If you’ve picked up a dumbbell or any weight, you’ve probably heard the term “isolation exercise” tossed around. In theory, isolation exercises are meant to target one muscle group—in reality, that’s not normally the case. No single muscle truly works in “isolation” because the human body is a complex system, and our muscles are tied together in more ways than imagined. For instance, it would be difficult to isolate a particular exercise when your back is seized up—because almost every movement becomes uncomfortable and other muscles are incorporated to help compensate for the discomfort.
Isolation exercises, however, do hone in on a certain muscle area. For example, wrist curls are a go-to forearm exercise for many people, but to make it happen, in addition to using your forearms, the muscles in your fingers to hold and control the weight, along with your wrist muscles are incorporated as well. Isolation exercises can and should be incorporated into anyone’s routine, from the gym newbie to the advanced strength athlete to help bring up a lagging muscle group.
When programming a workout, isolation exercises should normally follow the heavier compound exercises (two or more muscle groups) in order to make optimal gains. Still, when you have the time and want to improve your performance and looks, isolation exercises do work. And these four isolation exercises we go over should be included in most gymgoers’ routines.
First, let’s go into three reasons for doing them.
Benefits of Isolation Exercises
Besides wanting to bring up a lagging muscle to make it look good, there are other benefits to performing these exercises, including:
- For Rehab Purposes: Whether you’re doing PT or have an ouch, strengthening an injured muscle requires targeted isolation exercises. For example, calf raises for a strained calf muscle or Achilles tendon. This supports the injured area and brings healing blood flow to the region for faster healing.
- Improved Performance: Sometimes, a weaker muscle group can hold back your performance in the gym or during your weekend warrior activities. For example, if you’re having issues locking out your bench presses, then strengthening the triceps helps. Strengthening the weaker muscle group can lead to lifting more weight overall because you’re only as strong as your weakest leak.
- Decreased Injury Risk: A weak muscle is more likely to become painful or injured. This is purely opinion based, and I’m speaking from personal experience from training clients for 13 years. When you are stronger, you’re less likely to suffer from niggling nonserious injuries.
Important Isolation Exercises Tips
When it comes to most isolation exercises creating and maintaining tension is paramount. That doesn’t mean more weight is bad, just not at the cost of losing tension. To vary and progress the exercises below, besides adding more weight and reps, you can.
- Pause in the top or extended position.
- Change your body position.
- More time under tension. For example, 3 seconds up, 3 seconds down
- Perform one side at a time.
The most common mistake with isolation exercises is using too much weight. This usually results in using momentum from other parts of your body and losing muscle-building tension on the targeted muscle. And that’s missing the point of the isolation exercise in the first place. Don’t do that.