Although the world of weightlifting would have you believe isolation exercises have no place in any legit workout, we beg to differ. In this article, we will discuss isolation exercises and why they are so important to your fitness.
Are Isolation Exercises More Important than Compound Exercises?
Isolation exercises are necessarily more important than compound exercises. We like to think they are both equally important for your workout. Hear us out. Isolation exercises develop one muscle rather than multiple muscle groups like compound exercises. The benefit of that is to ensure that all of your muscles are being worked, limiting muscle imbalance. Muscle imbalance can lead to injury if one muscle overpowers another. Think about your hamstring vs. your quadriceps. If one muscle overpowers the other, it can lead to muscle tightness, and muscle pulls. We don’t want that.
Benefits of Isolation Exercises
Isolation exercises should have a place in every workout program. Compound exercises benefit multiple muscle groups, but isolation exercises focus on one muscle group leading to increased strength. Think of it like you are rehabbing one particular muscle and really need to focus on it.
Isolation exercises help you fix muscle imbalances.
For example, squats (compound exercise) build your quads, but they also work your hamstrings. However, squats focus way more on the quads than the hamstrings. If you only do your compound exercise of squats, your quads will grow much stronger than your hamstrings. Quite often, this can lead to injury. If you start adding some isolation exercises for your hamstrings, it will help balance the muscles. An isolation exercise, like hamstring curls, will help you focus on building your hamstrings. Plus, hamstring curls are a blast.
Isolation exercises help you to target specific muscles while resting others.
Compound exercises work several muscle groups, which is usually great. However, if you are overworking a certain muscle using a compound exercise, that can also lead to muscle tears and pulls. For example, if you wanted a chest workout, but you recently worked your triceps and shoulders, bench pressing considerable weight and reworking those muscle groups would not be a good idea. Walk away from the bench press and pick up some free weights. You could do an isolation exercise like chest flies to focus mostly on your pecs. Your shoulders will thank you.
Isolation exercises can help you recover from injuries.
Did you pull a hammy? Compound exercises might lead to more muscle pain for an injury. Too many exercises that involve the hamstring are going to lead to pain. Don’t worry about not working out, though. If you injured your hamstrings, try an isolation exercise like leg extensions to focus on your quads without further hurting your hamstring–capitalize on the injury rather than being hindered by it. Utilizing some isolation movements, building up your muscle on the front side of your leg, exercising another muscle group. Staying away from compound exercises that work your hamstrings will promote faster healing.
Which Isolation Exercises Can I do?
Below you’ll find a complete list of isolation exercises. From a barbell curl that works the isolation of your biceps to a leg extension that focuses on your quadriceps, the videos below will show you how to perform all of those isolation movements.
We’ve organized the exercises by muscle group to help you build your own workouts.
BONUS: Download a free printable exercise checklist [PDF]. The list includes 50 compound exercises and 50 isolation exercises, all organized by muscle group.
Each exercise below is linked to a YouTube video or how-to article so you can learn the proper form.
List of Isolation Exercises
Chest Isolation Exercises
While the barbell bench press is a fan favorite for working the chest muscles, many other exercises utilize this one muscle group. Get ready for a ton of excellent isolation exercises for your chest. Check it out!
- Dumbbell Flyes
- Decline Dumbbell Flyes
- Incline Dumbbell Flyes
- Cable Crossovers
- Bodyweight Flyes
- Butterfly Machine
- Cable Iron Cross
- Flat Bench Cable Flyes
- Incline Cable Flyes
- Decline Cable Flyes
- Single-Arm Cable Crossover
- Low Cable Crossover
- Single-Arm Dumbbell Bench Press
- Cable Chest Press
- Incline Cable Chest Press
- Decline Cable Chest Press
Shoulders Isolation Exercises
Shoulder muscle can be worked with compound movements, but several isolation exercises like flyes and dumbbell shrugs exercise this muscle group. Look at our extensive isolation movements below to include in your workout routine.
Back Isolation Exercises
While a compound exercise will definitely get those back muscles working, there are several isolation exercises listed below that will engage this muscle group. Practice these exercises, and you will look like a professional swimmer.
Biceps Isolation Exercises
These isolation exercises are important for when you want to flex to show off your muscles. Many isolation exercises target this muscle group. From barbell curls to cable curls, get those muscles working.
Triceps Need Attention Too
Let’s not forget the muscle group on the back of our arms. Tricep isolation exercises are important so that you don’t have muscle imbalance due to overworking the biceps with endless barbell curls. Cable pushdowns and close grip bench presses are just a few examples of isolating this muscle group.
If you are looking for isolation exercises that target the triceps with just your bodyweight, check out this list of recommended bodyweight tricep exercises. Get that tricep isolation going so you can make sure your arm stops moving when you wave. You know what we mean.
Triceps Isolation Exercises
Legs Isolation Exercises
We all love leg curls. That’s not all you can do to work your legs. Check out more ways to exercise those muscle groups below with these fabulous isolation exercises.
Bodyweight Exercises for Legs
Like the triceps, we highlighted some awesome bodyweight isolation exercises you can perform to engage your leg muscles. Click on our bodyweight leg exercises to add these isolation movements to your workout routine.
Download our FREE 12-week workout plan. The plan includes a daily schedule, list of exercises, and the number of sets and reps for each exercise.
Isolation Exercises Vs. Compound Exercises
Exercises are categorized as either isolation exercises (involving a single muscle group) or compound exercises (involving multiple muscle groups).
You can see the difference when comparing two exercises—like the seated back extension and the deadlift.
When you do a seated back extension, you mostly only engage your back, a specific muscle group. But when you deadlift, you engage your core, glutes, quads, hamstrings, and many smaller muscle groups.
The benefits of compound exercise are obvious, but isolation exercises still have their place by isolating one muscle group.
Isolation exercises are great for recovery, target toning, and correcting muscle imbalances. Isolation exercises should be mixed in as wonderful compliments to compound weight lifting exercises. You want to make sure you are isolating muscles on both sides of the body. For example, if your workout routine involves an isolation exercise working biceps curls on your right side, you need to make sure you do those bicep curls on the left side too.
Another example is calf raises. Any isolation movements that you perform on the right side need to be duplicated on the left side.
Should you decrease compound movements? Definitely not. Keep those compound exercises going, but focus on strengthening your other muscles through isolation movements.
Top Isolation Exercises For Glutes
Isolation exercises for glutes have been trending lately. Athletes, especially competitive bodybuilders, often need to tone their glute muscles but don’t necessarily want to further build their hamstrings or quads.
When it comes to glute training, isolation exercises have an important place in creating balanced lower body muscles.
With this in mind, we made a list of glute-specific isolation exercises to add to your workout routine.
Isolation Exercises For Glutes:
While we often work the rest of our legs, sometimes we forget the major muscles in our butts called the glutes. The glutes are often activated during compound exercises. There are ways to isolate those muscle groups to ensure they are strong.
Regardless of your goal, it’s important to include isolation exercises for glutes to balance your bigger muscle groups.
Whenever you’re doing squats, deadlifts, and leg press exercises, the emphasis is never on your glutes. Because of this, your glutes will always be behind unless you don’t give them specific attention.
Protein Powders Can Help
To help your workout, consider taking one of the following (don’t do them all!):
These protein powders can help you perform compound exercises, and isolation exercises better by fueling your muscles during your workouts.
Making Protein Powder More Delicious
Not sure if you want to go the protein powder route because you hate the taste? Try putting the powder in a smoothie with some fruit. There are so many different flavors to try now, which helps as well. If it tastes too chalky in water, go for mixing it with some milk. Be creative so that the protein powder can increase your compound exercise and isolation exercises by fueling your body.
Listen to your body
This might be one of the hardest things to do, but it’s true. Tuning into your body is the key to gaining strength and avoiding injury. How many times have you performed just one more bench press even though your muscles are struggling? Start to understand how some of those compound exercises might be detrimental to your overall fitness. One of your muscles might be weaker than some others in the compound exercise. That might be why you are struggling beyond just being tired. Some isolation exercises to develop that particular muscle might be just what you need. Get off that flat bench and try some lateral raises for your shoulders or some rows for your back. Then maybe lie back down, grab that barm and see if the chest presses come any easier. Chances are, the isolation exercise you did will benefit your compound exercises.
Start incorporating these isolation exercises into your workout routine to enhance your survival fitness. While compound exercises are more common in fitness, don’t discount the isolation exercises. Think about your posture. If you focus too much on your chest without working your back, it can lead to rounded shoulders. Bad posture causes a multitude of issues and is hard to fix. By engaging in isolation exercise, you increase your strength and muscle balance.
It’s good to focus mostly on compound exercises, but make sure to find balance with these isolation exercises that focus on one muscle group at a time. An isolation exercise added to your compound exercises throughout the week is the perfect way to up your workout routine.
When you build a healthy balance of isolation exercises and compound exercises, you’ll get the body you want in a timeline you like. Now go bench press and then follow it up with some back isolation.
Our team at The Fitness Tribe often collaborates together to produce content. Many times the content is not written by a single author, instead it is usually a team effort.