Isolation exercises have been utilized for over a century, but their usefulness is still debated to this day. Some lifters favor them, while others shun them, but the truth is not binary. Isolations movements can be more effective than compound exercises when used appropriately, and knowing how and when to apply them is the key to incorporating them into your training.
AN ISOLATED HISTORY
Isolation exercises have existed for thousands of years. There are historical records dating back to Ancient Greece, Persia, and India, depicting soldiers training with weighted implements and performing movements that resemble curls, shoulder raises, and various swinging movements. Clearly mankind recognized early on that resistance training and muscle growth had a very clear relationship.
Flashing forward a few thousand years. The “Physical Culture” movement arose in the late 1800s and was led by Arthur Saxon and Eugen Sandow. Both of these men published various guidebooks on how to lift weights, and you can bet that isolation exercises were part of their repertoire. The weights they used were very primitive, as the adjustable barbell had yet to be invented. The most common “weights” for recreational use were the globe-style dumbbells and fixed-weight barbells, along with various odd implements like sledgehammers, weights for measuring cereal grain and produce, and ballast weights.
Isolation exercises were in use, but comp