Compound vs. Isolation Exercises. Weight lifting exercises are classified as either compound or isolation movements. The main difference between compound and isolation exercises is the number of muscle groups used to perform the movement.
Compound. A compound exercise is a multi-joint movement that requires using multiple muscle groups to perform the lift, thereby recruiting more muscle fibers. More muscle fibers recruited equals more weight that can be lifted, which is fundamental to making strength progress and building muscle.
Isolation. An isolation movement requires using only one muscle group to perform an exercise, thereby stimulating fewer muscle fibers. Isolation exercises do have a place, though. They can target specific muscles that are lagging or aren’t fully stimulated during compound movements (e.g. calves, forearms).
Focus on Compound Lifts. Compounds trump isolation movements for efficient strength gains, which makes it easier to gain muscle mass. Therefore, compound exercises should be the focus of your weight lifting routine. However, it is okay to perform some isolation exercises. But if the majority of your exercises are isolation lifts, you are cutting yourself shorter than Mini-Me.
Push vs. Pull Exercises. For every muscle group in the body, there is an opposing muscle group. One muscle group is used for push exercises and the other is used for pull movements.
Push Exercises. Any exercise that requires you to push to lift the weight. Push exercises typically target the muscle groups on the front of the body. Common examples include squats, leg press, bench press, push ups, military press, tricep extensions, and calf raises.
Pull Exercises. Any exercise that involves pulling to lift the weight. Pull exercises typically target the muscle groups on the back of the body (posterior chain). Some examples are deadlifts, cleans, rows, pull-ups, chin-ups, and bicep curls.
Maintain a Balanced Push-to-Pull Ratio. Use a roughly even number of push and pull exercises in your weight lifting routine to avoid a muscular imbalance. If anything, use slightly more pull movements because they work the muscles that are significantly underused because of the modern, sedentary lifestyle.