Isolate Muscles to Refine Your Physique
A lot of my articles are focused on doing basic compound movements and getting stronger in the 8-12 rep range for maximum growth. This article will go against people’s natural opinion. It will focus on the isolation movements that can help refine a person’s physique.
There are several movements that can accomplish this. For the hamstring it can be the Romanian dead-lift. A lot of people will comment and say that isn’t an isolation exercise. My answer to them is that it can be. By keeping the legs completely straight after shifting the hips back, the lifter can focus their energy on getting a good hamstring stretch. The Romanian dead-lift has been a hamstring training staple for years. It has built the hamstrings of many men. This exercise is especially effective if it is done after hamstring curls. By doing hamstring curls, the lifter can pre-exhaust the hamstrings before doing a compound movement. This will force the hamstrings to do more work in a compound movement such as the Romanian dead-lift therefore making it more of an isolation exercise.
Another way to use this technique, is to do it with the bench press. Go to a hammer strength machine and do 5 sets of 12-15 before doing your bench press workout. The result is that you won’t be able to lift as much weight, but, the chest will get a massive pump, and will contract harder during the bench press.
Note: This is not to be done by a beginner! For beginners this technique is off limits. Most beginners have so much weakness that simply focusing on getting stronger in the 6-15 rep range will work best for them. After people have built their base, then it is time to add in these techniques. The base is the rough unrefined look. This is what a lot of power lifters look like. It isn’t a bad physique, it is just unrefined.
Isolation movements can enhance a person’s physique if they have already developed their base. At first, it is best to focus on isolation exercises in weak areas. Calf raises, hamstring curls, barbell curls, tricep extensions. These are basic isolation exercises, and they work. People can still build muscle with these basic movements. Think of it this way: for every 2 compound exercises add 1 isolation exercise. It sounds basic, but this strategy works. Here’s a leg day sample.
- Front squats 5 sets 3-20 reps: 20, 10, 10, 5, 3
- Bulgarian Split Squats 5 sets 12 reps per leg
- Hamstring curls super set with leg extensions: 5 sets 15-20 reps
- Romanian dead-lift with straight legs: 5 sets 12 reps
- Calf Raises 10 sets 10-50 reps: 50, 30, 30, 20, 20, 10, 8, 10, 30, 50
Yes, you read that right: on calf raises you will go up to sets of 50. This is done intentionally to get blood in the calves before going up to a heavy set of 8. On the front squats, a set of 3 is important because it will keep exhausting the fast twitch muscle fibers early in the workout before getting a great pump after that part. Leg day will get people results as long as they have the guts to do it. Notice the principle was the same, heavy compound movements along with isolation exercises to get blood in the muscles.
Moving on to Arms
This also works great for arms. For arm training, a lifter could start a weighted pull ups and weighted dips super set. After that, they could do super sets of triceps and biceps until they finish their session. This will lead to great success in training the arms.
Success to me is getting the result you want. Since we are constantly getting results anyway, we might as well get the results that we want. By training the weighted pull ups and weighted dips first, the lifter is able to exhaust the arms with heavy weight. This works great since after the heavy mass builders lifters can then focus on the beauty work, as I enjoy calling it.
Mass Builders for Arms:
- Barbell curl: This is a traditional barbell, an Olympic bar
- Weighted Chin ups
- Weighted Dips
- Tricep extensions with cables
- Close grip bench press
Those are the mass builders for the arms, everything else is beauty and detail work. If you dislike the term beauty, call it something else, I think muscles have beauty. It looks better to have muscle then to have body fat. If you don’t like that statement then enjoy being fat.
Remember, being fat sucks. Also remember that fat and obese are to different things. I come back to isolation training. Bodybuilders do too much of it, and power lifters neglect it too much. The way to fix this is to add effective isolation movements into your training program. One exercise will not be effective for everybody.
For me, barbell curls with an Olympic Bar build my biceps better than anything else. I’ve seen some people who only do incline curls with 25 lbs, and their arms are huge. It is about finding the isolation exercises that work best for you, and bring up your weakest body parts. If you are a physique athlete (cares about their physique the most) then you will be interested in bringing up lagging body parts, and trust me we all have lagging body parts. If you are a power lifter you will want to fix the weak areas in your big three lifts.
Tip: Mistakes and Weaknesses
Common Weaknesses in the Big 3 lifts:
- Squat: Weak quads, weak core
- Dead-lift: Weak Back especially lats, weak core, and weak hamstrings
- Bench Press: Weak chest, shoulders, sometimes triceps
The most common mistake I see when people squat is that their hips shoot back. This mistake is because the lifter has weak quads, and that causes his or her lower back to take over the lift. Their lower back also takes over because their core is weak. The best way to fix this is to start doing breathing pause squats, and paused front squats.
Pause squats force the lifter to use correct technique, and taking full deep breaths at the bottom of the lift, teaches lifters how to use their core properly when squatting. Front squats will take the lower back out of the lift and force the lifter to use his or her quads to get the weight up. A lot of power lifters aren’t humble enough to start doing front squats. They don’t do front squats because front squats are hard.
Front squats build the quads very effectively too. To start doing front squats, pick a weight that you can do 6-10 times and do that for 5 sets of 6-10 reps increasing the weight each set. For power lifters it is important for them to know that the front squat is an assistance exercise, so use it to build the quads, not to max out on. Power lifters must learn that it is their quads that usually hold them back from squatting more weight. For bodybuilders, front squats will help with building the quads. For the dead-lift, a lot of power lifters again could benefit from stronger lats and a stronger core.
Of course hamstrings and glutes will help, but those factor more into the dead-lift lock out. For starting strength off the floor, the lats and abs are the most important. There is some leg drive on the start but not as much as the squat. This means that a strong back and core will help the starting strength off the ground. This is where most people screw up on the dead-lift. The hardest part of the dead-lift is the start. I even know for myself, that once I get the bar off the ground I always finish the lift. The hardest part is off of the floor. My core has always been my weak point on the dead-lift. I am strong in the back and glutes, and weak in the hamstrings and core. People need to find their weakness and get rid of it to get their dead-lift up.
For the bench press, contrary to popular belief, most people’s weakness is the chest and shoulders. This is especially true for lifters who don’t use bench shirts. It is also more effective to be a chest dominant bench presser because the chest is bigger than the triceps. This means lifters need to relearn how to bench with their chest. The most effective way to do this is to bench with your feet up to eliminate leg drive. Doing this will help teach lifters how to relearn benching with the chest.
Another overlooked weakness when it comes to benching is weak shoulders. Everyone wants to say that their bench sucks because their triceps are weak, this isn’t usually the case. Most people just want to avoid hard work. Training triceps is easier than training shoulders. This is why people would rather train the triceps. The triceps are important for the bench press, they just aren’t as important as the chest and shoulders.
A great way to build mass in the shoulders is to do overhead presses, dumbbell presses, lateral raises. All of this will help to add thickness to the shoulders. I have yet to see a raw lifter with a big bench, who has small shoulders. One day I will have seen it, but as of right now I have yet to see it.
Bench Press Prowess and More
Chest Movements to Improve Your Bench:
- Feet up Bench press Dan Green Bench
- When benching with the feet up go for 5 sets of 10-12 reps: The purpose of the exercise is for the lifter to relearn how to bench with the chest
- Incline Bench press: 5 sets 8-12 reps
- Chest flys: 3 sets 15 reps: These do a great job of adding mass to the chest
- Weighted Dips: 5 sets of 8 reps: Going heavy on these is a great way to overload the chest and increase the bench
- Here are the shoulder exercises that will help the bench press.
Shoulder Movements to Increase Your Bench:
- Overhead Press: 5 sets 8 reps: This is the go to mass builder for shoulders
- Seated Dumbbell Press: 5 sets 12 reps
- Lateral Raises: 5 sets 20 reps
Tricep Movements to Increase Your bench:
- Close grip bench press: 5 sets 6-8 reps: Again this is a go to mass builder for the triceps
- Skull crushers: 5 sets 15 reps
- Rope tricep extensions: 5 sets 12-15 reps
The way to add these would be to plug them into a bench session. Spend the majority of the time working on the actual bench press. The last 15 minutes go after the accessories. Accessories are no substitute for the actual bench press itself.
Increase the bench press frequency to a minimum of 4 days per week. The bench press needs volume in order to improve. Most people will notice that they are bad at benching with their chest. Once that issue is resolved, it will be a lot easier to make progress on the bench press. This ties into the beginning of the article of why it is important to isolate muscles. If you don’t isolate muscles you will never learn how to correctly contract each one. Before I learned to use my glutes to their full potential on squats, I learned to hip thrust effectively.
While I no longer do the hip thrust, I do admit that it served its purpose of teaching me to learn how to fire the hips with explosiveness. Now, my go to hip and glute movement is the straight leg dead-lift, this movement really trains my glutes, hips and hamstrings hard. For some people, the Romanian dead-lift may not be effective. Some people might have to do stiff leg dead-lifts. Stiff leg dead-lifts are a good exercise as well for isolating the hamstrings. The issue is that it can be easy to cheat and use the lower back. In my case my lower back gets a lot of work during a stiff leg dead-lift as well as the glutes and hamstrings. That may not be true for every one.
My lower back is very well developed compared to most. I have seen lifters who get great hamstring development from stiff leg dead-lifts. I have always gotten better results from Romanian straight leg dead-lifts.
Good mornings are also a great exercise that have given me good results. Good mornings strengthen the entire posterior chain. Good mornings transfer more to the dead-lift than they do to the squat. But, who doesn’t want to increase their dead-lift. In my case, I want to dead-lift 500 lbs for 6 reps power lifters might want to increase their 1 rm. Either way, the good morning is a great choice to isolate the posterior chain and use it to help out the dead-lift. Of course, I will say it again, there is no substitute for actually doing the dead-lift. Pick a day and do regular dead-lifts, pick another day and do stiff leg dead-lifts and Romanian dead-lifts.
Isolating the different muscle groups and working on them individually will help you get the physique you’ve always wanted.
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