An isolation exercise, as the name would suggest, is an exercise that involves just one joint and recruits a limited number of muscles, usually with the particular focus on one body part. The most famous isolation exercise is perhaps the biceps curl: a move designed to do nothing more than pump up a very specific part of your arms. It's a vanity exercise, in other words.
But the rise of CrossFit and "functional fitness" in general has convinced most gym-goers that such moves are surplus to requirement. Why do a curl when you can do a full-body movement such as a pull-up? Surely exercises that activate more muscles build more real-world strength?
Not so, according to a recent review of research on the leg extension. The move is simple: it simply asks you to straighten your knee. But a Tufts University study found that doing leg extensions alone still increased the walking speed of elderly men by almost 50%. Even isolation exercises recruit some stabilising muscles, if done correctly.
You can turn every movement – whether it’s a squat or an isolation move, such as a skull crusher – into a full-body exercise by starting with three steps: flex your abs for greater stability, squeeze your glutes and tighten your shoulder blades for better posture. That way, you can hone your mirror muscles, without neglecting the rest of your body in the process.
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