The fitness world is starting to come around now. There is still a lot of crap out there, but better concepts are becoming much more prevalent. There are myths floating around the fitness world that just never seem to be totally abolished. On the other hand, there are many incidents where certain theories or practices are being completely wiped out because there is thought to be a better practice. We are in an industry of extremes. It’s either one way or another. Me? I like to sit on the fence sometimes…
Compound and Isolation Exercises
If you know this already, skip to the next heading! A compound exercise is one in which you stress several muscles at once. Bench Press is a good example. Pecs, Delts, Triceps…the lot. An Isolation exercise is one where you use only one muscle or muscle group. Tricep pushdown for example, you basically only use the triceps group and is therefore regarded as an isolation exercise.
Compound Exercises Are Better
Yes they are. They really are. No arguments there. Why are compound exercises better?
• Full Body Stimulus means more calories burnt
• Using more muscle groups you are stronger and can get a bigger stimulus
• Save time, more bang for your buck
• More functional and sport/ life specific i.e. dead lift
• Basically a weight lifting program with compound exercises will give you a far more efficient workout.
Isolation exercises are OK too. In fact sometimes are really necessary. There is one important point here that we often forget. You can’t be strong in something in a compound movement, if you aren’t strong in isolation. A big example that I always harp on about is the glute.
If you can’t activate your glute in isolation, then you sure won’t be activating it during a squat when you need it most. Many people have issues with glute activation and really do need to learn to get it going before they can perform efficient compound movements. A weak glute leads to other issues, over compensation in the lower back amongst many others. In a case of someone with a really weak left glute, it would be necessary to teach them to isolate it, get them to activate again, and then slowly integrate it into a compound exercise like a squat. Not only will this lead to fewer injuries, this will more than likely lead to a much bigger squat!
Rehabilitation requires isolation. If you are returning from a knee operation, as much as you hate that leg extension, there is a fair chance you are going to need to do it, or a very similar exercise to gain some basic strength back. Trust me, I hate that machine more than anything!
There are other reasons people do isolation exercises. A big one is aesthetic reasons. You want really big biceps? You probably need to do some extra bicep work on top of your compound work. Bodybuilders are a group that needs to isolate. But, if you look closely at their programs, you will find they focus mainly on compound exercises, and then do extra isolation work to get extra stimulus and burn.
I have no doubt, and will never argue that a program made up of compound exercises is much better. If you can perform compound exercises efficiently you will generally have no reason to isolate, you will be giving all of your muscle groups a big enough workout. What I am trying to get at is we don’t need to be so absolute about the statements we make. Isolation exercises have their place, used correctly and in the right context they are extremely important. It may seem obvious, but the fitness industry is one of many bandwagons, people jump on and off without thinking. Stay smart!