Today I want to talk about isolation exercises, and also cover some of the pros & cons that come with incorporating them into your training program.
Before we begin, let’s start by defining what this term actually means. In a nut shell, an isolation exercise is any movement where you’re isolating & targeting an individual body part. A dumbbell curl is an example of an isolation movement since you are specifically targeting the bicep. On the flip side, a bent over row would be an example of a “compound exercise” since you are incorporating multiple muscle groups to perform the movement. (Lats, traps, biceps, rear delts, etc..)
Now, let me preface this post by saying there’s nothing inherently bad with incorporating isolation movements into your training. The problem usually stems from OVERUSE of these exercise in replacement of ones that will reap you the most benefit.
If you’re someone who is relatively new to working out, you would be WAYYY better off focusing on improving your form & progressing in strength on all your multi-muscular exercises. I can assure you that 20 sets of bicep curls or lateral raises will not do NEARLY as much for your overall physique as getting under the bar and doing a few sets of good quality squats.
However with all that being said, there IS a time and a place to incorporate isolation exercises into your training. Here are three ways you can start using these exercises for better gains in both your muscle, as well as your overall strength:
STRENGTHENING THE CONNECTION TO UNDER-ACTIVE MUSCLES
If you’re someone who has a difficult time getting their glutes to fire properly on a squat or deadlift, then you would definitely benefit from incorporating exercises that specifically target that muscle prior to performing those lifts. Waking your glutes up with some floor bridges, or even utilizing resistance bands to get the muscles firing can really help you start to engage your glutes on some of your heavier exercises.
STRENGTHENING WEAK MUSCLE GROUPS TO HELP MOVE MORE WEIGHT ON YOUR COMPOUND EXERCISES
Using the example of a deadlift, assume you’re having a difficult time with the first half of the movement, but have no problem pulling it once you cross your knees. It’s very possible this could be happening due to hamstrings that are not as strong or developed as your back. While I still think you’re going to see much more hamstring development from simply continuing to deadlift, incorporating more frequent hamstring curls & other hamstring isolation movements will definitely help to benefit your overall deadlift strength. Isolation movements are also a little less taxing on your body so you’d probably be able to get away with incorporating them more frequently into your routine.
BUILDING UP AND SCULPTING LAGGING BODY PARTS
This final benefit is strictly aesthetic based, but I would say it’s one that most people care about at least to some degree. As a Men’s Physique competitor, it’s very important to me that I maintain a well-balanced & symmetrical shape. We are judged entirely on how proportionate each muscle group is with the ones around it. With that being said, it’s important to me that I keep up on muscle groups that may being falling behind on their development. While I understand a rear-delt cable pull isn’t going to reap me a whole a lot of benefit, I still may incorporate them in an attempt to bring a better overall shape to my shoulders. As a competitor, it’s a constant process of assessing my physique, taking note of individual muscles that need to be brought up, and implementing exercises with the sole purpose of targeting that area.
I want to end by saying there is a time and a place to incorporate isolation movements into your program, however they should ALWAYS be supplementary to your heavier, compound movements. I can promise you will see a tremendous amount of strength & muscle gains by prioritizing movements that incorporate multiple muscle groups. Squats, deadlifts, lunges, pressing variations, row variations, dips, & pull-ups should all be staple movements in your exercise program. Stick to these as your main exercises, but don’t be afraid to implement some isolation movements to help compliment those movements and perform them more efficiently.