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Bodybuilding: basic or isolation exercises?

Bodybuilding: basic or isolation exercises?


There are a multitude of exercises designed to build or strengthen the body's various muscles. However, in this whole range of exercises, there are two main families. We have the family of Basic Exercises and the family of Isolation Exercises.

In their names, we understand that in the first family of exercises, the focus is on the base, in other words, the foundations of the musculature, whereas in the second, the work is mainly concentrated on one zone, and corresponds more to finishing work.

what's the reality? And what benefits can we expect from either family?

Basic exercises

Basic exercises are all those that can stimulate a maximum number of muscles in addition to the one primarily targeted. What's more, basic exercises are polyarticular, meaning that several joints are involved in the exercise.

As a result of the multiplicity of muscles involved in the exercise, the force developed will be greater, making it possible to work with relatively heavy loads.

This overloading will result in stimulation in line with the load used.

What's more, the fact that so many muscles are involved will have a greater impact on the overall mass of each one, resulting in greater weight gain.

Let's take a basic pectoral exercise as an example:

Bench press: main muscle: pectorals

auxiliary muscles: triceps, anterior deltoids

stabilizing muscles: lumbar, abdominal, shoulder stabilizing muscles.

As you've guessed, basic exercises are an integral part of any weight-building program, as they are the real muscle-builders. They will also be used first in daily sessions, as these exercises are more demanding in terms of energy expended and load used.

Isolation exercises

These exercises are the opposite of the basic exercises in that, unlike the latter, they stimulate only one area of a muscle. They are therefore considered to be single-joint exercises, as they only stimulate one muscle and one joint.

Let's take the biceps curl as an example: the shoulder joint is fixed, blocked by the fact that the arm is resting on the desk; the elbow remains the only movable joint, so as to lower the forearm and raise it towards the shoulder. The only muscle used is the biceps, particularly the lower part.

The fact that only one muscle is involved obviously has an impact on the amount of load lifted, and therefore on the exercise's capacity to stimulate. The aim of isolation training is often to shape or sculpt a particular area.

As the load used cannot be large, stimulation will be achieved by means of long series.

Exercice d'isolation musculation

The SQUAT, basic movement

Which exercises should you start with?

Contrary to popular belief, it's not compulsory to start training sessions with basic exercises.

Indeed, even if basic exercises require you to be fresh and full of energy to use the heaviest possible loads, it can be interesting to start with isolation exercises for a number of reasons:

Isolation work doesn't require you to use extremely heavy loads, and therefore allows you to work safely.

Starting with isolation exercises is a way of working a specific area at 100% of your capacity and therefore stimulating that area to the full.

Working in isolation allows you to pre-fatigue the whole muscle, which will then be worked with the basic exercises. This pre-fatigue will bring you to a high level of stimulation without the need to handle the loads you would have had to take if you had started with basic exercises.

Finally, changing the order in which the muscles are attacked will encourage an adaptive response. This is the Weider principle of "Muscle Confusion". This avoids falling into a routine that puts not only the muscle, but also the athlete, to sleep.

Although basic exercises make up the bulk of bodybuilding sessions, it's important to incorporate isolation exercises. These enable you to build mass to a lesser extent in more targeted areas.

What's more, starting with isolation exercises can be useful for kick-starting your sessions and encouraging your muscles to adapt to a different type of training.

Finally, when preparing for competition, isolation work enables you to work each muscle zone precisely for extreme definition, and limits the risk of injury as the loads handled remain moderate.

Vary the pleasures, change the order of exercises and incorporate isolation exercises into your workouts in a different way - you won't be disappointed!

Author Alexandre CARPENTIER

Bodybuilding Champion N.A.C 2012

Alexandre shares his bodybuilding experience with MegaGear blog readers