Curl
  • Standing Leg Curl
  • Single Leg Curl
  • Dumbbell Hamstring Curls
  • One Leg Lying Cable Hamstring Curl

Quad Exercises – Compound

  • Squats
  • Leg Press
  • Barbell or Dumbbell Lunges
  • Front Squats
  • Hack Squats

Quad Exercises – Isolation

  • Leg Extensions
  • Single Leg Extensions
  • Single Leg Leg Press
  • Dumbbell Step Ups
  • One Leg Dumbbell Squat

Shoulders Exercises – Compound

  • Military Press or Push Press
  • Seated Overhead Barbell Press
  • Seated Overhead Dumbbell Press
  • Arnold Dumbbell Press
  • Hammer Strength or Smith Machine Shoulder Press

Shoulders Exercises – Isolation

  • Dumbbell Lateral Raise
  • Bent Over Reverse Dumbbell Flye
  • Plate Front Raise
  • Seated Dumbbell Lateral
  • Reverse Pec Dec

Traps Exercises – All

  • Barbell Shrugs
  • Dumbbell Shrugs
  • Upright Rows
  • Smith Machine Upright Row
  • Behind The Back Barbell Shrug

Triceps Exercises – Compound

  • Close Grip Bench Press
  • Tricep Dips
  • French Press
  • Bench Dips
  • Smith Machine Close Grip Bench Press

Tricep Exercises – Isolation

  • Skullcrushers
  • Two Arm Seated Dumbbell Extensions
  • Cable Tricep Extensions
  • One Arm Standing Dumbbell Extensions
  • Cable Tricep Extension w/Rope

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Steve Shaw

Steve Shaw | Writer

Steve Shaw is the original founder of Muscle and Brawn, an experienced powerlifter with over 31 years experience pumping iron. During competition he’s recorded a 602.5lb squat, 672.5lb deadlift and a 382.5lb bench press.

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