Ok, so this is an argument that seems to have been brewing for a while and I’ve been getting some questions about lately. As usual with this type of thing, there are people who are rabidly on one side of the issue or the other and absolutely can’t see why you’d do something another way. Also as per usual in these types of arguments, the real answer falls somewhere in the middle.
Here are the two sides of the argument: The train the muscle camp maintains that you should focus on working an individual muscle or muscle group (such as the biceps or the “chest”) in isolation and as thoroughly as possible. The goal is that this stimulation will make the muscles bigger/stronger/whatever. These are the guys you see coming into the gym to work “Chest” (incidentally, this is always Monday. Always.) or “Shoulders”, etc.
Then you’ve got the “movement” camp. These people think that the muscles should work with other muscles to create action. So as opposed to working their pecs or their deltoids, they’re going to come into the gym and work “pushing” muscles. Interestingly enough, Monday often seems to be the universal “push” day. Some habits die hard.
Whenever I get the question of which direction to side in the answer is always: “It depends”. Here’s why:
Isolation training is very valuable for rehabilitation purposes, bringing up lagging body parts, fixing weak links in the chain, and making the most use of anabolic substances to create sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.
So, if you’re hurt, lacking somewhere, or a drug using bodybuilder, then isolate away. That and we all like to pump the guns once in a while. If you don’t, then you’re probably lying to yourself.
I’m pretty firmly in the “training movement” crowd except that I see the value of isolation work for the above reasons. Since I’ve made a stand, I might as well get into why I believe the way I do.
-Training movements are in line with the natural nervous system pattern and design of your body. Look at what your body was designed to do (run, jump, lift, squat, twist, push, pull, etc). All of those movements involve more than one muscle and generally more than one muscle group. So it makes sense to train your body using more than one muscle.
-I don’t believe that most new workout enthusiasts have the appropriate mind-muscle connection to truly utilize isolation techniques effectively. Quite simply, they don’t “feel” their muscles well enough to get much out of those leg curls, front raises, or concentration curls. When a newbie does a concentration curl with 15 pounds it’s a very different looking motion than a professional bodybuilder doing the same exercise with 50 pounds and the biceps are stimulated very differently.
-Training in isolation is the least efficient method way to get strong. Sure, if you wrist curl, concentration curl, lat pulldown, and so on you can develop a fair amount of pulling strength. However, train with some chin-ups and then eventually weighted chin-ups and you’ll get stronger faster. This will overload those muscles that the other exercises would have hit far more and result in more growth.
-Training in isolation is boring and keeps you from doing cool shit. Ok, this is just my opinion, but think about it. A sample bodybuilding isolation-style leg workout might consist of:
Leg Extensions: 4×10 superset with:
Leg Curls: 4×10
Seated Calf Raise: 4×15 (you have to do high reps for calves *rolls eyes*
That workout makes me want to cry.
Instead, you could do:
Standing Broad Jumps: 3×5
Overhead Squats: 3×5
Zercher Lunges: 3×8 superset with:
Dumbbell Romanian Deadlifts: 3×8
-Nothing too unusual there, either, but a whole lot more fun and a lot more ass-kicking.
So vote is to know what your goals are, and for most people’s goals, you’re going to want to train movements, not muscles. Train the movement and you’ll probably end up bigger, stronger, faster, leaner, more athletic, and… more muscular!