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Neal Winkler
11-04-2006, 04:36 PM
For all of you experienced trainers out there, how did you come to the conclusion that the conjunction of isolation and compound exercises does not improve performance in compound exercises and/or performance in sport. Has it just been your observation that adding in isolation work does not improve strength in compound exercises, or is it something that has been observed in the scientific literature?

Steve Shafley
11-04-2006, 05:14 PM
This is such a case by case situation that you can only make very broad generalizations that might not apply, anyway.

For example, I know a guy who improved his bench press by 35# just by including a 100 rep triceps day into his WSB-derived template. And it was all isolation movements.

Another example of useful isolation work is rehab/prehab stuff. If doing an intelligent prehab regimen prevents even one injury, then you're ahead of the game.

On the other hand, I know a PL who improved his total tremendously by stopping his WSB style training and just hitting the big 3 powerlifts...2x weekly for squat and bench, 1x weekly for dead.

Russell Greene
11-04-2006, 07:28 PM
A couple of curls and extensions aren't going to kill you if they're added on top of a well-designed program. Problems occur when isolation takes precedence over compound movements, but that is unlikely to occur with anyone who has the faintest idea what he is doing.

It does not follow from the fact that bodybuilders are generally unathletic and unfit by Crossfit standards that bodybuilding training will make you unathletic or unfit, as long as you're also doing your o-lifts, sprinting, and gymnastics. In other words, bicep curls aren't going to automatically undo your overhead squats and 400m sprints.

That said, I personally don't have much use for isolation movements aside from fun workouts when I feel too beat up to do anything else.

Neal Winkler
11-05-2006, 07:03 AM
I don't think that any intelligent person is going to suggest that isolation exercises should take precedence over compound movements, its just that there are many intelligent trainers out there that utilize isolation movements (e.g. Poliquin, Cosgrove, ect.).

Since other very intelligent trainers like the ones here eschew all isolation exercises, there must of been something - either experience or literature - that lead them to believe that isolation does not improve strength in coumpound movements. If it did, it would be quite foolish to not to use them.

I havn't had the requisite experience to make a judgement between the two camps. I can tell you that a few years ago when I was still using isolation, I was a good deal stronger in compound exercises than I am now, but that was do to far greater consistency on my part. So, I can't really compare my pre- and post-isolation phases to make my own decision.

Craig Cooper
11-05-2006, 08:34 AM
You bring up a very interesting point Neal. I was under the impression that the idea that isolation movements are useless is just that, an idea, or theory, that has only been proven by the fact that CrossFit athletes have outperformed those who don't practice CrossFit (which isn't really proof at all). I personally don't have any proof of it at all, except that in my own experience I am much more "Fit" now doing CrossFit than I have ever been before, but my programming prior to this was rudimentary and ineffective. The theory made sense to me, and I was immediately on board, but I have never seen any data to back it up. I think I was so willing to accept an alternate truth because what I was doing previously was boring and wasn't producing the results that I had come to expect, plus I was only ever improving two parameters of fitness: cardiovascular endurance and muscular strength.

Yael Grauer
11-05-2006, 08:26 PM
I went back and looked it up and it looks like the Crossfit article mentions research by William Kraemer when stating that the majority of isolation exercises don't elicit much of a neuroendocrine response. (The other argument was that you're unlikely to have to use isolated muscles in real life situations.)

I tried to figure out which Kraemer study they were referring to and found one that showed that single joint isolation exercises with controlled slow movement and no explosive lifting resulted in no development of power capabilities essential for athletes.

Kraemer, W.J. A Series of Studies: The physiological basis for strength training in American football: Fact over philosophy. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 11(3): 131-142, 1997.

This of course doesn't prove anything re: combining explosive lifting with isolation exercises.

Here's another study by the same dude that suggests squats, cleans, deadlifts, etc. other large muscle-mass exercises should be performed before small muscle-mass exercises.

Hormonal Responses and Adaptations to Resistance Exercise and Training, William J. Kraemer and Nicholas A. Ratamess Sports Med 2005; 35 (4): 339-361

Neal Winkler
11-05-2006, 09:11 PM
I'm not doubting that large muscle group exercises elicit a greater NE response, this is well established. I only want to know if the conjunction of isolation exercises with compound improves performance in compound. If they don't, why? If they do, why are they not prescribed? I can see leaving them out for endurance workouts, but can the same be said for strength?

Steve Shafley
11-06-2006, 06:13 AM
To be honest, I'm not all that sure the neuroendocrine response is more important than the basics of tension and load.

Steve Shafley
11-06-2006, 06:20 AM
Neal, you break down here:

Since other very intelligent trainers like the ones here eschew all isolation exercises, there must of been something - either experience or literature - that lead them to believe that isolation does not improve strength in coumpound movements. If it did, it would be quite foolish to not to use them.

I don't think you can say that Robb or Greg eschew ALL isolation exercises with ALL clients, rather they'd prefer to get the job done using the big movements. Isolation movements will always remain a tool in the toolbox to be pulled out and used in the appropriate setting.

The addition of "isolation" exercises into a program will elicit results if there are weak points those isolation exercises address. If there are not weak points the isolation exercise addresses, then it's just adding in junk work.

It's not black and white, Neal. Absolutes have no place in physical performance training due to the individuality of each athlete.

Craig Cooper
11-06-2006, 09:57 AM
I think the question still stands: "Do isolation exercises improve performance in compound exercises and/or performance in sport?" It makes sense that they wouldn't given the principle of specificity, but is there any proof?

Robb Wolf
11-06-2006, 01:49 PM
Good interesting topic. We use Jack-knife push-ups on rings pretty frequently. Looks a hell of a lot like a triceps extension although there is a potent core involvement. I know without a doubt it improves everything from muscle ups to handstand push-ups. The Westside PL'er, as Steve points out, swear by big volume triceps extensions. There are also loads of PL'ers who do nothing but the 3 lifts. We have people at the top of the game using fairly different approaches, that's pretty interesting to me. I'm not sure what conclusions to draw but it's interesting.

I think I saw something form Kelly Baggett:
http://www.higher-faster-sports.com/articles.html

that said something to the effect "one has a limited growth/developmental potential using isolation movements. The addition of full body movements produces a greater neuroendocrine response which can actually create a more anabolic environment for the isolation movements to produce further progress..." I think that was from an article on that site...if I flubbed that, my apologies.

I think for basic time efficiency isolation movements to not hold up well in a training/coaching situation. As much as I like Jackknife pushups I can get so much more work done with dips, ring dips and the like. Jackknifes do make a nice finisher however...

Personally I would not approach isolation movements as a complete no-mans land but its rare that I find much need for them.

Greg Everett
11-06-2006, 05:32 PM
This really does need to be a case-by-case basis decision. I would say isolation movements will invarably offer a lower return on investment than their compound counterparts, but there will always be circumstances in which isolation movements are helpful and even necessary. I think neck training is the best example--technically moving the c-spine is a multi-joint exercise, of course, but not in the traditional sense. But for fighters, footballers, etc, neck training is a must in my opinion, and whether it's bridging, band work, or neck harness work, it's essentially isolation work.

Robb Wolf
11-07-2006, 08:05 AM
True that. And to address Craig's question, I don't know if there is definitive research on whether the addition of isolation movements is beneficial or detrimental to elite performance. Coming back to the PL'ing story the WSBB guys use a load of single joint assistance work...and loads of variety. These guys have a modicum of curls and flys and not much variety:
http://www.butenko.org/workout.htm.

This brings up another topic I find interesting which is specificity vs. variety. Steve mentioned a nice distinction between the conjugate method and block method based essentially on training age. If anyone is game for hashing out that topic in another thread lets get to it!

Ido Portal
11-08-2006, 02:33 PM
Two of the only situations in which we use isolation exercises here at Hacasa are:

A. Achieving structural balance - correcting any deficiencies in problem areas and working towards a more complete system and increasing performance through balance.
B. Prehab work - which is kind of related to my first point, but sometimes goes even further than just correcting deficiencies.(A good prehab protocol should take the problem area above and beyond the current systemtic requirements - and create a safety 'buffer zone' for future efforts)

Besides that, all you have left to do is work functionaly and blast away, no need to do any other isolation work, and it can even be dangerous. Be carefull with playing the role of 'I know whats good for me'. You can direct your body in a general way towards the adaptation you are after, but if you start to work every small area by itself you end up creating a 'quilt effect' - your body is a system working in integration, and not in isolation.

Robb Wolf
11-09-2006, 10:57 AM
Hey Everybody!

Ido is one of the most knowledgable people I've ever met in the realms of S&C, paleo nutrition and high end performance. Ask him questions!

Craig Cooper
11-09-2006, 01:33 PM
A. Achieving structural balance - correcting any deficiencies in problem areas and working towards a more complete system and increasing performance through balance.

This again leads back to the original question: does this really work? In my experience, anytime I send someone off to Physical Therapy to "correct any muscular deficiencies" they only see improvements when not using the muscle(s) in question. As soon as they return to regular activity, the problem returns. Correcting deficiencies through isolation work seems to defy the notion that our body is a system working in integration, not isolation. Can't you prehab/correct deficiencies with well executed compound functional movements?

Steve Shafley
11-09-2006, 02:23 PM
I've seen different results.

A training partner had a case of gluteal amnesia. Doing glute activation work to get the glutes to fire, and physical cues during squats and cleans fixed it for him.

And in case you were wondering, the physical cue was me poking his ass with a stick in the bottom of the movement.

Ido Portal
11-09-2006, 05:27 PM
Good question, Craig.

Structural balance is used more in making sure your system is structured optimaly for your efforts, and it is one stage above an imbalance that created an injury. For example your rotator cuff should be a certain percentage of your close grip BP in order to advance optimaly in your efforts to increase your bench. If you dont reach that certain percentage, it doesnt mean you will automaticly injure yourself, most times, the body will protect itself by not letting you bench more weight.
Now when an imbalance is more drastic, it can cause an injury. Then i wouldnt go directly the structural balance root, but would try to bring the system up to par together, while supplementing the compund work with special isolation movements according to your needs of the athlete. For example, I would rehab a torn ACL with some sled work and advance into squating, while maybe using some isolation movements for the hamstrings because of the problematic requiretment patterns of the hams after ACL tears. After I'll bring the athlete back to normal strength levels and ROM and I would want to take him further I would go the structural balance root. Structural balance is a way to tinker with your system and make it better - similar to those happy souls that geneticly have the right balance between various muscles and due to this fact just keep on advancing using compund movments only. If you are satisfied with your gains, no prob. But if you feel they are less than optimal, try the structural balance test, correct deficiencies and fly away. It is my experience from the last 6 years that SB works big time.

Pierre Auge
11-09-2006, 07:24 PM
Frankly if it were not for my set of ironmind grippers my left hand which statistically should be stronger than my more coordinated right would be relagated to the mediocre 40lbs of gripping strength it had 3 years ago.

When I was 2 years old I tripped and caught myself on the glass window of a screaming hot woodstove giving me third degree burns. The doctors assumed I would never have the use of my hand because of the nerve damage. They now figure it at about 60% damage.

So what's my point? Isolation movements were necessary for me to improve the gripping capacity of my left hand. I was not contented by the fact that when I first joined the military I had to tighlty wrap my rifle sling around my hand in order to shoot my rifle. I was barely able to deadlift anything without straps and my grip would fail immediately when pull-ups were attempted.

The works of John Brookfield put the concept that when necessary, isolation has its place, sometimes I even forget that. Hell my hand still gets MEAN shakes when I'm stressed. (or maybe I have parkinsons, lets not think about that)

I think Ido's point of structural balance is a valid one that I've got to look into more thoroughly.

Jonas Lind
11-10-2006, 12:17 AM
"structural balance test"

Is it the one on T-Nation? - Achieving Structural Balance
By Charles Poliquin

Neal Winkler
11-10-2006, 07:34 AM
On the face of things, I thought that if one used compound movements only, such that you work all muscles evenly with them, that you could not achieve imbalances as you would be working the muscles to the degree for which they have been designed. The thing is, I assumed that degree was one that conferred optimal performance of the organism.

Was this a false assumption? If so, is the implication that isolation will sometimes be necessary?

Greg Everett
11-10-2006, 08:02 AM
off the top of my head - consider the push press. it's a compound movement, but it's requires the torso remain completely vertical and is through a limited ROM (for the hips/legs), placing the vast majority of the demand on the quads and very little on the glutes and hamstrings. so it would not naturally prevent imbalances.

i think that to a point, the idea that functional movement will prevent imblanaces is true--but "functional" must be defined very specifically, which greatly limits the movements it can describe.

Robb Wolf
11-10-2006, 11:59 AM
Craig-
I think much of the problem lies in the cluelessnes of PT's. We worked with a clinic here in chico and eventually they sold their universal and hammer strength equipment and instead used mop buckets filled with weights for sled work (most of their patients are 60+ years old...they had a ball dragging buckets of weight around the parking lot). They started using the parallel bars for assisted dips and punch ups instead of just gait training.

The only movement these folks are exposed to is bodybuilding as part of their Ther-x (therapeutic exercise). Once they see functional movements and more importantly see the results of functional movements when combined with smart manual therapy, ultrasound stim etc. they are sold. There are still some instances in which thera-band and dumbells are useful for the rotator cuf, although the muscle snatch is my fave in this regard.

This again leads back to the original question: does this really work? In my experience, anytime I send someone off to Physical Therapy to "correct any muscular deficiencies" they only see improvements when not using the muscle(s) in question. As soon as they return to regular activity, the problem returns. Correcting deficiencies through isolation work seems to defy the notion that our body is a system working in integration, not isolation. Can't you prehab/correct deficiencies with well executed compound functional movements?

Yael Grauer
11-10-2006, 06:13 PM
Okay, so to ask a dumb question probably everyone here but me knows the answer to... what I'd heard from everywhere before CF is that the point of doing isolation exercises is so that you can lift heavier more days in a row (2/3/4 day split workouts instead of full body workouts) so that one part of your body can recover while you abuse another part of your body. Of course you can still do this with compound exercises if you mix 'em up, but what if one area the compound exercise would be targetting is still sore/beat up and another isn't? Also general popular opinion (again non-CF) seems to be that working an area that is already really sore is a bad idea.

I guess this question goes beyond isolation vs. compound and towards working different body parts--it just seems to make more sense to divide exercises into areas they work so you can work f'in HARD two days in a row
instead of having to take a break every other day (I've been doing this with core and leg workouts so I can do 2-on 1-off instead of just every other day, since I can't do upper body or weights right now)...

And then this would tie in the question of how sore do you need to be to feel like you got a good workout. I was talking to a Thai boxer the other day, a very good one, who told me he never gets sore anymore...I have seen him train and he definitely works his tail off... If I wasn't getting sore anymore, I'd probably want to work in some new moves or something, but I guess there are other ways to gauge improvement...

Robb Wolf
11-11-2006, 06:52 AM
This may work to sell Weider mags...and it likely works in drugged up bodybuilders but training Nadds-to-the-windshield too frequently is not a recipe for success.

Yael Grauer
11-11-2006, 04:51 PM
Wow. Why the heck am I timing everything then? :confused:

Robb Wolf
11-12-2006, 08:17 AM
Timing and tracking things is great, not having down time and training with some eye towards loading and unloading weeks is vital lest one find themselves sleep disturbed with a bum elbow...

Yael Grauer
11-12-2006, 08:41 AM
:o

And all this time I thought it was from working out at 1 in the morning and my archaic refusal to use ice!

Robb Wolf
11-13-2006, 12:28 PM
That is a confounding factor...