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-   -   Isolation exercises (http://www.catalystathletics.com/forum/showthread.php?t=157)

Neal Winkler 11-04-2006 04:36 PM

Isolation exercises
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?

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