Compound Exercises vs Isolation: How to Make the Right Choice

Compound exercises vs isolation

Here is one of the biggest questions around physical activity that pops up every now and then: should you stick to compound exercises or isolation exercises as a part of your training schedule?  Is one better than the other?  If compound lifts are so good  – how come there are so many gyms that offer a huge variety of expensive machines targeting specific muscles?

The truth is – both methods can be used to improve strength.  Both methods can be used to build a better body.  But there are scenarios where one would work better than the other.

Instead of taking sides, in this article we will explore advantages and disadvantages of both compound and isolation exercise and then try to boil everything down to a simple routine that utilizes the best elements from both camps.

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Weight training for kids – best workout or a way to stunt growth?

weight training for kids

We have previously seen how unsubstantiated fears kept most women away from weights for many decades because someone, somewhere took a liberty of defining women as overly fragile, helpless beings that were unable (and unwilling) to ever lift more than the weight of their purses.  (Of course, producers of 0.5lb barbells missed the fact that just to be prepared for the challenges of everyday life, women would need to lift, push, squat and carry much higher weights – like their own babies).

In any case, hopefully, you realize by now that when we compare males and females – there are more similarities than differences in metabolic pathways, muscular function and useful methods to achieve athletic and health goals.  So this limiting belief does females a great disservice.

But a similar ill advice and unsubstantiated fears are now defining our attitudes towards weight training for kids.  Most parents still have many reservations when it comes to weight training for kids – because they have heard, at some point, that lifting weights stunts growth (and that lifting free weights causes injuries, generally speaking).

How much of it is true?  Does weight lifting stunt grown in children, as many people believe?  Are there benefits of weight training as a part of structured exercise early in life? And, if you are a parent – what should you know about your child’s training protocols?

Let’s try to take a closer look.

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What to bring to the gym: 10 gym bag essentials for better exercise

10 gym bag essentials

As a gym-goer, you may worry about many things – what to wear to the gym, whether it’s easier to exercise at home, how to stay motivated.  etc.  But if one of your dilemmas is what to bring to the gym – with our list of 10 gym bag essentials below you can now have one less thing to worry about.

With so many gyms offering so much equipment and additional services – why would you ever bring anything other than a change of clothes?  Well, the items listed below – despite their affordability and usefulness – are typically not offered widely at commercial gyms, although there may be some exceptions.  Some personal trainers may have and use a few of these with their clients, but if you do not have a personal trainer – you may be out of luck.  Most of the time any of these 10 gym bag essentials – because they are small, personal items – have to be purchased by you.  The good thing is that they are easy to get from your local sporting goods store or online – and relatively inexpensive.

These 10 gym bag essentials are not absolutely crucial for getting results.  You can go your entire life without them and still progress notably.  If you ask me, however, rather than worry about color-coordinated trendy clothes or some latest fitness shoes (most of the time these are useless for serious lifting anyway), or worse – what expensive wireless headphones you show off while you exercise – I would rather worry about these basics, as they can significantly improve your experience and give you that slight edge.

Keep these items in your gym bag all the time – and you will always be ready for the best workout.

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How to Gain Muscle Mass Naturally – 5 Key Variables for a Ripped Body

Female muscle building

So you want to know how to gain muscle mass fast.

That’s fair – whether you are a gal or a dude, growing lean muscle often means vastly improved  health markers and overall quality of life – and although your gender will ultimately determine the end result ( it is all but impossible for a woman to easily morph into a massive mountain of muscles, unless she has equally massive help from steroids) , the path to the end goal is the same.

We have previously discussed the benefits of bigger muscles multiple times, so the assumption is that at this stage you don’t need convincing and are just looking for the answer to “how”, rather than “why”.

There are two ways you can go about accelerating muscle growth.  You can spend a lot of time drooling over different “new and improved” tips on how to gain muscle mass in a wide variety of glossy magazines featuring ripped bodies on their cover and constantly switch between different workout routines  and new super-potent miracle supplements in search of something extraordinary.

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Strength training for women: how to burn fat and look awesome

Today, once again, we are going to talk about strength training. For women the benefit of lifting weights for weight loss don’t seem to be apparent.  After all, many generations of females have been conditioned to resort to aerobic exercise any time they had a goal of trimming off body fat.  Strength training for women isn’t really a mainstream approach, because lifting weights has traditionally been perceived as a masculine activity and reserved for men.

But if you are a woman and consciously avoid free weights – you are missing out on a LOT of benefits.  Burning body fat is just one of them. This is the best kept secret of the fitness industry that we are going to explore.

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Barbell Military Press: the missing link

Military Press

Military press is a perfect exercise to complete our list of best whole-body compound exercises.  We have already discussed squats, deadlifts and bench presses in detail in previous articles and barbell military press is your only missing link in ensuring that you achieve balanced muscle development, super strength and aesthetically pleasing proportions – once again, regardless of whether you are a gal or a guy.  With military press, most men would quickly fill their sleeves and ladies would get rid of flabby arms and get them toned and looking beautiful – but the effect of this exercise spans far wider, affecting many different muscle groups.

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How to get a Six Pack: the Fastest Way to Shredded Abs

Six Pack Abs

I want a six pack

“I want a six pack” – these are the words I hear most often even from people (usually, men) who suddenly decide that they need to get back in shape.

Six pack abs have some very special appeal.  Even people who don’t make any effort to get proportionally muscular and lean would kill to get ripped abs. It is the ultimate symbol of sexiness and the ultimate fitness goal.

So the industry seems ready to offer various solutions.  Six pack abs workout videos, six pack abs diet and even some magic pills to blast belly fat are readily available to those willing to pay – and seem to be quite in demand.

The success rate of these products is far less impressive than the claims they make.  People continue to believe that to get shredded abs they have to do two main things:

  • exercise like crazy every day doing crunches, twists, leg raises and DVD-assisted workouts; and
  • restrict fat to a bare minimum in an attempt to go lean

Newsflash: both approaches are dead wrong.   This article is going to tell you why

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Strength Training at Home: What to Do When you Have no Access to a Gym

Strength training at home

Why people choose home strength training workouts over working out in a gym

Is strength-training at home better than joining a gym?  The answer is – it depends.  There are several factors to consider when leaning towards home exercise:

  1. Your schedule. If you have some crazy schedule and either need to sleep or work when gyms are open – your options may be limited, although 24-hour gyms keep popping up everywhere. Granted, if you have a crazy – and unhealthy – schedule like that, it needs to change in the first place, but if you are limited in time you can dedicate to your training, you would probably like that time to be spent efficiently and exercise at home, as opposed to having to wait in line until your chosen exercise machine becomes available;
  2. Your finances. Some gyms are ridiculously expensive – mostly because they offer some additional amenities (most of which you will never use).  It is nice to have access to multiple pools, rock-climbing facilities, rec rooms, shake bars, wet and dry sauna, squash, tennis and basketball courts, group exercise classrooms, cycling rooms, babysitting staff and personal trainers all in one place, but those mega-facilities usually cost a pretty penny.  If you realistically assess how many of those you truly need (and use), you might realize that you are paying for all of them, while using only three.  Finding a low-cost gym that only offers what you need may significantly cut your expenses.  At the same time, most people who quote high cost of gym membership as the reason not to go join one, usually don’t do exercise at home either – it’s just a convenient excuse;
  3. Your self-consciousness. Sometimes people absolutely refuse to work out in public.  Some are extremely conscious of their bodies.  Some are just generally very shy.  Some ladies only want to work out in women-only gyms which they don’t have in their area.  Some have strict religious beliefs that forbid working out in gym clothes among other men.  Whatever the reason may be, sometimes the privacy of your own home makes all the difference between doing at least some kind of exercise and not doing any exercise at all.
  4. No gym nearby. If you live in a community of a decent size, chances are – there is probably some kind of a gym around, even if it is not accessible by foot and requires some driving (if you are motivated enough – you will find a way).  But if you live in rural surroundings – finding a one might be tough. I’m not talking about your typical hotel gyms that have a tiny room with a couple of treadmills, ellipticals, stationary bikes and a couple of inflatable balls.  I’m talking about real weight rooms.  If you have no access to one nearby, exercising at home may be your best and only option.

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Why do you need weight lifting chains and resistance bands?

Any physical activity you perform involves using your muscles.  The intensity doesn’t matter – if any of your body parts is moving, this movement is powered by contracting muscles.  These muscle contractions, as we’ve discovered previously, trigger neural and biochemical adaptations that drive all sorts of positive things – strength development, muscle strengthening joints and ligaments, positive hormonal shifts, improved metabolism, better mood and stable blood pressure.

For most exercises, however, the strength required to overcome the resistance (free weights, your own body weight, exercise machine cable pull, etc.) – and, therefore, the degree of your muscles’ involvement – varies throughout the range of motion.  Depending on the angle of your joints (knees, hips, elbows, and shoulders), the position of the weight relative to them and the length of a moment arm created, the force required to overcome such resistance will vary, because the resistance itself is different at different points.  Consequently, in most exercises, the muscles’ involvement does not remain constant all the way through.  Their contraction may be stronger or weaker at various points of the movement curve, depending on the resistance they are trying to counter.

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How to Build Muscle – the Right Way (Part III – training for hypertrophy)

In Part I and Part II of these series, we have looked at factors that are necessary to support muscle hypertrophy.  The primary trigger, however – a trigger, without which all of the previously discussed contributing factors are going to remain largely useless – is exercise.

The truth is – if you don’t train your muscle – it won’t grow.  No matter what magic pills, powders and potions you take. Hypertrophy is triggered by exercise and you need to know how to exercise properly, to produce maximum hypertrophy.

When you train to grow muscle, you get both sarcoplasmic hypertrophy (increase in the volume of muscle sarcoplasm – the liquid that surrounds your muscle cells) and myofibrillar hypertrophy (the actual increase in the size of muscle fibers).  We have briefly discussed sarcoplasmic hypertrophy when we covered creatine supplementation in Part I.  The volume of sarcoplasm also increases with the increase in stored muscle glycogen, since each glycogen molecule requires four molecules of water for storage (this is why you might have heard that initial weight lost by people who go on carb-restricting diets is “water weight” – as glycogen is being used up, the water is being released).  Although some people view sarcoplasmic hypertrophy as “non-functional” and temporary, it does, after all, contribute to the overall muscle size.  In addition, some researchers theorize that increasing pressure of sarcoplasm against cell walls triggers the reinforcement of cell walls through growth of actual muscle fibers.

In most cases, however, most bodybuilders target myofibrillar hypertrophy, which happens when the rate of protein synthesis surpasses the rate of protein breakdown in muscle.  This is the real muscle growth that should also result in strength increase giving you not just better looks, but also the functional benefit.

There are many variables that you can manipulate – weight, speed, total exercise time, rest time, number of repetitions, number of sets, number of sessions per week, etc.  To get the best results you have to choose the right approach – and to do that, you need to understand what causes muscles to grow.

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