The Concpet of Muscle Isolation

I am interested to know, if when training healthy individuals for fitness/ strength, one should implement or really does implement muscle isolation exercises , in supertraining siff writes," Generations of muscle magazine authors have extolled the virtues of special ways of training to isolate specific muscle groups. They have advocated cetain machines, ways of fixing the joints,precise placement of the limbs and numerous other ingenious manoevres to ensure that one muscle is maximally recruited while others remain largely dormant EMG studies reveal that isolation of minute muscle groups is indeed possible under low intensities of loading (e.g. Basmajian 1978). Intuitively, we are aware that low intensity actions such as eye-blinking, piano playing or relaxed speaking are due to the precise action of specific muscle groups, a fact which the EMG clearly corroborates."
He goes on to write that " if large loads are imposed on a given muscle group by intense resistance, isolation becomes virtualy impossible." If one is training for anything with function wouldn’t they want to implement a weight that if fairly large? I am not talking about power lifting or explosive sports but rather the building or strengthening of muscles for the average trainiee who needs performance improvement in daily life task. If I were talking about training for sports would it ever really make sense to implement these types of so called isoloation movements unless the athlete was very weak in that muscle group? When does an athlete move slow and use one muscle group in sport like football, sprinting, lifting ect…?
Keeping all of this in mind, siff also writes that…" This is not to negate the value of so called isolation exercises. Not only can they be useful during the early stages of injury rehabilitation, but overflow to other muscle groups may be very desirable (if the exercise is performed safely) since it simultaneously offers isometric and dynamic traingin to many other muscle groups. It is necessary however to clarify the popular misconceptions surrounding the misleading concept of muscle isolation still proliferated by numeroous instructors and in many training texts." So other than for rehabilitation purposes, or extreme angular weakness in that particular movement position , is there any real pupose to doing isolation exercises that often, I see programs to day that are made up of a mjaority of isolation type execises with extremely light weight…is this just a total waste of time???

What workouts? Can you give an example? Do you mean things like glute work for runners - e.g. functional training stuff?

yes that is a good example, I was just wondering isolation exercises are kind of useless when training for sport due to the fact that when running or hitting or whatever whe never use just one muscle group…even in daily life how often do you just use one muscle group in isolation say when doing yard work??? I see a lot of people at gyms training for sports and or general fitness and I see them doing these isolation type curls or shoulder movements at extremely slow speeds and with a weight that is barely causeing any strain…I was just interested to know if these have any use and if anyone had opionons on the topic. Supertraining seems to say that other than rehab these movements are not all that usefull and or are never really done with any kind of uselfull weight because stabilizers are activated and muscle irradiation occurs…I think???

I was just wondering isolation exercises are kind of useless when training for sport

First, everything is useful given the right context - so don’t make the mistake of dismissing anything right off the bat.

I think the underlying issue here is efficiency. You could attempt to train every muscle individually but it is just very inefficient. You only have so much energy/time/CNS reserve etc and recognising this and then choosing what you are going to spend it on are two of the key issues in strength and conditioning/sports. It’s like the single vs multiple set arguments. You can either do lots of exercises or fewer exercises and lots of sets. The choice is yours.

As for uses. If you have a deficiency in any one area then it becomes a weak link in the chain and reduces the output efficiency of the whole system. Also if you have a weakness your body will recognise this and make adjustments to compensate for this, possibly leading to more atrophy in the weakened muscles. You see this a lot with injuries (especially back pathologies) where the patient’s posture etc changes to protect the injured site.

This is why Westside allocate time to their weak body parts (usually triceps for bench work for example). Because without it they won’t be optimally efficient in the lifts they are measured on.

In general the major compound exercises are the way to go but if this is all you are doing, over time you will develop some weaknesses depending on your form or personal anthropometry (limb lengths etc) and lifting style.

One reason why glute work is now becoming so prominent (well at least in the UK, where EIS - English Institute of Sport - spend a significant amount of time on it) is because most exercises are performed with 2 feet (DL, Squat, Clean etc) so if there is going to be a deficiency it will probably be in the Small and Medial glutes that help stabilise the pelvis during 1 legged actions. This lack of stability is supposed to manifest itself through buckling to one side during ground contact when running.

Essentially, if you are not doing something for an extended period you will probably find it is beneficial when you start doing it again. Measuring how beneficial it is is almost impossible though. I mean, if you add glute work you might not see an improvement in running speed - but perhaps it helps to keep you injury free (something you cannot quantify unless you were plagued by a specific injury that then disappeared following the inclusion of this exercise – and even then it is hard to prove cause and effect).

This is the one big problem with Sport Science - in the very large majority of cases you just can’t control all the factors well enough to tell if something really impacts on performance because coming full circle “everything is useful given the right context”.

David W had a program for 12-13 year old youngsters on his site which used a lot (if not all…) of isolation exercises,arranged in such a way that most of muscles in the body were reached by some stimuli.

I myself have had very positive experience using isolation exercises in a similar fashion with young developing athletes before exposing them to free weights,compound exercises - even though the best results I have ever had in this area have been through the use of MB exercises.

thanks, for the info great stuff!!! :smiley:

TC wrote "This is the one big problem with Sport Science - in the very large majority of cases you just can’t control all the factors well enough to tell if something really impacts on performance because coming full circle “everything is useful given the right context”
Yeah I hear you on this one, it is enough to drive a sane man mad and a mad man sane!!! :eek:

I remember reading something Paul Chek wrote which I think really describes the question here and it said “Isolate then Integrate” In other words it’s fine to do iso exercises to strengthen specific muscles as long as you do functional/specficic exercises later to integrate and apply the new found strength.

This idea of muscle intergration, what exactly are you intergrating? Are we just talking about motor learning? How would you integrate a muscle more effectivly than just practicing the sports skill?



TC My comment is that you can isolate muscles to focus more specifically/intensely to encourage hypertrophy/neuromuscular control. What I’m saying is without sport-specific/movement specific exercises to compliment the iso work you’re doing what you’ve gained in the gym won’t transfer so easily to on field performance. I think iso work has it’s place as does functional work, I definitely use both in all of my programs.

Practice of the sport is of course the most important thing for any athlete so I agree with you that practice is the best way to stay in tune with your body’s gains from training however you’ll definitely get alot further, quicker with sport-specific/movement specific conditioning. I suppose that’s what I’m getting at.

What’s your opinion on sport-specific/movement specific conditioning ? Good, bad ?

Here’s a quote from one article

“Isolation to integration-
Bodybuilding has plagued athletic training and rehabilitation with the urge to “isolate” muscles and make them BIGGER! It should never be forgotten when trying to improve functional performance, the brain only knows movements, not muscles. *To achieve optimal results with any isolation exercise, adequate time must be spent training the muscle to contribute to a functional movement pattern. *”