What are Isolation Exercises?
When it comes to working out, there are so many fitness methods to choose from. Cardio and strength training are two major fitness categories that most exercises fall under. Cardio gets your heart pumping and blood flowing, while strength training increases your muscle mass and power.
And while one might think that strength training is a single genre under the fitness umbrella, strength training can actually be broken down into many different subcategories, each with its own focus and specialty. There isn’t one subcategory that is necessarily better than the others because each type serves a different purpose. One form of strength training might be better for one person’s body type and fitness goals, but the same exercises might not be as effective for someone else.
Today we’re focusing on isolation exercises, a strength training category that works to isolate a specific muscle without affecting the rest of your body and muscles.
Before we dive in you may be wondering, what are isolation exercises exactly?
Well, they’re any movement that only uses one muscle or muscle group in your body while all other muscles are not impacted. For example, holding a dumbbell in your right hand and lifting it up towards your chest (a bicep curl) is an isolation exercise because you’re only involving your biceps.
Opposite to isolation exercises are compound exercises. Compound exercises work multiple muscle groups at the same time. Squats are an example of compound exercises because they strengthen your glute, core, and quad muscles at the same time.
Isolation Exercise Benefits
The benefit of isolation exercises is that they build muscle for a specific area while excluding all other areas.
While isolated exercises are not appropriate for every fitness goal, they are particularly great for people who have weak muscles due to injury who need to restrengthen their specific area of weakness.
If you’re on crutches for a month due to a broken leg, for instance, then the uninjured leg will be unusually strong while the injured one will be unusually weak due to lack of use. Isolation exercises are beneficial because they can be used to revitalize balance and harmony in the body.
Isolation moves and exercises are also beneficial to those who are interested in the aesthetics of strength training—that is, if you’re looking into bodybuilding, you’ll definitely be utilizing isolation exercises. These exercises allow for controlled attention over exactly which muscles are being worked and built, which is what makes them so perfect for bodybuilding and advanced strength training.
Isolation Exercise Drawbacks
If your goal is to strengthen the entire body as efficiently as possible, then isolation exercises may not be your best option.
Whereas compound movement and exercises work many muscle groups at the same time, thereby speeding up the muscle-building process, isolation exercises only work one specific muscle group at a time and are therefore much slower. If your goal is to strengthen your entire body as efficiently as possible, we recommend doing mostly compound exercises and only working on isolation exercises to balance out or define specific muscles in small doses.
If you have a weak muscle that needs strengthening to bring about balance in the body, then isolation exercises are great. However, if your muscles are balanced and you perform isolation exercises, you run the risk of over strengthening a specific target muscle, which can throw off the harmony of your body and potentially lead to injury.
Therefore, isolation exercises should never be your main type of muscle-strengthening work. Instead, use them to refine and specialize your workout routine in accordance with your body’s ability. In some cases, you can actually turn isolation exercises into compound movements if you’re interested in building certain muscles and developing a balanced body in the gym. For example, regular bicep curls go from a basic isolation exercise to a full-body movement when you do them while balancing on one leg and holding the other out in front of you. Now, your legs are working, your core is working, and your sense of balance and strength is developing.
If you’re unsure if isolation exercises would be good for you, refer to a specialist such as a professional trainer or physical therapist.
Examples of Isolation Exercises
When only isolation exercises are utilized in your workouts, they can create some unbalance in your muscle groups, however, if you’re mindful about them and sprinkle them into workouts that focus on compound movements, they can be a healthy tool used to focus on specific muscles.
Here are some of our favorite isolation exercises:
Begin standing with your feet hip-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand using an underhand grip. Keeping your shoulders back and chest lifted, begin lifting the dumbbells towards your chest. Once you’ve completed the curl, slowly lower the dumbbells back down towards their beginning position.
While leaning over—either with one hand and the same knee on a bench with your back flat and parallel to the floor, leaning forward with your feet staggered and your front hand on your front knee, or leaning forward with your feet together and your back flat at a 45-degree angle—hold a light dumbbell in your hand (or one in each hand if your feet are together). Bend your elbow(s) to 90 degrees and, while keeping your upper arm in the same position, flex your tricep to straighten your arm(s) and slowly return to the starting position. Repeat without letting your arm(s) swing.
This exercise is great because it requires no additional equipment and can easily be done anywhere. Begin laying on your back, bend your knees towards the ceiling so that your feet lay flat right beneath your glutes. Spread your arms out wide, palms facing flat on the floor. Press into your feet so that your hips raise up, go until you’ve reached your limit, then slowly return your hips to the floor, repeat.
Where Can You Do Isolation Exercises?
Isolation exercises can be done anywhere, however, there are lots of helpful gym equipment and machines that can help you focus on specific muscle groups. If you think about it, most day-to-day movement requires compound movements that engage multiple muscles. It requires intention and focus to single out a specific muscle, and gym equipment and machinery are designed to do just that!
Not sure which gym is the best for you? Join us at Chuze! We have locations throughout the southwest and have the tools, expertise, and machines you need to accomplish a great workout.