isolation exercises: which is better? The truth is that neither
one is "better;" each are different tools in your workout
arsenal, suited to different tasks. However, isolation exercises
are often used too early and too often-especially by beginners.
exercise requires two or more different joints to move. For example,
when you do a squat, your ankles, knees, and hip joints bend-if
you're doing it right. With an isolation exercise, only one joint
moves at a time-as with bicep curls, for example. Even if you
do the exercise with both arms, you're still only bending the
same type of joint-so it's still an isolation movement.
Are you getting
as much from your workouts as you could be? Here are a few facts
about compound and isolation exercises that will help you determine
where and when it's appropriate to use each one.
exercises build muscle more efficiently. In nature, we never
really use just one muscle. We use many when we're performing
strenuous tasks. Think about how many joints bend when you're
moving boxes into your new house, for example. Then think about
how many times you've performed a movement equivalent to a calf
isolation exercise in life-it's pretty likely you'll say "never."
natural for our bodies to use multiple muscles at the same time,
our bodies have evolved to make the most out of every exercise
that uses multiple joints. Compound exercises involve more motor
units (those are motor neurons and their surrounding muscle fibers)
than isolation exercises do. The more of these you involve in
an exercise, the more you encourage muscle growth and strength
increases. The more motor units you use in each exercise, the
more you're encouraging your body to grow and become stronger.
An isolation exercise just doesn't give you as much bang for your
exercises target specific muscle groups. An isolation exercise,
on the other hand, focuses on a single muscle group. Bicep and
tricep curls, flyes, lateral raises-these are all isolation exercises.
Many machines are for isolation exercises, although you can still
do them with free weights and a few machines allow for compound
builders aren't as strong as they could be. It's an urban
legend that body builders aren't as strong as they look. There's
a grain of truth to that, however. Body builders generally work
out to win physique contests, not lift heavy weights. Because
of this, they often rely on isolation exercises to sculpt their
muscles-and if they do it too soon, they won't give their bodies
time to develop their maximum strength potential, even if they
exercises should be used after you've been working out for a while.
If you want to prevent yourself from being weak on practical strength-no
matter how ripped your physique-don't start isolation exercises
too soon. These exercises should come into play after you've been
working out for a while and can tell which parts of your body
are lagging behind. For example, if you've been working out for
half a year on a routine based on compound exercises, you'll probably
find that a part of your body-say, your calves-is still a little
small. That's because in the compound lift, other muscles are
doing most of the work. Then you can use isolation exercises to
target those spots. But you won't be able to choose the right
exercises until you've had time to build strength and notice where
you need the extra attention.
athletes rely on compound exercises. For example, NFL football
players. They need strength, and chances are they hardly ever
use isolation exercises-it doesn't matter how they look; it just
matters how they perform. A player who works out using mostly
isolation exercises will be less strong than one who uses mostly
compound exercises-and on the football field, you risk injury
if you're significantly weaker than your opponents. Still, a lot
of football players have great physiques-and the strength to back
rely on compound exercises, you can get in and out of the gym
more quickly. You get more results out of compound exercises,
so you have to do fewer reps at the gym. As a matter of fact,
multiple sets of compound exercises are often not a good idea-especially
when you're just starting out. These exercises are much more intense
than isolation exercises, and overdoing it can cause overtraining
and risk of injury. As long as you're exercising your body to
the point where it physically cannot perform another rep-at least
for a second-you're making gains.
exercises force weaker muscles to perform. One problem with
compound exercises is that because they recruit several different
muscle groups, some groups tend to do more work than others. For
example, let's say you've been using a bench press to work out
your chest and arms. Your triceps are still weak after several
months of working out. That's because your chest muscles are stronger
at this point, and they're doing most of the work. You can use
an isolation exercise to force the triceps to work on their own,
building strength in this area.
exercises should be used to "sculpt" the body after
you've built a solid base. Open up a body building magazine,
and chances are you'll see famous body builders' workouts-mostly
featuring isolation exercises. Pro bodybuilders do a lot of isolation
exercises to increase definition. Beginners seldom get good results
from them-it's why so many aspiring body builders get discouraged.
and compound exercises are both good for different things. The
problem comes when you use isolation exercises too soon, or when
you rely entirely on compound exercises and allow smaller muscle
groups to stay weak. Use both and in the right order, and you'll
be able to get the most from your workout routine.
Jean Lam is the webmaster of Body
Building Resource which provides articles on weight training,
nutrition and fitness, body building book and DVDs.