Isolation exercises have become less popular lately. Some experts turn their noses up at hip and shoulder exercises claiming that big compound moves are the best and they are all you should do.
There is a lot of value to compound moves like dips, lunges, and pull-ups, but are they really all you should or need to practice? Are isolation exercises really that bad?
There’s little doubt in my mind that you’ll definitely get a lot stronger and build more muscle by focusing on compound exercises. I focus the vast majority of my workouts on compound exercises myself and seldom ever do any focused work. This doesn’t mean that it’s not important and can’t benefit you.
It’s all about the muscle tension
Your ability to get results from your workouts depends entirely on how well you can create and manipulate muscle tension. The challenge is, controlling muscle tension is sometimes easier said than done. Sometimes it can be next to impossible to tell a specific muscle group to turn on. Failing to engage a muscle group can result in joint pain, poor performance and a struggle to build muscle. It’s literally a weak link in your chain that’s holding you back.
Poor muscle tension can be due to injury, lifestyle habits or imbalanced training methods. It’s easy enough to fix, you just practice using those muscles. The problem is it’s often difficult to get the weaker muscles working with compound exercises. The mind is incredibly good at compensating for your weaknesses. You can still do pull-ups with weak lats. You can still do Lunges with numb glutes. You can even do push-ups with minimal tension in your chest. It doesn’t matter if an exercise is supposed to work those muscles. Muscle tension is ultimately controlled by your mind, not an exercise or a piece of equipment. If you’re doing pull-ups and struggle to engage your rear deltoid, your mind will find a way to compensate.
Isolation exercises can improve tension control
Isolation exercises can help your mind re-learn how to place tension on those muscles. It’s a lot more difficult to compensate when you’re only moving one joint and using fewer muscles.
Isolation moves won’t become your bread and butter exercises. Even if you’re doing little else now, you should eventually graduate to doing mainly compound exercises. However, don’t shun hip thrusts, rear flys, or hip exercises if you feel those moves can strengthen up your weak links. You just may find that isolation exercises are the key to getting the most from your compound techniques.