The Power of Isolation Exercises For Muscle Growth

The Power of Isolation Exercises For Muscle Growth

Have you ever wanted to focus all your energy on improving a specific area of your body? Well, you definitely aren’t the only one.

Many people see influencers on social media or in the gym and admire their physiques. They think, "Wow, how can I get legs like that?" Or, "I need to get abs like her". I know I do this all the time.

Now I’m not saying you should judge yourself against others, but many of us do without thinking about it. What we can do is take inspiration from people who have worked really hard to look good.

It makes us wonder how we can enhance areas of our body we feel like we're falling short. Let me preface this by saying, you can't target body fat loss. Your body will always lose fat overall. Where your body loses fat can also be heavily weighted on your genetics.

So, if getting leaner in a specific area is your goal, you have to lose body fat as a whole. You can, however, build muscle in specific areas of your body. By enhancing lean muscle tissue in these areas, you can change their appearance.

This is where isolation exercises can really shine. Isolation exercises are a great way to target a specific area you would like to build muscle in.

But, what are isolation exercises and how else can they help? This is what we'll discuss today!

What Are Isolation Exercises?

Isolation exercises are exactly what they sound like: exercises that target or “isolate” specific muscles. These exercises are especially important for hitting certain physique goals.

Consider how professional bodybuilders train. They start with compound exercises and then move to isolation exercises afterward.

So truthfully, you don’t have to choose between compound and isolation exercises. In fact, doing a mix of both is what I recommend.

Compound exercises are great for your overall fitness. They are exercises that target multiple muscle groups at once. Isolation exercises help fill in the gaps for your specific goals.

This gives you a much more well-rounded approach to achieving the body you’re looking for! I often find myself isolating muscles like my calves and triceps to give them some love. Those are just a couple of areas I want to personally improve in.

Are you ready to leverage the power of isolation exercises?

Let’s dive into the benefits of isolation exercises and how you can use them to round out your workout routine.

Benefits of Isolation Exercises

The obvious benefit of isolation exercises is that you can target individual muscles.

By isolating specific muscles, you can address weaknesses, imbalances, and lagging body parts. So, you'll potentially be able to have a more balanced physique with this type of training.

That's as long as you train all areas and don’t over-emphasize any one area.

The perks don’t stop there, though. There are several other benefits of adding isolation exercises to your workout routine.

Muscle Definition and Symmetry

Isolation exercises target specific muscles. This allows you a little more control over your physique. If you're looking for bigger biceps, isolation exercises can help. If you're looking for stronger hamstrings, isolation exercises can help. This list goes on and on!

Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation.

Isolation exercises can be of use in targeting weak points and imbalances. This in turn can help in reducing injury risks. They also aid in rehabbing injured muscles, which is ideal for safe recovery.

Muscle Hypertrophy

Isolation exercises put more focus on individual muscles. When used in combination with compound exercises, this can lead to more muscle growth. Think of isolation exercises as a way to add more volume to a specific muscle or muscle group.

I personally use this as a way to encourage more muscle growth and make progress in my training.

Improved Mind-Muscle Connection

This can be a huge benefit. Isolation exercises also heighten awareness of muscle activation, which improves coordination. This enhances efficiency during workouts by optimizing muscle recruitment patterns. This, of course, can be great for athletes, too.

Great Isolation Exercises For Each Muscle

Clearly, there are many rewards to reap from isolation exercises. So, now the question becomes: what exercises do you want to add to your workout regimen? Again, I would say this depends on the areas you're looking to improve in.

Here are some of the top exercises that can help you isolate specific muscle groups.

Bicep Curls

Pretty much every guy wants big biceps, and these are great for that! Sure, there are other exercises like chin-ups that can develop your biceps too. However, bicep curls are a staple when it comes to bicep isolation exercises.

Bicep curls take a direct approach to building your biceps. So, in a way, it gives you a little more control over their development directly.

How to do bicep curls:

1. Grab a pair of dumbbells and stand upright, holding each dumbbell at your sides. Your palms should be facing your body.

2. Keep your upper arm fixed to the side of your body. From here, squeeze your biceps to bring the dumbbells upward.

3. As the dumbbells come upward, rotate your palms upward and bring them to shoulder height.

4. Squeeze your biceps at the top, then slowly reverse this motion. Repeat this for multiple reps.

Dumbbell Lateral Raises

Want to work on your shoulders? Dumbbell lateral raises will do just that. This exercise isolates the lateral deltoids which are your outer shoulder muscles.

They help build shoulder width and definition, creating a bigger upper body appearance.

How to do dumbbell lateral raises:

1. Grab a dumbbell in each hand and hold them at your sides with your palms facing your body.

2. With a slight bend in your elbows, lift the dumbbells out to either side of your body.

3. Bring the dumbbells up to roughly shoulder height for a full range of motion. Pause at the top and squeeze your shoulders hard.

4. Slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting position. Repeat this for reps.

Tricep Extensions

Tricep extensions are an excellent isolation exercise for your triceps. If you want bigger arms, this is a great muscle to focus on.

After all, your triceps make up about two-thirds of your upper arm! This is an exercise that can also help build strength in pushing movements like the bench press.

Like many of these exercises, there are several different ways to do tricep extensions. For my example, I'll talk you through how to do them with a cable machine.

How to do tricep extensions:

1. Set a cable to the top height, set the weight, and use a double rope attachment.

2. Grab the rope, bend your body forward slightly, and bring your elbows to either side of your body. Your upper arms should remain fixed and perpendicular to the ground throughout the movement. Make sure your elbows are bent. This will be the starting position.

3. Squeeze your triceps to push the ropes down, straightening your arms.

4. Once your arms are fully straightened, squeeze your triceps.

5. Slowly reverse this movement to bring the rope to the starting position. Repeat this for reps.


Crunches isolate the abdominal muscles, particularly the rectus abdominis. These are the muscles on your belly that form the "6 pack".

Crunches strengthen the core, improve abdominal definition, and enhance overall stability and posture. Having a strong core is also great for compound movements like squats and deadlifts.

That's why I normally recommend crunches as a great starter isolation exercise for your abs.

How to do crunches:

1. Lie with your back flat on the floor, knees bent and pointed toward the ceiling, and feet planted on the ground. Cross your arms in front of your chest, resting your hands on your shoulders.

2. From here, lift your upper back off the floor by "crunching" your abs.

3. Before your lower back comes off the ground, pause to squeeze your abs.

4. Lower your upper body back to the ground to complete one rep. Repeat this for as many reps as you can.

Front Raises

Front raises are an isolation exercise for the front deltoids. These are the muscles that sit on the front of the shoulders.

Front raises also work your chest, but they're as close to isolating your front shoulder as you’re going to get. I'll teach you how to do them with dumbbells, but you can also use a bar or cables.

How to do front raises:

1. Grab a pair of dumbbells and rest them in front of your hips with your palms facing toward your body. This is the starting position.

2. Keep a slight bend in your elbows as you slowly lift the dumbbells in front of your body.

3. Once you reach roughly shoulder height, squeeze your shoulders for a second.

4. Now, slowly reverse the movement to bring the dumbbells back to the starting position. Repeat this for reps.

Leg Extensions

Leg extensions are a great isolation exercise to develop your quads. Your quads are the muscle group on the front of your thighs.

A lot of people want bigger thighs, and leg extensions are one of the best exercises to do that! The easiest way to do leg extensions will be with a leg extension machine, which most gyms have.

How to do leg extensions:

1. Set yourself in the machine with your back against the seat and your shins underneath the pad. Select an appropriate weight and hold onto either side of the seat. This is the starting position.

2. Squeeze your quads hard to push the pad up and outward with your legs.

3. Once your legs are fully straightened out in front of you, hold this position for a second.

4. Slowly lower the pad back to the starting position by relaxing your quads and bending your knees. Repeat this for reps.

Calf Raises

As the name suggests, calf raises are an isolation exercise for the calf muscles. Your calves are crucial for running and jumping, which are important fundamental movements.

I recommend training them with heavy weights and a lot of sets. This can help you build bigger, stronger calves in no time.

While some gyms have machines for calf raises, another great way to do them is on an elevated surface with dumbbells.

How to do calf raises:

1. Grab a dumbbell in each hand, find an elevated surface, and stand with your heels off the edge. Make sure to keep your body weight in the balls of your feet.

2. Squeeze your calves and push through the balls of your feet to come up on your toes.

3. Hold at the top for a second and squeeze your calves.

4. Slowly lower your heels, bringing them lower than the elevated surface to feel a stretch in your calves. Repeat this for reps.

Dumbbell Fly

Dumbbell flys are a popular way to isolate your chest muscles. You can always do incline flys to target your upper chest, and decline flys to target your lower chest too.

I do these every chest day, whether with dumbbells or on a pec fly machine. It’s a great isolation exercise to help develop a full and well-defined chest.

How to do dumbbell flys:

1. Grab a pair of dumbbells and lay with your back flat on a bench. Puff your chest out and keep a slight arch in your lower back.

2. Push the dumbbells out in front of your chest with your palms facing each other in the center. This is the starting position.

3. With a slight bend in your elbows, slowly lower the dumbbells out to either side of your body.

4. Once the dumbbells reach the height of your chest, pause for a second.

5. From here, squeeze your chest to bring the dumbbells back to center. Repeat this for reps.

Reverse Fly

This exercise isolates the most often forgotten part of your deltoid. That would be the rear deltoid. It’s important to train this muscle because it opposes the movement your chest makes in a chest fly.

Most people over-develop their chest and under-develop the rear deltoids. This can lead to your shoulders hunching forward, and poor posture. So, it's important to do isolation exercises for your rear delts often. That's where reverse flys can shine.

How to do reverse flys:

1. Grab a pair of light dumbbells and hinge forward at your hips. Your upper body should be parallel or near parallel with the floor.

2. Hang your arms below you with your palms facing behind you.

3. With a slight bend in your elbows, squeeze your shoulder blades together to bring your arms out to either side of your body.

4. Squeeze your back and rear delts at the top before slowly returning your arms back to the center. Repeat this for reps.

Shoulder Shrugs

Shoulder shrugs are a great isolation exercise for your trapezius muscle. These are the muscles that sit on either side of your neck on your upper back and shoulders. Most people call them your traps for short.

These are pretty strong muscles, so you may be able to build up to lifting a good amount of weight. Also, having big traps can really change the look of your physique.

How to do shoulder shrugs:

1. Grab a dumbbell in each hand at each side of your body with your palms facing toward your body.

2. Squeeze your traps to shrug your shoulders upward.

3. Hold this position for a second, then slowly release your shoulders back down. Repeat this for reps.

Lying Hamstring Curls

Hamstring curls are an isolation exercise for the hamstring muscles at the back of your thighs.

Doing this exercise can help improve knee stability, which is great for athletics. Building strong hamstrings with this exercise is great for other exercises too.

When it comes to deadlifts and squats, for instance, strong hamstrings are a must! This exercise is best done with a machine, but can also be done with a cable machine or a dumbbell between your feet.

How to do lying hamstring curls:

1. Set yourself in the machine with the back of your heels under the pad.

2. Squeeze your hamstrings to push your heels and the pad toward your glutes, bending your knees.

3. When you've reached your end range of motion, squeeze your hamstrings hard.

4. Slowly reverse the movement by straightening your legs. Repeat this for reps.

Barbell Hip Thrust

Barbell hip thrusts are an isolation exercise for the glute muscles (AKA your butt). This is a great exercise that you can likely use pretty heavy weights with over time.

Don’t go heavy too early, but once you’re used to the movement, you can try more weight.

So, if your goals include building up big and strong glutes, consider adding this to your workouts! For this exercise, I recommend placing a pad around the barbell or on your hips for comfort.

How to do barbell hip thrusts:

1. Load a barbell and set it directly next to a bench. Slide your legs under the barbell and rest the bar in your hip crease. Your upper back should be rested on the bench, butt on the floor, knees bent and pointed upward, and feet planted. This is the starting position.

2. Grab the bar outside of your hips and squeeze your glutes to thrust the bar upward. Your butt will come off the ground to form a bridge between your upper back and feet.

3. Once your body is parallel with the ground, squeeze your glutes hard and hold this position for a second.

4. Slowly bring your hips back to the ground to complete one rep. Repeat this for multiple reps.

Straight-Arm Pulldown

This is a great isolation exercise for your lats. These are the big wing-like muscles on your back that you use when doing pull-ups.

This will also target your chest and triceps a little bit. However, if you focus on the contraction of your lats, you can isolate them pretty well. Get strong with these and you may find that pull-ups and rows are a little easier too!

How to do straight-arm pulldowns:

1. Set a cable machine to the highest setting and use an EZ bar attachment.

2. Grab the attachment with the widest grip you can, take a step back from the cable, and hinge forward at your hips slightly.

3. With a slight bend in your elbows, pull the bar down and toward your hips while keeping your arms mostly straight.

4. Once the bar reaches your hips, squeeze your lats for a second.

5. Slowly release the bar back to the starting position, feeling the stretch in your lats. Repeat this for reps.

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Can Isolation Exercises Help Build More Muscles?

When it comes to building muscle, many wonder if they should stick to one style of training. Should I stick to compound exercises, or do more isolation exercises?

Here's what you need to know.

Isolation exercises are not necessarily superior to compound movements for building muscle mass. They just allow you to give more focus to the muscles you choose to focus on.

This can definitely help lead you to more muscle growth, though. So keep that in mind.

Compound exercises involve more muscles, and are very helpful in stimulating muscle growth. Because you’re using more muscles, you can lift more weight. This can equate to more overall volume which is important for muscle growth.

Over time, more volume will lead to more muscle and strength.

You definitely don’t have to do isolation exercises, but I don’t see a reason not to include them in some capacity. When it comes to muscle growth, they will only help you.

In general, the people that build the most muscle are bodybuilders. One commonality among bodybuilders is they all include isolation exercises in their training.

Why do they do this? Well, because they work.

Isolation exercises help:

• Address weaknesses
• Improve muscle definition
• Contribute to a more balanced physique

In bodybuilding, having a balanced and symmetrical physique is extremely important. You don’t have to get that big, but take a page from their book if you want that same type of balance.

If you want my recommendation, do both compound and isolation exercises. It's the best way to look the way you want.

Transform Your Workouts and Results with 1st Phorm

There are so many ways to work out, and you can plan your workouts however you want. Whether that means adding isolation exercises or not is completely up to you.

Now, programming workouts is no easy task. It can be hard to know exactly what to do to create a well-balanced physique. A lot of people don't know where to start.

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• An expert advisor to message with, teach you, program your nutrition, and hold you accountable to reaching your goals

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...and so much more! Download the 1st Phorm App and start making progress toward your health and fitness goals today!

I promise if you put forth your best effort, we’ll get you wherever you're trying to go. It will take time, but we’ll teach you everything you need to know, and push you to be your best every day!

If you have questions, feel free to reach out! We have a full team of NASM Certified Personal Trainers and Nutrition Coaches right here in St. Louis, Missouri. Send us an email at or give us a call at 1-800-409-9732 any day from 6 AM to 10 PM Central.

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