Being strong is an asset. Both men and women who participate in consistent resistance training and strength development are probably a lot more likely to be lean, healthy, and optimally functional at every stage of their life.
The typical prescription for strength development is through compound movements, which essentially are movements that require the use of multiple muscles and joints at once. These are more “functional” and tend to mimic natural movement patterns that we perform every day in sport and daily life (think: pushing, pulling, squatting, jumping, etc.).
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Isolation movements, on the other hand, are specific lifting patterns that utilize only one major muscle group. You may also know them as “bro reps.” Isolation movements are popular among bodybuilders, but they’re not just for big beefy guys. Guys and girls of all fitness proclivities can potentially find some use in isolation exercises–provided you do them correctly.
Why Isolation Exercises Are Beneficial–Sometimes
Perhaps the most significant benefit of isolation movements is that it allows you to target motor activation within one specific muscle. This can be helpful if you’re trying to strengthen a specific area, perhaps weakened as an after effect of an old injury.
Isolation movements can also help enhance muscle growth (called hypertrophy). Additionally, performing isolation exercises of small stabilizing muscles–especially those in the shoulder cuff and hip–can increase joint stability and reduce the risk of injury.
In effect, they’re great for tweaking your physical appearance and strength and may help you maintain greater joint mobility and stability. However, in comparison to compound movements, they’re certainly not as effective for all the other important reasons we lift weights, including:
- Release of human growth hormones and other anabolic hormones
- Improved muscle fiber activation
- Calorie burning and reduction in body fat
- Increased metabolic efficiency
- Overall improved strength development in the musculoskeletal system
In short, definitely feel free to add in some isolation movements during your workout, but don’t make them the focus of your training. To prevent over-fatigue of smaller muscle groups and/or injury, it’s best to do your isolation movements only after you’ve completed your compound movements first (this also allows you to put more energy into your classic lifts, maximizing the beneficial effects of the compound movements).
Some classic ones to try include:
- Bicep curls
- Tricep kickbacks
- Pec flys (dumbbell chest flys)
- Hamstring curls
- Quad extensions
For a smart and safe way to work these into your workout session, perform an isolation movement that relates to whatever major lift you performed earlier in your session. For instance, if it’s deadlift day, then finish your workout with 3 sets of 15 hamstring curls. If you’ve bench pressed, try adding a few triceps kickbacks. And since you never skip leg day (you don’t, right?!), try doing some quad extensions after finishing up your squats and lunges.
Got any favorite isolation movements of your own? Let us know about it in the comments below!