We will first explore what you need to know about isolation exercises, what they are, what they do and the different exercises for them.
What are isolation exercises?
The name itself gives an indication as to what this group of exercises entail. This form of exercise, ‘isolates’ a specific muscle group and occurs at one joint only, this limits the participation of any other muscles. It is a very focused exercise.
What are some examples of isolation exercises?
The target muscle group: Pectorals
In isolating the chest muscles, this exercise limits the use of heavy weights so as to avoid injuring your shoulders. This can be performed on a straight or inclined bench.
How it’s done: Lie back, with a dumbbell in each hand (rather start lighter to determine your strength and to ensure that you do not damage your shoulder muscles).
Extend your arms in front of you, the dumbbells should be in line with the top of your chest, then extend your arms out to the sides, whilst keeping a slight bend in your elbows, being cautious to not overstretch your shoulder joint as you lower the weights, feel the stretch in your pecs (that’s your chest muscles 😉) and then bring your arms back up. Repeat.
Standing barbell curl
The target muscle group: Biceps
These target your biceps and focus on building your predominant arm muscles, being one of the best bicep exercises, these should be completed as the first exercise in your workout to work the muscle group effectively.
How it’s done: Stand up with your back straight, hold the barbell with a wide grip, and curl the weights upwards, keeping your elbows in the same position (if they move while pivoting, this is classified as cheating and does not work the muscle group as well as it should), if this is the case, get a lighter weight until you have the correct form. Breathe out as you contract your biceps, lifting the bar to shoulder level. Hold for a second and squeeze the biceps. Slowly lower the bar down to the starting position and repeat.
**Tip: Always exhale when you are exerting your strength and inhale as you return to the starting position and relax. By monitoring your breathing, you are ensuring that your body is getting the oxygen it needs to ensure that it is working at full capacity. Therefore, you are exhaling as you are exerting energy, and then inhaling at rest to allow for your body to get a good breath of oxygen needed for the next rep.
The target muscle group: Quadriceps
In a lot of compound leg exercises, through working large muscle groups at once, you may often feel tired in the middle of your workout, this makes balancing and strength difficult. With this workout, you are seated and allow your legs to focus on one muscle group – your quads. This exercise, which should actually be called a knee extension because the knee is the joint that moves, this is often the final leg exercise in your workout and is joint-friendly when done right.
How it’s done: This exercise is done on a machine which pretty much guides you along. Sit on the machine, facing forward, place your legs under the padded round bar, you can also adjust everything to your own dimensions. Then, using your quads, push your legs to their full extent (straight leg) whilst exhaling. Hold for a second. Then return to the resting position and repeat.
Standing dumbbell lateral raise
The target muscle group: Middle deltoids (triangular shaped muscles found in the top area of the shoulder)
This is an exercise that works unbelievably well. Many bodybuilders and gym-goers alike swear by this exercise, and the results are noticeable in a short period of time. The trick is to not put pressure on your lower back (you can sit or stand while doing it, although sitting helps relieve pressure) and lead with your elbows for the movement.
How it’s done: Hold a dumbbell in each hand, resting them on your upper legs, with the dumbbells facing forward and your elbows slightly bent. Lean forward just a bit, having your knees and hips at a slight angle and a curve in your back – stick your bum out a bit too.
Lift your upper arms, using the shoulder as the joint that is moving, raising your arms until they reach shoulder height, hold for a second and then return. You should feel a good burn in your upper shoulders.
Don’t lift your arms above your shoulders as this will not work the area correctly and can result in injury.
Lying hamstring curl machine
The target muscle group: Hamstrings (upper muscle at the back of your leg)
These exercises are great because they are really easy to do and have fantastic results. They are normally done after a heavy leg workout and use the knee as the joint of movement. They have minimal risks and can be done with minimal effort with the correct form.
How it’s done: Start by adjusting the machine accordingly to your dimensions, then lie with your stomach on the machine, having the back of your legs pushing against the padded bar/lever, just a few centimetres or inches above your ankles. You can also lift your head and rest your elbows on the bench. Then slowly begin lifting the bar with your legs, breathing out on exertion and breathing in as you lower the bar back to starting position.