Beginner Training Development: Bodybuilding Without Isolation Exercises!

You do NOT need to have a high volume body part split training program designed around isolation exercises. In fact, let's discuss this idea of isolation training. Here's why teens should not use isolation!

Article Summary:
  • It doesn't make sense to try to attack each muscle individually.
  • Extreme amounts of time in the gym isn't necessary.
  • Isolation movements aren't necessary for teenagers.
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    Train Like A Pro, Look Like A Pro?

    What would you think if you saw a 16-year-old aspiring lawyer fighting a big case? What about a 12-year-old aspiring NASCAR Driver racing through the streets at 150+ miles per hour? Or a 13-year-old aspiring doctor with scalpel ready to perform surgery on a friend?

    You'd probably think the same thing any rational person would: What the h#ll is going on here?

    Luckily, I've never seen or heard of any of those things happening. My guess is that no teenager would be stupid enough to explore any of those options. They aren't ready. There are years of education, practice, and preparation that go into being a professional in any discipline that cannot be skipped, except in one realm.

    There is one field where beginners can act like professionals and society won't pay a second look: Bodybuilding. For some reason it's okay for someone with minimal training experience to implement an advanced program. Think of how ridiculous this would be in any other aspect of life!

    There is a SERIOUS need to educate teenagers on the proper stages of training development. Advanced programming only leads to advanced results if you're an advanced lifter. Otherwise, advanced programming leads to accelerated fatigue, along with the accompanying diminished bone and muscle mass, poor sleeping patterns, mood swings, and more. Sounds great!

    Teens, it's important for you to understand that the training programs used by professional bodybuilders are designed to get THEM results. They train the way they do because they've progressed to that point. You do NOT need to have a high volume body part split training program designed around isolation exercises. In fact, let's discuss this idea of isolation training.


    [ Click here to learn more. ]
    Teen Training!
    The first key to success is developing a routine. As a beginner, you want to start with the basics, which means incorporating body-weight exercises.
    Ricky Cutch

    What Is Isolation Training?

    The whole concept behind isolation training is that you can cut muscles out of a movement so that the majority of the stress is placed on ONE individual muscle.

    First off, that's not nearly as possible as many people would have you believe. Secondly, why would you want that? The idea is to get bigger and stronger, right? What is the appeal of using less musculature during a lift? Wouldn't that mean that you have to do many more exercises to "isolate" other muscles in order to get bigger? Yes. Yes it would.

    But let's address these one at a time. Everyone loves a good ol' fashion biceps curl so let's use that as an example. A biceps curl is simply a resisted elbow flexion pattern. There are four primary muscles that produce elbow flexion: biceps brachii, brachialis, brachioradialis, and pronator teres. This means that these four muscles each contribute a certain amount of force to the total amount of observed elbow flexion torque.

    Biceps Biceps
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    Dumbbell Biceps Curl.
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    Let's just say, COMPLETELY arbitrarily, that each of these muscle groups produces 10 lbs of force for a 1RM max of 40 lbs. The idea behind isolation is that if you remove some of the other muscles from the equation, you can overload the remaining ones.

    Let's say we find a way to eliminate force contributions from all the muscles except the brachialis. Isolation training theory says that by doing this we should be able to overload the brachialis.

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    I'm not so convinced. If you can produce 40 lbs of force using all the involved musculature, than you can produce less force using less musculature. Who is to say that the individual contribution of the identified muscle changes at all?

    The brachialis contributes 10 lbs of force to a 40 lbs maximum elbow flexion movement. We eliminate the other muscles. Now the brachialis contributes 10 lbs of force to a 10 lbs maximum elbow flexion movement. Total increase in stimulus to the muscle? Zero.

    Instead of overloading the brachialis, you effectively found a way to minimize the potential training stimulus to other muscles, and essentially convinced your body to be weaker. People love this type of training though because they can "really feel it" and it makes them sore. Playing in traffic will make you sore. That doesn't make it a good training stimulus.


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    Compound Vs Isolation!
    Isolated exercises are great for minor tweaking, however for those looking to make significant changes they are not ideal.
    Shannon Clark

    The bottom line is that your nervous system dictates which muscles produce force. The attempt to isolate certain musculature by manipulating joint angles/positions will alter the amount of force that each involved muscle will produce, but THE SAME MUSCLES WILL STILL BE PRODUCING FORCE.

    Our brachialis example is completely fictitious because regardless of how you turn your hand or position your shoulder, all the aforementioned muscles will produce force in a heavily resisted elbow flexion pattern. Period.

    Why Shouldn't You Use Isolation Movements?

    Now that we understand that, let's move on to why we would not want to use an isolation approach anyway. It doesn't make sense to me to try to attack each muscle individually, if you don't need to do that to get a training response.

    I love training as much as anyone, but if I can spend 75 minutes in the gym and get the same (probably better) training response than I could from 3 hours in the gym, I'm going for 75 minutes. For teenagers, extreme amounts of time in the gym focused on isolation exercises is neither appropriate or necessary.

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    It Doesn't Make Sense To
    Attack Each Muscle Individually.

    I promise you that your biceps will grow from just performing chin-ups, and your triceps will grow from just performing resisted push-ups. There is no need for an arm day. Your hamstrings and quadriceps will grow from deadlifting and lunging. There is no need for a leg extension or leg curl machine.

    I understand that I am not a professional bodybuilder, and understand that many professional bodybuilders may use these means to accomplish their goals. I'm not saying they shouldn't. I'm just saying they aren't necessary for teenagers.

    Do You Prefer Compound Or Isolation Movements?

    It Depends On The Muscle I Am Working

    Yes, isolation movements and machine work will make you bigger and stronger. People have been using these techniques for years and getting results. I've never been interested in just getting results. I've always been interested in getting the best results, in pursuing the MOST effective forms of training.

    When it comes to teenagers, compound movements will beat out isolation movements every time. Full body training sessions 3-4 times a week progressing into an upper body/lower body split will beat out body part splits (e.g. Monday: Chest, Tuesday: Legs, Wednesday: Arms, etc.) every time.


    Size and strength will come to any teenager that begins any form of resistance training. In fact, the research has shown us that improvements in lean muscle mass and strength come to teenagers simply as a natural part of growth, meaning you could come home from school and watch your Baywatch DVDs all night and after two years you'd be stronger than you were two years previously.

    I'm under the assumption that you don't just want results, you want maximum results. Start with multi-joint lifts. Start with full body routines. Progress to more advanced training programs when you NEED to in order to get results, not just because you read somewhere that someone bigger than you is doing it.

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    You Don't Just Want Results,
    You Want Maximum Results.

    Like any part of life though, you need to start at the beginning. Following a training program best suited to your training level will get you the results you desire and keep you healthy. What more could you ask for?

    About The Author:

      Kevin Neeld, CSCS has helped athletes of all ages fulfill their athletic potential. Through the application of functional anatomy, biomechanics, and neural control, Kevin specializes in guiding athletes to optimal health and performance. He can be reached by email at or through his website at