Over the past couple of months I have been experimenting with isolation exercises (specifically exercises for biceps, triceps, abdominals, shoulders, and calves) in my workouts and with some of my clients.
In the training world, we are still overwhelmed with the idea that the ultimate way to get a great body is to train for performance or train as an athlete. In fact, some people downright condemn the use of any isolation exercises.
While training for performance produces amazing weight loss and muscle building results, I have to acknowledge the fact that some people don’t care about improving performance. The only thing they care about is looking good, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Some people just want to look better in a swimsuit, in their everyday clothes, or when they are not wearing anything at all. Some people don’t care about squatting twice their bodyweight or benching 225 pounds for as many repetitions as possible.
With that said, here is the main point: there is a time and a place for isolation exercises. But, and this is a huge but: you have to earn your isolation exercises.
What that means is that your workouts should still focus on the exercises that will give you the greatest benefit overall, such as squats, deadlifts, lunges, push-ups, dips, rows, overhead press, pull-ups, and all of their variations. Those exercises always have and always will give you the greatest results whether you want to get leaner, get stronger, or gain more muscle.
If you want to improve the appearance of your shoulders (like I currently do), then you should focus on push-ups, overhead presses, clean and presses, and other compound pressing exercises. Only after you have worked hard at those big lifts, then you can start to throw in a few sets of lateral raises. Shoulder isolation exercises won’t have nearly the same effect by themselves as they would when you perform compound pressing exercises as well. Remember, you have to earn those isolation exercises.
The same thing can be said if you are trying to improve your arms. You will get more results by performing chin-ups and parallel bar dips with your own bodyweight, and also doing other pressing and row exercises. After you work hard and improve your performance with those exercises, then you can start doing curls and triceps extensions.
Do you earn your isolation exercises? Far too many people only do isolation exercises like curls, kick-backs, leg extensions, leg curls, pec flys, and lateral raises, and then they get frustrated when they don’t get any results. Don’t make that mistake. Focus on the big lifts, and then throw in some isolation exercises to bring up lagging body parts.
Isolation exercises are not only beneficial for aesthetic purposes, but they can also help you increase your strength on certain lifts. Whenever you perform certain lifts, your body isn’t concerned with working a certain muscle group. It just wants to lift the weight up and keep you from getting injured or crushed!
Because of this fact, your strongest muscle group will be doing the majority of the work. For example, some people use mostly their chest and anterior shoulder muscles when they bench press, and therefore their triceps could be the “weak link” in that exercise. If they want to increase the amount of weight they can bench press, then they could benefit from direct triceps work.