Isolation Exercises

How to Use Isolation Exercises to Build Muscle

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 Isolation exercises are weight training exercises that place emphasis on a limited number of muscle groups and usually a single joint; for example, the calves at the rear of the lower leg, the biceps of the upper arms, or the abdominal muscles six pack.

Alternatively, compound exercises work multiple muscle groups such as the legs and butt with squats, the shoulders and arms with overhead presses, and a wide range of muscles and muscle groups with the deadlift exercise.

Multiple joints are involved.

In any comprehensive weight training program you should do both types of exercise, and even Olympic and Powerlifting competitors will sometimes build isolation exercised into their programs even though the main training exercises are compound exercises.

On the other hand bodybuilders, especially competition bodybuilders, use isolation exercises a a mainstay or their programs because judging can be comparatively specific for muscle groups and competitors don't want to risk being deficient in any specific muscle group.

The following are examples of isolation exercises.

Calf Raises - Seated or Standing

Calf raises involve pushing upward on the front of the foot (sometimes called toe or heel raises). Here's the fine point to remember: Standing calf raises work both the gastrocnemius and the soleus muscles; seated calf raises only work the soleus muscle.

This exercise can be done with or without weights, or a special gym machine for the purpose.

  • Sit in a chair with both feet on the ground.
  • Pushing down through the toes, raise your heels off the ground.
  • Hold the position for 10 seconds and repeat 8-12 times.
  • Place a weight (barbell) or hand pressure on the thighs for extra resistance.

This exercise places the entire weight of the body on the exercised leg (s).

  • Stand upright on both feet.
  • Push down through the toes lifting both heels off the ground.
  • Hold the position for 10 seconds and repeat 8-12 times.

Donkey Calf Raises
You may find a specialized gym machine for Donkey Raises, but they are uncommon. The machine positions the body with torso bent over and a weight placing pressure on the hips. Soleus and gastrocnemius muscles are emphasized in the one heel-raise movement.

 The Dumbbell Arm Curl

The arm curl is a basic "isolation" exercise. You can do it with dumbbells, barbell or machines at the gym. The arm curl flexes and extends the elbow joint and targets the biceps and the brachialis muscles of the upper arm. Several variations of the arm curl are available.

 The Dumbbell Triceps Extension

In this version of the dumbbell triceps extension, you start by holding a dumbbell in two hands with arms extended above the head. You lower the weight behind the head then return it to the starting position. The triceps extension develops the triceps muscles at back of the upper arms.


Thrust each leg forward alternately while bending at the knee. Make sure the knee does not extend over the toes. Modify this with dumbbells in each hand held at the side or with a light barbell on the shoulders. You can do lunges forward or backward, single step or walking.

Lat Pulldown

The pulldown or 'lat' pulldown is an exercise mainly for the back although the shoulders and arms get some workout as well. The equipment for the cable pulldown is usually a weighted cable pulley station with adjustable weights and seat.

The latissimus dorsi on either side of the middle to upper back is the main target muscle group and is also the muscle from which the exercise gets its casual name. These muscles are called 'the lats' for short.

Muscles worked: the lats; shoulders and arms to a lesser extent.

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