What is an Isolation Exercise?
Within this article, I will be answering the question, what is an isolation exercise? Although not necessarily the biggest component to a workout routine, they definitely have their place. It is for this reason, I found it to be important to create an article explaining what isolation exercises are, their benefits, and how you can implement them within your training. Let’s get started!
Isolation Exercises Explained:
Isolation exercise have the best description of them right in their name, they isolate, or target/focus on one individual muscle group. This means that they are performed using a single joint, therefore working on an individual muscle. These are important for many things, with the biggest reason in my mind being the unique or small roles they fill within a workout routine.
For example, you may be training for strength and have already performed exercises such as the bench press, dumbbell bench press and maybe a machine press. However, for fatigue management and to get in some volume, you may perform an isolation exercise like the cable or machine fly. These are the types of small roles that isolation exercises can effectively fill.
Benefits of Isolation Exercises:
In addition to fatigue management and getting in some more volume, isolation exercises also have the benefits of adding variation in your training and targeting an individual muscle to allow you to feel it working more than something like a compound movement.
Fatigue management is huge as you likely won’t be able to do all your work through compound movements because they are harder to recover from, and they can make it difficult to get in all your volume. Isolation exercises are beneficial in this respect as they are less physically demanding and make it easier to accumulate volume through, especially with them often times being done in the higher rep ranges.
They are also good for adding variation in your training, instead of always doing pressing movements, cable flies can be a good exercise to help change things up. Lastly, being able to isolate a muscle allows you to really feel it working, or for some muscles, such as the biceps, they are one of the main ways to train them.
The Implementation of Isolation Exercises:
Now that we know what isolation exercises are, and their benefits, we need to start thinking about how we can implement them. With this in mind, let’s explore the different ways to accomplish this.
The standard, commonly used and highly effective way is to sprinkle them in towards the end of your workout. This will allow you to get your heavy, compound training that is quite physically demanding in while you’re fresh, and the lighter isolation exercises in when you are more fatigued. This is the perfect time to work in the higher rep range, burn out a muscle and get in your required volume. This could look like performing some high rep sets or drop sets on a machine fly at the end of your chest workout.
Another way to utilize isolation exercises is in the form of a pre-exhaustive training style. This is when you fatigue the secondary muscle(s) that contribute to the lifts for the main muscle you’re trying to target. For example, the triceps and shoulders for the bench press. You would perform these isolation exercises prior to the bench press, and since the secondary muscle(s) are fatigued, your chest will really need to work.
Lastly, isolation exercises can be quite beneficial for things like training around injuries. Maybe you’re unable to perform a bench press because of a chest issue, however, you may still be able to do something like a triceps push-down. I am not telling you how to work with or around your injuries, you need to consult a medical professional for that. I am simply outlining another possible benefit of isolation exercises.
Within this article, I have outlined what isolation exercises are, their benefits, and how you can implement them within your training. Now that you have the knowledge of this kind of exercise, you can not only implement them within your workouts, but you will know why you’re doing so!
I look forward to you being able to benefit from the information within this article, and wish you luck in your next training session! I thank you for taking the time to read, and as always, if you have any questions or comments please do not hesitate to leave them below and I will be sure to reply!
Until Next Time,
Please refer to my liability disclaimer to ensure you know who is responsible for use of this information after reading.
Would performing isolation exercise on a particular muscle not make it overstretched? Whats the risk in isolation exercise which does not balance the symmetry , e.g isolating right arm bicep over left arm bicep? My physiotherapists once told me to do an isolation exercise on my right arm string muscle, when I complained of persistent spasm. Nice article
Hi Olalekan, I appreciate the comment! There is always a chance of getting injured with anything, in response to your question though, there are a couple of ways to look at it in regards to isolation exercises. Yes, isolation exercises use an individual muscle for the movement. However, if you’re using proper form, the muscle shouldn’t become overstretched, although that is a reality with improper form even with compound movements. As far as the muscle taking on all the weight goes, with isolation exercises, you won’t be able to use much weight to begin with. Also, proper form and training helps reduce the risk of injury as well. As per your second question, If you were to do unilateral isolation exercises and perform more work/volume on one arm, that could lead to muscle imbalances. I am not a physiotherapist and don’t know your specific information so I cannot comment on what your physiotherapist had you do.
Hi Kohl, You have a good breakdown of what an isolation exercise is and how to use them.
The part about using isolation movements to work around injuries was very helpful for me. Sometimes I have shoulder issues when working my chest, especially bench presses. Nice to know there is a way to work through injuries without having to stop working altogether. I also like variations available with isolation exercises you mentioned. They hit target areas from different angles. Good job. When you use isolations for targeted muscles, does it help increase strength when you go back to doing compound movements like squats or deadlifts? Is it important to watch your form more when performing isolation exercises than compound exercises? Should workouts be a combination of compound and isolation movements or is it better to concentrate on one or the other? I just read your “About Me” section. You have learned a lot about fitness in a very short time. I was surprised by how young you are and how much you already know about training.Good for you. You are saving people a lot of wasted time and effort by sharing what you know and how to use it. I enjoyed your post and website. You will go a long way. Keep your attitude about helping people. This is the most important thing you will ever do in life. Love it, Kohl. Thanks for your article, johnny, the Grey Wolf.
Hi Johnny, thank you! Be careful with your shoulder as although isolations exercises CAN be beneficial to work around injuries, everyone has specific circumstances and I would suggest speaking with a medical proffesional if needed.
As per your other comments and questions, here are my responses:
I agree, isolation exercises can be great for targeting and working on specifics and adding variation!
I would say isolation exercises can help with improving strength, although more suited towards hypertrophy. Whether this be through gaining muscle, this new muscle helping with leverages, or they can have a minor benefit with strength itself.
Form is always crucial and should be prioritized, especially with compound exercises, however, the same applies for isolation movements. Sometimes, some minor form breakdown (like a cheat curl) can be a beneficial intensity technique for isolation movements. However, you still need to be cautious and ensure it is safe and not dangerous.
I would say that compound movements should lay the base of your program, with more of an emphasis on one or the other depending on your goals. Maybe more compound variations and assistance exercises for strength and more isolation accessory movements for hypertrophy (as a rough guideline).
I thank you for your recognition of my information and appreciate the support! If you ever have any other questions for me, do not hesitate to leave them! Thanks!