Many people would tell you that isolation exercises have no place in a real weightlifting program, however, they are totally wrong! Most exercises have their place in exercise programs, it just depends on what your end goal is which determines how much you use each type of exercise.
The first thing to understand is that every exercise has a primary muscle/joint that is the star of that particular exercise and will take the brunt of the weight (if not all of it) and there are often, other muscles involved in the exercise as well, however not all of the time. This is what happens while doing isolation exercises. The exercise is focused on one main muscle at a time, instead of grouping in a few muscles.
This means exercises like compound movements that recruit more than one muscle at a time, some as a primary and some as a secondary muscle can create imbalances in the growth and progression of the various muscles involved, especially those in the secondary positions.
For example, if all you did in your workouts for training your legs was squats, you’d more than likely develop an imbalance between the strength and the size of your quads and your hamstrings as the quads would always be taking the brunt of the weight and would therefore get bigger and stronger much quicker than the hamstrings not taking so much of the overall weight. If you didn’t address this issue, over time, you would increase the risk of injuries due to the lack of strength in the secondary muscle groups not being able to keep up with the primary muscles lifting heavier and heavier weight.
One main benefit of doing isolation exercises is they allow you to better control each muscle group as individuals. For example, if like many of us, you have one arm stronger than the other, by doing isolation exercises, you can ensure the weaker arm catches up to your stronger arm by focussing more on the weaker muscle before moving on to heavier weights. To do this, you might for example, start the set with your weaker arm (on the same weight) and see how many you can do with that arm before moving on to your stronger arm. Say you could do 8 reps with your weaker arm, match the same reps and weight with your stronger arm until the weaker one has caught up. This will stop any imbalances in your muscles and reduce the risk of injury.
When doing isolation exercises, you will be using much lighter weights than you would doing compound exercises as there is only one main muscle being used at a time. To begin with, this will mean that because a lighter weight is being used, you will need to do more sets to see the same progress, however, as the weights get heavier over time, the total sets must come down to prevent over working the muscles.
A well-designed weightlifting routine should include both compound and isolation exercises to target individual muscles and groups of muscles alike. The compound exercises are the foundation to weightlifting as they’re used to directly train and overload your major muscle groups which will help you gain overall size and strength and isolation exercises are also included to further develop the specific muscle groups that won’t be sufficiently trained by the compound exercises but that will contribute greatly to your overall appearance and strength.
We hope this article has been helpful to you in the planning of your new workout routine.
The Fitness Focus Team.
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