Are Isolation Exercises Really Worthless? Are biceps curls evil?

| by Truth Seeker |

Isolation exercises attract massive hate from the “functional” crowd, but in most cases, single joint movements are simply misunderstood.

What are the benefits of isolation exercises?

The value of isolation exercises is contained in the term – “isolation“. The main goal of single joint movements is to work on a specific muscle directly. This is a property that regular compound exercises do not hold due to their nature.

Let’s say that you have weak biceps. Movements like chin-ups and pull-ups obviously work the elbow flexors, but biceps curls are more efficient and direct. They attack the weakness right away without affecting other muscle groups.

Why do isolation exercises have a bad reputation?


1. Isolation exercises are easy.

Isolation exercises are less stressful than heavy compounds. The stress and intensity of a heavy squat cannot be replicated by something like calf raises or triceps pushdowns. Thus, there are more people doing the “easy” stuff.

As a result, isolation exercises are often associated with individuals who are not willing to train hard. However, the actual exercises are fine. The people who overdose and use them inappropriately are to blame.

2. Isolation exercises progress slowly and do not look “EPIC”.

Adding 50lbs to your biceps curls can take many years if you are relatively strong. On the other hand, adding 50lbs to your deadlift can happen much faster, sometimes in a few months. Additionally, deadlifting heavy looks way more “alpha” than a boring bicep curl. As a result, not many people stick with isolation exercises long enough to get truly strong.

3. Fitness gurus hate isolation movements.

Phrases such as “biceps curls are for sissies” are common for the fitness community.

How to implement isolation exercises?

The purpose of isolation movements is to target a specific weakness. This makes them great for rehab/prehab and improvement of lagging muscle groups.

Should I perform isolation exercises for high reps?

It depends on the exercise and your goal. For example, performing heavy rotator cuff rotations is a bad move whereas heavy low rep biceps curls are fine. Your training goals and the nature of the exercise will determine the proper course of action.

Is it true that isolation exercises interfere with compound movements?

It’s possible, but only if you do too much. A few sets of biceps curls will hardly destroy you before your next bench press session, for example. If you are following one of those simplistic 5×5 routines, don’t be afraid to do some isolation work, but don’t kill yourself. There is a threshold which should not be crossed.

Can you give me some isolation exercises for my arms?

Barbell curls, dumbbell curls, PJR-pullovers, straight arm pullovers, skull crushers on an incline bench…etc.

In conclusion

Isolation exercises far from worthless. When applied properly, isolated therapy will bring your game up.

Here’s a question for the haters of isolation movements?

Do you consider your toothbrush worthless too? After all, its main purpose is to isolate the bacteria in your mouth and remove it.

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  1. Steve

    Not convinced. Six or seven compound moves are all you need and the rest distract.
    Sure many exercises work, but if the whole body can be developed with a few exercises, why would anyone bother doing all the little things.
    Perhaps the last percent point of perfection may require some special snowflake isolation move, but for the vast bulk of trainers who are not drugged up and this is not a profession, it is irrelevant.

    1. Simon

      What lifts would you recommend?

  2. Simon

    I see some problems with abbreviated programs such as Squat, Pull-Up’s, Deadlift, Dips: ab’s; calves, forearm flexors and extensors, finger flexors and extensors are not worked intensely enough plus there’s no training for the short head of the hamstrings. This may seem pedantic but if I lost the strength I’ve gained from grip training it would have a major effect on how I feel. Deadlifts will not develop the same muscles as a Grip Machine and Pinch Blocks. Also, muscle imbalances will stop your progress very quickly and leave you in pain.

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