Compound exercises? Isolation movements? What the hell are they??? If you are new to bodybuilding, I wouldn’t be surprised you asked those. I did when I first started out. And as most newbies, I was only interested in the quickest & most effective ways to build my arms, my legs, my chest, etc… I was always looking for videos that showed things like “The Best Way To Build Massive Arms”or “The Quickest Way To Massive Legs” and all that shit.
The things is, building a healthy, chiselled body takes time. A lot of time. People go through years of trial & error, disappointments, pain, sweat and blood before they got that ‘beach body’. It’s all about perseverance through all the failures and identifying what works. The rule of thumb is that whatever works for other people, may not necessarily work for you. Why? Coz we are all made different.
One of the first things I discovered was that there are different types of exercises that work different muscle groups at the same time and also those that worked only a particular one. That is what this post is about. To show you the difference between these two types of movements.
Compound movements are exercises that work different muscle groups all at the same time. Some of these are considered the Holy Grail of bodybuilding. So important that you can never not have them in your routine.
Compound movements are a good starting point for beginners as they allow for the body to gradually and progressively adjust to the stress of building muscle in the gym. And it always feels like a total body workout. And when it comes to adding mass, that slab of meat on your chest for example, compound movements like the barbell/dumbbell bench presses are a must! The most basic (and important) exercises include:
- Bench press
I would go on to include:
- Military or shoulder presses
- Dumbbell and cable flyes (for the chest)
- Side and front raises (for the shoulders and traps)
- Bent-over barbell rows (back, traps and lats)
Isolation exercises are exercises that do not incorporate other muscle groups. The whole intention is to concentrate the stress (or isolate it) to only a particular body part. Some of the most widely used isolation movements are:
- Preacher curl (biceps)
- Wrist curls (forearms)
- French press (triceps)
- Machine squats (legs)
So, what do you do if you’re new? Well, results matter. Anybody who has trained will tell you to start off with the basic compound movements. Get your strength level up, then when you’ve got the mass, you can go ahead with the isolation movements.
Perfect form is also important. If it is too heavy, then drop the ego and drop the weight. Otherwise you risk permanently injuring yourself and dashing your hopes of a healthier body. I can’t recall how many times I almost laughed out loud after seeing someone perform an exercise too heavy and their body getting twisted like a pretzel.
Watch the video below so you can get an idea of what I’m talking about.
Stay tuned for the next videos which will show how the basic compound movements are done.
And again, to your bodybuilding success
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Having a dominant chest is ALWAYS at the top of any guy’s wishlist. And I have seen a lotta them with really impressive ones, some of whom I’ve met since they first started working out. And when a newbie sees these guys, they get inspired and keep pushing themselves. After a coupla months, they start seeing gains. And then ……. Yup, you guessed it. They hit a plateau. Why? They can’t figure it out. So, they up the intensity & frequency of their chest workouts but still no improvement. And then, like so many guys I’ve seen, they give up. They give up not knowing what the real cause if the issue is.
In fact, a lot of guys go through this phase. I am one of them (and that ain’t bullshit). There was a time for a coupla weeks where I noticed my weights were stagnant. I couldn’t push more weight, my triceps hurt after a few sets and there wasn’t significant gains. I was stuck. And I panicked!
So, I started looking around for answers. In my mind, I had my suspicions that it was probably due to me not having strong shoulders. I have actually stopped doing shoulder presses (I know, it was stupid) for some time. What I was more concerned about was trying to shape them so I replaced the presses with side & front raises and barbell pull-ups. Sure enough, they started to take shape. My traps became very obvious as well. But little did I know that my shoulders were actually weakening, and it was affecting my chest press performance!
Anyway, after looking around (and it didn’t take long either) I discovered that shoulder strength played a very important role in chest press performance. Chest presses are compound movements, which means the exercise involves working other muscles like the triceps, forearms (to a certain extent) and the shoulders. Having weak shoulders will result in half-assed chest presses because they won’t be able to cope with the weight. The triceps end up hurting because they’re working extra hard to stabilize the movement. At the end of the day? NO IMPROVEMENT OR GAINS IN CHEST SIZE!
So, since shoulder strength plays a big role in chest mass, what do you do? Answer’s pretty obvious: PRESS YOUR SHOULDERS. Be it Military presses, dumbbell presses, Arnold presses. Just press. It may help if you dedicate a whole session just for this body part. You will see (and feel) the difference.
Again, I cannot stress the importance of proper nutrition, supplementation & enough sleep. Be consistent with these as well and you WILL have significant gains than those who aren’t.
To view the many shoulder workouts you can do, click here.
For videos, go here.
I hope you have found value in this short article. If you have any comments and/or questions, feel free to place them in the comment box below.
To your bodybuilding success
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Shoulders… One of the most obvious parts of a bodybuilder because of the way it accentuates the upper body, in particular the area close to the neck. Believe it or not, there are some who don’t focus much on them. They can be hard to train but the end result makes all the pain worth it. Over the years, I have tried and tested different exercises for all my body parts and ended up sticking to only a few. Shoulders are no different. You will find a multitude of different exercises just for this body part. And it can be confusing especially for those just starting out in this sport of bodybuilding.
To start off, let’s take a look at the different types of exercises you can do:
- Shrugs – done with either dumbbells or barbells. EZ bars and the Smith Machine are options, too.
- Pull-ups – done also with dumbbells, barbells, EZ bars and the Smith Machine.
- Presses – done with dumbbells, barbells and the Smith Machine.
- Front Lateral Raises - done with dumbbells.
- Side Lateral Raises – done with dumbbells.
Now, we take a look at what I like to do:
- Pull-ups – this can scare some people off mainly because they can be really taxing. Apart from the shoulders, the movements also target other areas like the biceps. Basically what you do is have the weights in your hands with the arms stretched down to the front. This is the starting position. Then you pull the weight up to your chin, pause and then slowly lower it to the starting position. In order to pull this off, perfect posture with minimal swing should be maintained throughout the movement. The best way to achieve that is to use weights that are not too heavy. However, temptation can set it sometimes especially when you’re feeling the pump. During those times, I do load more weight but my posture will be adjusted just a little bit. Instead of standing with both legs at shoulder width, I will have one in front. That way, my body doesn’t swing during the pull. And then, as always, I slowly bring the weight down to the starting position. Lowering it slowly will allow for the muscles to work extra in order to maintain posture and support the weight. After your through, you will notice bulges near the side of your neck. That means you’re doing it right
- Presses – this can be done with dumbbells, barbells and the Smith Machine. On some days, I may do more with dumbbells. Other days maybe the barbell or Smith Machine. It really depends on how I feel. Can also be done either sitting down or standing up. The exercises are very similar to your bench presses except that your body’s upright. However, there is a slight ‘twist’ when I do the dumbbell presses (no pun intended). At the bottom of the movement, my elbows will only go slightly below shoulder level with the forearms at a 90-degree form/position. Then when I press, I will twist the dumbbells so that they meet parallel at the stop. I noticed that when I do it this way, the bulge near my neck becomes VERY obvious. Why? Because the ‘twist’ transfers the stress from the upper arms to that part. If you do presses with barbells or the Smith Machine, you will notice the stress on your upper arms.
- Front Lateral Raises – this can also be another difficult movement. Can be done with dumbbells, barbells, weight plates, etc. What you do is stand with your feet about shoulder width apart, with the weights in front of you at the thighs. With a slight curve to your arms (to prevent over-stressing your elbow joints), bring the weight up until your arms are 90-degrees to your body. Pause, then slowly lower the weight down to the starting position. If you do this with perfect form (no swinging with the body), you will notice a good amount of stress on the area near your neck and the upper arms. If you do go heavy, then just like the pull-ups, have one leg in front to balance yourself.
- Side Lateral Raises - just like the Front Lateral Raises but to the side. A great workout that focuses on the upper arms. You can do both arms simultaneously or one arm at a time. I prefer the latter mainly because I can focus more on the movement instead of balancing myself. What you do is have a dumbbell at the side of your body and then raise your arm until it is 90-degrees to your body. Pause, then lower the weight slowly to the starting position.
What about shrugs, you may ask? Well, I seriously think it’s one of the most overrated exercises that produces little. I haven’t incorporated shrugs into my shoulder routine for a good few years.
However, one thing you must remember is that what may work for someone may not be for you. Try all the exercises for a few times. You will notice the ones that work best as well as the ones that don’t.
Another important fact to that most people fail to adhere to is nutrition and supplementation. Strength training can be taxing on your muscles. In order for them to grow, you will need to follow a diet that’s high in protein which you find mostly in meat. Tuna, pork, chicken and beef are good sources of protein.
Supplementation is another important part of the equation. Protein powders with anywhere between 24g-30g of protein content per serving is a good start. After workouts, it’s always best to replenish your body with high-quality protein. The first 30-45 minutes after working out is the most important time to do that. When you replenish, your muscles go from a catabolic (muscle-breakdown) to an anabolic (muscle-building) state, thus repairing muscle tissues for maximum growth.
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When it comes to working out or getting that dream body, a lot of people tend to leave out their legs. Why? I don’t know. It could be that the legs are hard to train. Or maybe it’s the number of leg exercises one needs to do in order to get those hard, sexy legs (and butt). And just thinking about them makes some squirm.
But it doesn’t have to be as hard as you think. As always, I advocate doing only what feels right to you. As you progress, you can (if you want to) incorporate other exercises to your regime.
First, let’s find out what the basic leg exercises are:
- Squats - the ultimate leg exercise! This is a compound exercise which means it also targets other muscle groups including the lower back, quads, calves and butt.
- Deadlifts – another great compound exercise to target the lower back, quads and butt.
- Leg extensions – a great isolation exercise, focusing on the thigh section
- Leg curls – great exercise which targets the hamstrings & butt
- Leg presses – isolation exercise done with a leg-press machine. Because you’re lying down, your back is relaxed and you are able to push a whole lot more weight.
Now, let me show you what I do:
- One-legged Squats – I absolutely love this one! I position myself at the Smith Machine like I would a squat. I then take one step back with one leg & lower myself til the knee almost touches the ground. From here, I squeeze everything out of my thighs & butt to lift myself off the ground. If you’re thinking “lunges”, this is what I’d call a “Reverse Lunge”. My butt always feels great after this one This is a great option especially when you’re not able to support heavy weights on a regular two-legged squat.
- Leg-presses – after the torturous one-legged squats, it’s to the leg-press machine. The great thing about one-legged squats is that they sort of prepare you for other exercises like the leg-press. That’s because they’re not easy and can be very stressful.Before I started experimenting with one-legged squats, my leg-presses weren’t anything to shout about (at least, in terms of weights). One day, I decided to give it a shot and waddaya know, the weights I cranked out for my leg-presses went up by 20%!
- Leg extensions – this is a great isolation movement because it focuses on the front quads. I always go crazy on this one and have the weights as heavy as I can.
- Leg curls – great isolation movement as well, targeting the back of the quads. Some refer to it as the ‘biceps’ of legs. Also go crazy on this one.
So there you have it; my favorite leg exercises just for you. Go ahead and give these a try. Just remember, no amount of training can replace the importance of proper nutrition, supplementation & rest.
For more on the type of supplements you can add to fire up and complement your workouts, click here.
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In the years that I have been in this sport of bodybuilding, most if not everything has been about trial and error. Whether it’s dieting, supplementing or even key exercises. I’m not saying that I’ve found the answer to all of these but the experience has taught me a lot about what works for me and what doesn’t.
Now, this article will only be about the key exercises that has helped me build mass. It’s a gradual gain but faster. And it’s a regime that I have already been using for some time. Please note that this isn’t an article that explains how to performs these key exercises but rather what exercises you can implement into your regime. So, here they are.
Biceps – alternating dumbbell curls (standing or seated), standing barbell curls (wide grip, close grip and EZ bar)
Triceps – rope pull-down, V-bar pull-down, French press
Forearms – behind-the-back barbell curl, dumbbell twist
Chest – incline and flat bench barbell presses, incline and flat bench dumbbell flyes. I usually alternate between these two types of exercises. This is so my muscles don’t get too used to the routines and stop responding. On one chest day, I may do the incline barbell press (sometimes I use the Smith machine for the purpose of isolation) and then move on the the flat bench dumbbell flyes. The next chest session will be the other way round: incline dumbbell flyes and then on to the flat bench barbell press (or the Smith machine).
Shoulders – Arnold press (standing or seated) , barbell pull-up (close grip & wide grip), Military press, dumbbell press
Upper Back – Barbell bent-over rows. You can also turn to dumbbells once in while. This way you engage the muscles in a different way, shocking them so they don’t get used to the same exercise or routine over time.
Mid-back – seated rows (close grip, mid grip and wide grip). Sometimes I would do a one-and-a-half-rep routine where you pull in from the starting point, go back out halfway, pull it in again and then back to the starting position. That’s one rep. If you’re starting out with this routine, you may wanna drop the weights a little bit. Doing ten one-and-a-half reps can feel like doing twenty full reps at one go.
Lower back – dead lifts
Legs – calf raises, leg extensions, leg curls, squats. Squats can be dangerous if it’s you’re first time. You DO NOT want to start heavy (I know that’s what they all say but some guys have egos the size of Texas). A good alternative would be the leg press machine because it takes some of the load of your back so you focus more energy on the push.
All of the said exercises are what I incorporate into my routine. I have tried and tested many different exercises and found these really work. Having said that, no two people are the same. What works for one person may not necessarily mean it will work for another. You must be diligent in trying out as many exercises in order to find what’s right for you.
Another thing that a lot of people tend to overlook is this: Dieting and Supplementation. You must remember that your muscles grow during your rest period. Training only provides the stimulus for growth.
A very important thing to remember is to give your muscles at least 48 hours to rest and recover. Make sure you maintain a high-protein diet so your muscles can repair, recover AND grow. During times when you think you may have not taken in enough protein, you can supplement with protein powders. A favorite protein of mine is casein because I can just take it before I go to sleep. Post-workout supplements are good, too because they help muscles recover faster so you can focus on your next session in the “torture chamber”.
I look forward to reading your comments to this article. Alternatively, you can visit my group page on Facebook called Fitness 24/7. I will be posting this article there as well so you can comment through there, too.
To your bodybuilding success
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