Getting PIN FIT – Multi-Joint Exercises vs. Single Joint Exercises

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(Last Updated On: July 15, 2014)

Whenever we talk about muscle building exercises, there are typically two types of activities; on one hand you have single joint movement and on the other you have multi-joint movement or compound movement. Both movements are very different from each other and in most cases, one is more beneficial than the other, can you guess which one?

Single joint movements are exercises like leg extensions and curls, bicep curls, calf raises, tricep extensions, etc. Multi joint or compound movements are exercises like presses, pull ups, rows, squats, etc.

There are a few ways to compare the two movements; the first thing to look at is the difficulty of the exercise. Next look at the resistance or amount of weight being used, and lastly the “work” being performed during the session. The reference to “work” is in relation to the amount of energy or force that is needed to transfer the weight being used.

Work – exertion or effort to produce or accomplish something

When performing a single joint movement, you’re simply isolating a specific muscle for exercise. This is the type of movement that focuses on just one particular body part or muscle and has very little, if any effect on others. This means that the movement being performed is completely focused on a specific that is in motion, i.e. – bicep curl, this focuses on movement around the elbow joint.

In comparison, we have compound movements, these will work more than one joint and/or muscle at a time; the majority of these exercises typically focus on a primary stressor but there are other muscles/joints that assist in stabilization or work or both.

A great example would be a standard bench press.  In this exercise the primary muscle being used would be the chest, but the triceps muscles play a role in stabilization and work, the same holds true for the shoulders and back during this exercise.

Below I’ve put together a couple of workouts based on single and multi-joint movements…

Single Joint Movements:
Front Shoulder Raises = 35lbs x 4sets x 15 reps x 1 foot of movement = 2,100 lbs of work
Bicep Curls = 55lbs x 5sets x 18reps x 2 feet of movement = 9,900 lbs of work
Shrugs = 200lbs x 4 sets x 8 reps x 0.25 feet of movement = 1,600 lbs of work
Calf Raises = 350lbs x 4sets x 15 reps x 0.50 feet of movement = 10,500 lbs of work

Multi Joint/Compound Movements:

Kettlebell Snatch = 65lbs x 5 sets x 5 reps x 7 feet of movement x 2 arms = 22,750 lbs of work
Pull Ups w/ Weight = 265lbs x 3 sets x 5 reps x 1.5 feet of movement = 5,963 lbs of work
Squats = 315lbs x 4 sets x 8 reps x 2 feet of movement = 20,160 lbs of work
Lunges = 135lbs x 5 sets x 6 reps x 8.5 feet of movement = 34,425 lbs of work

After comparing the two workouts, which one do you think requires more work?

  • Single Joint Movement Total Pounds of Work = 24,100 lbs
  • Multi Joint/Compound Movement Total Pounds of Work = 83,298 lbs

Let me be clear, there is still room for single jointed movement, but using multi-jointed movements for the majority of your workout would typically be more beneficial in the long run; overall, you’ll build more muscle, burn more calories, and increase your fat loss.

About DeLano Daniels

After many years in health and fitness and enduring some of life’s hardest trials, DeLano Daniels launched his own fitness company Pin Fit in 2012 to help motivate, inspire, and guide individuals who are wanting to change their lives. Not only is DeLano a certified personal trainer and nutritionist, but also a sponsored athlete, natural bodybuilder, writer, and college graduate. When DeLano isn’t training for shows, he can be found training individuals for special occasions, personal goals, fitness competitions, and most importantly better overall health and wellness. For questions regarding fitness, nutrition, or training, contact DeLano at or 832-775-3590.

Getting PIN FIT – Multi-Joint Exercises vs. Single Joint Exercises