Refining your program by adding Isolation and Machine exercises
As a rule of thumb, for the most effective training routine you should always include your basic exercises as your foundation. However, at some point you will reach a plateau, at which further supplementation with isolation exercises makes sense for individual muscle groups. Reasons for this may be that a desired muscle group does not grow as much as you would like to or lacks behind the growth of your other muscles, which may grow stronger and faster in a shorter period of time than your weak points. Competitors and athletes also use isolation and machine training to work on specifically targeting and isolating the feeling of a specific muscle group. By targeting only certain muscles or being guided by the machine, you can concentrate better on the target muscle and isolate it more in the sense of a mind-muscle connection, which increases the effectiveness in terms of the objective compared to a compound exercise. Studies have shown that concentrating and developing a mind-muscle connection improves the EMG-activity of said muscle. Therefore isolation training for lagging muscle groups can be essential to burst through plateaus and reach new heights in terms of progress.
However, one should always keep in mind that the total growth stimulus of a basic exercise is significantly greater than that of an isolation exercise. In this respect, isolation exercises should be integrated into the training plan as a supplement or auxiliary movement to your already fundamentally strong training routine, not as a substitute. An example would be chest training. The basis is the classic push exercise (bench presses, incline bench press, dips), but it can be extended and improved by isolation exercises (flyes, cable cross, butterfly). Another example is legs. If your quadriceps are lagging you can add leg extensions to your leg program that has squats as its basis.
Nevertheless, this will further increase the training volume, which almost always leads you to further split your training into more and more units. This can be counter-productive if you are looking for the most effective and efficient training possible. As a rule of thumb your main workout should not last longer than 60-90min (after warmup, before cardio and stretching). My experience has shown that workouts that are longer are significantly less effective, since a high intensity cannot continue indefinitely in training. Concentration and strength is always highest for the first exercise and lowest for the last. Smart programming and exercise selection are therefore key for maintaining the best results and therefore progression.
Last but not least, there are muscle groups, which are sufficiently trained as a beginner with compound exercises, but whose growth stimulus and effectiveness diminish and are no longer sufficient at some point. Especially the calves and the lateral shoulders (Deltoideus, pars acromialis) are not getting enough stimulus for further growth after a certain point is reached.While the calves are involved in all basic exercises for the lower body, they are, however, not loaded enough for a further growth stimulus. Therefore, specific targeted training of these aforementioned muscle groups may be advisable even for beginners.
For a beginner’s lateral shoulders, the growth stimulus is sufficient when overhead pressing for the first time few months. Nevertheless, the focus and main load here is clearly on the front shoulder (Deltoideus pars clavicularis). However, the three origins of the shoulder muscle make the shoulder a 3-headed muscle with:
- M deltoideus pars clavicularis (anterior or front)
- M deltoideus pars acromialis (lateral)
- M deltoideus pars spinalis (dorsal or rear)
Anatomically, each head has another function. They have the function to raise the arm in front of the torso (Anteversio), the rear head lifts behind the torso (Retroversio) and the lateral head raises the arm to the side (Abduction). Accordingly, the rear head is included in the back training, the anterior in all push exercises. What remains is the lateral, whose function is not really sufficiently trained in any basic compound lift. However, the lateral head of the shoulder makes up most of the shoulder’s width, which every bodybuilder tries to develop in order to get that so desired V-shape. Therefore after paying your dues as a beginner, it is necessary to integrate lateral raises into the plan once you are becoming more and more advanced in order to fully develop the shoulder aesthetically and functionally. Imbalances can ruin not only the look of your physique but also your posture.
A last word regarding the training of traps and forearms. Both muscle parts are loaded practically enough with basic exercises. The traps when deadlifting and rowing, the forearms in all exercises that require a strong grip on the bar. Nevertheless, some of the development of the trap remains, so that here additional barbell and/or dumbbell shrugs may be required for further development.
Often times in the career of a lifter, you will encounter a problem with the development of your forearms once you start using lifting straps. While lifting straps may aid you in moving a higher load when training back, it will stall or even reduce the development of your forearms significantly once you overuse them. Sometimes the grip also is a natural limitation and protection on how much weight you should and could be moving safely for example on the deadlift without injuring yourself. However, if you still decide to use lifting straps regardless, you should think about adding targeted forearm training to compensate. Always keep in mind that once you are injured, you can no longer train and progress. So, train not only harder, but smarter. No brain, no gain.
|Fig.5: Advanced 3 Day Split Routine|
|Workout A||Workout B||Workout C|
|Chest Shoulder Triceps||Back Biceps Abs||Quads Hamstrings Calves|
|Incline bench press||Deadlift||Squats|
|Dumbbell flyes||Dumbbell rows|
|Reverse butterfly||Close grip pulldowns||Stiff-legged deadlifts|
|OHP||Barbell curls||Leg curls|
|Lateral raises||Crunches||Standing calf raises|