Compound vs Simple Exercises

Muscle Building Myths: Compound Versus Simple Exercises

Myth: Compound exercises are for building mass and simple exercises are for “shaping” muscles.

Truth: All exercises – both compound and simple – do the same thing; they stimulate muscles to grow larger and stronger. While it is possible to alter your overall body shape by focusing on building certain muscle groups more than others it is not possible to alter the general shape of a muscle or muscle group, only its size.

It is often claimed that compound exercises are more effective mass builders because they allow you to lift more weight relative to simple exercises targeting the same muscle groups. However, the amount of weight you lift during an exercise is irrelevant, what matters is the resistance each of the involved muscles work against and the tension you are able to create in them. You are able to lift more weight during compound exercises because the work is shared by multiple muscle groups and the leverages are often more favorable, but you are not working those muscle groups harder than you would during simple exercises.

Compound vs Simple Exercises

You can actually work the individual muscle groups harder with simple exercises because it is possible to perform them in a way that maintains more consistent tension on them over the full range of the exercise. Also, some muscle groups like those in the neck and forearms and the calves can only be effectively trained with simple exercises.

Another popular claim is that compound exercises are more effective mass builders because they stimulate greater increases in testosterone and growth hormone. This is not true either, though. Numerous studies show post-exercise increases in anabolic hormones do not have a significant effect on muscular strength and size.

While compound exercises are not more effective than simple exercises for increasing muscle mass the ability to effectively work multiple muscle groups simultaneously does provide several advantages. Workouts built around compound exercises are more time efficient making them a better choice for busy people who want to get in and out of the gym as quickly as possible. Compound exercises are more systemically demanding making them more effective for stimulating improvements in cardiovascular fitness. Most compound exercises are easier to learn and master than most simple exercises, making them better choices for beginners.

While simple exercises can not change the shape of a muscle they also provide several advantages. They are an effective way to target specific muscle groups to balance out your physique. With the right equipment some simple exercises can also be used to work around injuries that prevent you from safely performing compound exercises. Simple exercises.

Whether your goal is to develop an aesthetically well-balanced physique or just become as big and strong as possible you can do it with both compound and simple exercises.


Gentil, P., Soares, S., & Bottaro, M. (2015). Single vs. Multi-Joint Resistance Exercises: Effects on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy. Asian Journal Of Sports Medicine, 6(1). doi:10.5812/asjsm.24057

Morton, R., Oikawa, S., Wavell, C., Mazara, N., McGlory, C., & Quadrilatero, J. et al. (2016). Neither load nor systemic hormones determine resistance training-mediated hypertrophy or strength gains in resistance-trained young men. Journal Of Applied Physiology, 121(1), 129-138. doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.00154.2016

West, D., Burd, N., Tang, J., Moore, D., Staples, A., & Holwerda, A. et al. (2009). Elevations in ostensibly anabolic hormones with resistance exercise enhance neither training-induced muscle hypertrophy nor strength of the elbow flexors. Journal Of Applied Physiology, 108(1), 60-67. doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.01147.2009

West, D., Kujbida, G., Moore, D., Atherton, P., Burd, N., & Padzik, J. et al. (2009). Resistance exercise-induced increases in putative anabolic hormones do not enhance muscle protein synthesis or intracellular signalling in young men. The Journal Of Physiology, 587(21), 5239-5247. doi:10.1113/jphysiol.2009.177220

Yarasheski, K., Zachweija, J., Angelopoulos, T., & Bier, D. (1993). Short-term growth hormone treatment does not increase muscle protein synthesis in experienced weight lifters. Journal Of Applied Physiology, 74(6), 3073-3076.

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