The Myth of Isolation
As you may know there has been a lot of talk in the fitness world in the last few years of ‘functional exercise’ and a certain demonising of so called isolation type exercises by inexperienced and faddish trainers.I’m in no way against functional training that is specific to the sport or complements certain lifts such as using the one leg squat and deadlift to improve hip and pelvic stability-however what I am against is the idea that instability training should be the whole basis of a routine.
My own training as you may know heavily revolves around compound type lifts however I am also a keen advocate of the so called isolation type exercises too. The reason for this is that the term ‘isolation exercise’ is pretty much a misnomer. In truth there are very little (especially when working with free weights) true isolation type exercises.
Take for instance the dumbbell front raises. Dumbbell front raises have been used by bodybuilders and strength coaches for years, yet due to the recent trend in ‘functional’ exercises, isolation type exercises like these are currently been seen as the domain of bodybuilders only. I hear it all the time- ‘those only hit your front delts so why bother with them’. It’s usually spouted by the same kind of guy who goes around purporting the crap that most bodybuilders and power lifters aren’t actually that strong, and that the best way to improve maximum strength is by balancing one legged on a Bosu board and the other on a Swiss ball!
If we look at the dumbbell front raises in detail we can see why there is very little that is true isolation in weight training. Firstly the glutes have to be kept tight before initiating the lift to prevent spinal extension during the lift. As the dumbbell is raised the anterior deltoid begins to work raising the weight upwards and to a lesser degree the lateral fibres of deltoid. The extensor muscles in the forearms start working statically to prevent flexion at the wrist. As the dumbbell is raised further upwards the pectoral muscles fire assisting with raise. The core muscles including Rectus Abdominis and the T.V.A now have to stiffen to prevent unwanted motion occurring at the midsection, improving on static core stability whilst the limbs are under dynamic load. As the dumbbell is raised higher the rotator cuff is forced to work harder preventing humeral rotation to keep the dumbbell level and the hand pronated (facing downwards). The upper fibres of trapezius also fire in the upper portion of dumbbell front raise assisting with the lift.
As you can see the myth of isolation is just that. Isolation or as I like to call them finishing exercises always have their place in a well constructed program. Of course compound exercises should make up the meat of a strength program but finishing exercises should also be included for all round strength and muscle gains.