Beginner Mistakes: Isolation and Compounds

Want 20 inch arms? How about a six pack? It's one of the main reasons people start going to the gym, however by focusing simply on these goals we might be taking a dangerous path.


People have been using the size of their arms and evidence of a six pack to show how physically fit they are for decades. Many people new to training have these goals in mind when they first enter the gym. Heck, there's a reason why the Shake Weight sold so well (people want nice arms)! However, often times these goals and the execution to get them gets convoluted.

The Problem

People think to get big arms you simply need to do an excessive amount of bicep curls. This leads beginners to come up with training programs that revolve around isolation movements to train one particular muscle. There are a few things wrong with this mindset.

First, most of us would agree that the triceps take up a large majority of your arm and also would require sufficient training.  Another issue with this is that it's not often you see relatively smaller frame people with extremely large arms (unless your name is Popeye). But perhaps the biggest issue is that they tend to give priority to these isolation movements over compound ones.

The Fix

Ok so you want big arms? Do yourself a favor and find a person who has your ideal set of arms or whatever other body part you'd ideally want (hey keep it clean, this is a family friendly blog!). Now after you get done identifying that body part, take a look at the rest of their physique. Chances are if they have big arms, they also have a big back, big chest and big legs.

The body does a great job at staying proportionate. If you want big arms your best bet to work on improving your overall physique. This is done through compounds!


Think of a sculptor carving a statue out of block of granite. Where are they likely to start? If you answered with getting a basic shape then you'd be correct. They always work on the largest items first before going back and fine tuning some of the more intricate details.

I urge you to prioritize your training in the same way. Focus on the big compound movements first to give your body the overall shape you'd like, and then go back in with isolation movements to finish things off.  Doing so will allow you to sculpt the body you want (and get the arms or abs of your dreams).

25 Comments+ Post Comment

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Posted Wed, 12/03/2014 - 11:09
Stess Morgan

Lol @ "unless your name is Popeye" This is really helpful, and a very clear way of explaining how important it is to take note on one's proportions. It takes out the fear of muscle building newbies such as myself. Anyway, I've been working out for a couple of months now and I wanna step it up a little. What are your thoughts on the smith machine?

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Posted Tue, 08/12/2014 - 23:55

Some good solid and knowledgeable advice and tips. Not currently in the gym but with this info, I can start off at home. Thanks Brandon.

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Posted Tue, 02/11/2014 - 10:30

Awesome Brandon! Hopefully you'll be writing more!

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Posted Wed, 11/20/2013 - 19:33
Jonathan Salazar

Question. On a 5 day workout split power excercise. are skull crushers ok to do? 3-5 reps power?

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Posted Sun, 09/08/2013 - 09:16

Thanks man. Very helpful for information you just shared with us! Your advise about work routine and the diet plan is superb. And those are really solid muscles!

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Posted Fri, 05/10/2013 - 02:23

Hi, i really need some help. i have been working out for almost 5 months now without any apparent results. My aim is to reduce my weight by 16 pounds, i am 5'8 and 172 pounds! and also have a good muscle form! Please can i be advised of a good workout routine and nutrition plan i will really appreciate it. Thank You

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Posted Thu, 05/02/2013 - 21:09

indeed!! great blog

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Posted Fri, 02/08/2013 - 12:53
Sarfraz Alam

Great Blog.... Keep going...

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Posted Fri, 02/01/2013 - 19:56
Rod L. Wilson

Great Job Brandon!

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Posted Fri, 02/01/2013 - 19:55
Rod L. Wilson

Great Job, Brandon!

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Posted Fri, 02/01/2013 - 09:06
Lee Culbreth

Great information Brandon. Keep the good stuff coming.

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Posted Thu, 01/31/2013 - 19:54

Good first blog Brandon, looking forward to further reads! (from youtube)

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Posted Thu, 01/31/2013 - 17:54
Tim Fletcher

Brandon, got right to the point. kept it intersesting from the start. look forward to many more. Smart choice for M&S...

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Posted Thu, 01/31/2013 - 15:30

Great video, good explanation. Not that I focused on the isolation movements before, but still good to know!

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Posted Thu, 01/31/2013 - 15:20

Well put Brandon!

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Posted Thu, 01/31/2013 - 15:17

Great explanation, my girl and i were just talking about this the other night and i've already forwarded this video for a better explanation of what i was trying to say... haha!

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Posted Thu, 01/31/2013 - 14:48

great video and blog !

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Posted Thu, 01/31/2013 - 14:05
William Hobson

Feels so strange to hear Brandon saying Train Hard as opposed to Stay Big. But anyway, great blog!!!

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Posted Thu, 01/31/2013 - 13:52

You can also follow updates to Brandon's Vlog on the forum:

Subscribe to the above thread to receive notifications.

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Posted Thu, 01/31/2013 - 13:32
John M.

Great post from BCD on focusing on the fundamentals in his usual easy to understand and straight to the point manner.

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Posted Thu, 01/31/2013 - 13:31
Jill Farrell

Thanks, Brandon. Looking forward to the next topic! :-)

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Posted Thu, 01/31/2013 - 13:24

Well said and well delivered. This is of major importance and should be a focus point of any weight room if its planet fitness or 24 hr or whatever. These places are in the business of making money by getting peolpe fit and keeping them fit but apart from providing massive amounts of seated bikes and stairmasters they do very little else for their patrons... how hard would it be to email information like this to your members - there's an idea for you. Contact these guys and colaborate on something like that where 'every 24hr member gets complimentary fitness instructions emailed to them completely free' where you are paid a flat fee by the gym. You have a very marketable no nonsence delivery that could work well with a main stream product (chain gyms). do it up.

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Posted Thu, 01/31/2013 - 13:15

Beautifully put, loved the sculptors analogy.

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Posted Thu, 01/31/2013 - 13:10
Chris L

Good first blog Brandon! -Blafily from youtube

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Posted Thu, 01/31/2013 - 13:07
Jordan Teraza

Solid solid solid