Isolation lifts are the lifts that focus on one joint and one muscle group to the exclusion of others. Isolation lifts are the opposite of compound lifts which use two or more muscle groups to perform the lift.
Isolation exercises are often used in the ‘largest to smallest’ training method.
This is where isolation lifts are used to exercise the smaller muscles towards the end of a workout, after the larger muscle groups have already been fatigued by compound exercises.
Isolation lifts involve movements such as curling, extending or raising, each designed to target a specific muscle to the exclusion of others.
These exercises are not normally used in weightlifting competitions, as the larger compound lifts are used to test overall strength.
In theory, a person who has a strong lift in one isolated area might not have good strength or muscle development elsewhere, so isolation exercises are not good at testing overall strength.
When should you use isolation lifts?
Although isolation exercises are excellent for fine development and strengthening small areas, they are no substitute for a full range of compound exercises, which can work the whole body and build functional strength.
Isolation lifts should therefore only be used as an ‘extra’ if your aim is overall strength, weight loss or body conditioning.
They are also useful for aesthetic purposes and for working on specific weak muscles:
Isolation lifts for aesthetic purposes
Isolation exercises are good for aesthetic purposes for building muscle in one particular area and to add greater definition.
This is why these lifts are used by bodybuilders to target the development of a certain muscle group and achieve a fine balance in appearance.
However, isolation exercises are only useful for aesthetic tuning if you already have a low body fat percentage, otherwise your body fat will cover up the fine muscle definition.
For example, a well-defined six-pack will only be visible if you have low enough body fat to let the muscle show through.
Isolation lifts to strengthen a weak muscle
Isolation lifts can be useful for working on a weak point that might holding you back in your compound lifts.
My Strength Training explores all the main isolation exercises, so read through our guide to find out exactly which muscles each lift uses, how to perform each lift, and how these exercises can benefit your strength training workout and general gym routine.
Popular isolation lifts
Isolation exercises exist to work all the muscles of the body. Each exercise targets a different specific muscle group.
Here is a list of the most popular isolation lifts – follow the links to read more about each lift:
Do you have any favourite isolation excercises not included here? Let us know in the comments.