We’ve all heard personal trainers repeat the “train movements, not muscles” mantra, which is often associated with their rationale for avoiding isolation exercises.

For field, court and combat athletes looking to run faster, jump higher, etc. we agree that training “movements” is great to emphasize. But when it comes to bodybuilding, we’re more interested in training muscles!

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Why we feel it’s a mistake to Avoid Isolation Exercises for Gaining Muscle

Put simply, there is training with the primary goal of improving your physique (i.e.  form), and there is training with the primary goal of improving your performance (i.e. function). Although the two are not mutually exclusive, Bodybuilding is about improving your (physical) form, not function. This is why we feel it’s a mistake to have a bodybuilding goal (i.e. to get bigger muscles) and avoid isolation exercises because they are supposidly “non-functional.”

Additionally, compound exercises involve many muscles. And, the muscles involved that are the weakest will likely contribute the least of amount work to perform any given compound exercise, while the bigger, stronger and more developed muscles will likely get the most amount of work.

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In other words, we’ve found that if all you do are compound lifts, your weaker muscles will stay relatively underdeveloped to your stronger muscles, which is not the best situation for either your physical form or function.

We’ve found the quickest and most effective way to bring up” less developed areas” is to force them to work by specifically targeting them with isolation exercises. That’s the whole point of isolation work – To give certain muscles a stimulus they don’t already get from the compound work.

The Performance U Personal Training Solution!

The Performance U approach to bodybuilding (i.e. increasing muscle size) follows the good old rule of thumb, “Compound movements first, isolation movements second.”

That said, sometimes we’ll use isolation work first in the workout to:

- Emphasize muscle groups the client wants/needs to develop most.

- To change the training stimulus the muscle(s) experience.

- As a pre-fatigue set before performing a compound exercise using the same muscle group(s).

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The take home point is:

Regardless of how we apply isolation exercises in personal training, we recommend using isolation exercises (along with compound moves) to add work volume and an increased focus (physical and mental) to the muscles you’re trying to develop most.

You can’t spot reduce, but you sure as heck can spot enhance. And, isolation exercises are a great tool for the job! 

More of our Top 5 Bodybuilding Mistakes:

Part 1: Resting too long between sets

Part 2: Not Doing Enough Sets Per Muscle Group

Part 3: Avoiding Machines