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Over the past few fitFLEX articles I've talked about how to properly perform the exercises in the routines I presented several months earlier. Most of those movements were basic exercises. This time I'm going to talk
about isolation exercises and explain the differences between basic and isolation movements.
Basic exercises are those that involve more than one muscle; for example, the bench press works the pectorals for the most part, but it also involves the triceps and deltoids. Basic exercises are used mostly to build mass and strength.
Isolation exercises are for shaping the muscles and bringing up the weak area of a muscle; for example, leg extensions isolate the quadriceps. A lot of people claim that isolation exercises are for bringing out cuts, but if you have a high percentage of bodyfat, you could do leg extensions from here till tomorrow and your legs would never get cut. If you have a low percentage of bodyfat, however, you'll have cuts in your legs whether you do leg extensions or squats.
Now, for the biceps there is no exercise that involves other muscles, but there are curls that are better for building mass and others that are better for refining shape. For instance, a beginner should do heavy barbell curls, which build mass. But later on, when you've added most of the mass that you want, you should do cable curls and concentration curls to peak out and shape your biceps.
The same holds true for triceps, for the most part. Two good mass-building exercises for your triceps are dips and close-grip bench presses, both of which involve triceps and chest. Second-best for triceps mass are standing and lying French presses, and after that come triceps pressdowns and standing one-arm triceps extensions. Those last two, however, begin to cross over into the category of isolation exercises. Other isolation movements include triceps kickbacks and triceps cable movements, such as one-arm triceps pressdowns.
When you first start training, you do French presses and close-grip benches or dips. But later on you should add more isolation exercises to chisel out the three heads of the muscle.
For the most part, until you have all the mass you want or all the mass your body is going to get, you should stick with basic exercises. All your great bodybuilders-like John Grimek, Reg Park, Bill Pearl, Sergio Oliva, Franco Columbu, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Samir Bannout and Bertil Fox-have trained hard and heavy with the basic exercises. You won't build mass doing triceps kickbacks, dumbbell concentration curls, flyes, dumbbell laterals, etc. You have to pay your dues first.
I see so many teenagers doing leg presses and leg extensions, and they think they're going to get big thighs. There is only one way to get big thighs, and that's by firing up your courage, getting under the big ones at the squat rack week after week and grinding out the reps. I'm not going to lie to you-it's grueling and some-times unpleasant. But that's the only way to build big thighs. And when you finally get the leg mass you want, you can ease off the squats a little (like Tom Platz, who paid his dues and is now reaping the benefits).
It's like Arnold says - bodybuilding is like sculpture. A sculptor starts with a big hunk of marble and takes big chisels and a hammer and chisels out huge chunks of the marble to make a rough form of his sculpture. But as he gets closer, he takes out his smaller chisels and delicately carves away at the hunk of mass until it's perfect.
If you look at pictures of Arnold when he first competed against Frank Zane, you can see that he had the mass but not the cuts. And that's why the 1968 Mr. Universe title went to Zane. After that Schwarzenegger started dieting down and adding isolation exercises to his workouts to shape and bring up the weak parts of his muscles. And when you've built up your own block of marble, it's time to get out your fine chisels and carve away at you own hunk of mass with isolation exercises.
The isolation movements for biceps (cable and concentration curls) and triceps (cable exercises) were discussed above. For the chest, let's assume that your basic chest program consists of bench presses, incline presses and cross-bench pullovers. You've developed some good chest mass, but your upper chest is lacking something. Now, the major isolation exercise for the chest area is the flye, and by adding incline flyes to your chest routine you can start adding some detail.
This situation presents a great chance to try your hand at superset-ting, specifically supersetting the mass exercise with the isolation movement: You do incline bench presses to failure and then jump into incline flyes to failure.
Some people might tell you to do the isolation exercise first; for example, in a superset for deltoids they might tell you to pre-exhaust the middle head of the delt by doing lateral raises before you hit the military press. I've recently been experimenting with supersets though, and I find that if you pre-exhaust your delts with laterals, you sacrifice your weight in the press. The press is a good mass builder, and I don't want to sacrifice weight in a mass exercise, so I recommend doing your presses first. As this is something I've never read anywhere before, I'd like to name my new training principle the Frost Post-exhaustion Principle for Mass.)
The basic mass exercise for thighs is the squat. The squat tends to hit the outer thigh when you use a fairly narrow stance. So once your thighs are like columns of the White House, you should cut the squats down to once a week and on your other leg day get into hacks, leg extensions and/or lunges. This will get the lower and frontal part of your thighs.
For your back you do lat pulldowns and bent-over barbell rowing when you first start. But later on you should add deadlifts for your lower back, the lower part of your traps and for overall back thickness. Two exercises to rotate in are close-grip chins, T-bar rows and seated cable rows.
For your deltoids you should add laterals and/or upright rows to your basic military presses.
While you're still adding mass, your basic program should consist of mostly basic exercises, adding in maybe a few isolation exercises as you become more advanced. I recommend that if you're on a four-day split, on which you train each body-part twice a week, train hard and heavy with basic exercises on one day and then on the other day still train hard, but with isolation exercises and slightly higher reps, including movements for the part of each muscle that you want to bring up.
Until next time, try experimenting with some isolation exercises, and train brutal to be brutal.