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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No exercise time? No problem! (Or how often should you really work out)

No exercise time

Recently, due to the change in circumstances surrounding my work, I’m left with virtually no exercise time.

Yet, being in my 40s, my goals to remain strong, mobile and well-built are as ambitious as ever.  So, instead of using this as an excuse not to do anything, I had to find a way to make it work – and yes, there is always a way you can make it work.

For people who bet everything on spending countless hours in the gym, having their gym time cut almost in half is a disaster.  But you probably know by now that the effectiveness of an exercise session is only loosely correlated with its length.  As with many things in life – you have to find the “minimum effective dose” to get the most results with minimum effort.

So, is it possible to reduce exercise time and get better results?  It all depends on your starting point.  Perhaps your exercise routine is so perfectly optimized that there really isn’t room for further optimization.  If that’s the case – you probably aren’t spending too much time on it anyway, so fitting it into your busy schedule shouldn’t be an issue.

Most people, however, have the opposite problem.  They spend too much time exercising and then have trouble finding an appropriate time window during the day to slot their session in.  As a result – training sessions frequently get missed altogether.  For those of you who have this problem – there is a solution. Listed below is my personal approach to a shorter exercise time challenge.

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5/3/1 strength program: how to get consistent results

5/3/1 strength training

In this article, we will explore the 5/3/1 training program.

Strength training is almost an art.  Sure, you can pick up heavy weight in any shape or form and move it around – and (because moving any weight requires muscle power and repetitive heavy weight training leads to adaptation that makes any muscle stronger) you will, no doubt, get some results.  Those results may be especially impressive if you are just starting out – at that point you may not even care much about how structured your exercise is.

But, remember – we are not after just any gains at any cost.  We are after the best possible gains we can get using the least amount of effort and time in the safest way possible.  Inevitably, then, after most people settle on which specific exercises to do – they start wondering how exactly to structure their training sessions.  The number of sets, reps and weight increments are all very important variables that serve a specific purpose.  They are somewhat interdependent, but finding the right equilibrium for your specific goals is key to making sure you keep improving.

This is why you might want to follow tried and true protocols created by people who understand how tweaking each of the variables influences your results.  You, on the other hand, do not necessarily need to understand why or how they work – you just need to find an effective protocol and apply it to your training.

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Are Separate Arm Workouts Worth It?

Strong arm workouts

Why arm workouts are so popular

No matter what objectives you have with your training, arm workouts consistently remain a popular topic for weight lifters, bodybuilders or competitive team athletes.

This is because having muscular and strong arms is both aesthetically pleasing and functionally beneficial.  Not only are large arm muscles pretty much synonymous with strength and masculinity (one of the first things an amateur gym enthusiast does is start doing biceps curls to look better in a T-shirt), but well-developed and strong arm muscles assist and provide stability in larger compound lifts and help in various sports.

Understandably, arm workouts are very popular among athletes of various degrees of experience.  How do these fit into the philosophy of big lifts and mostly compound body exercises?

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How to warm up before a workout (you’ve been doing it wrong!)

warm up and stretching

Do you know how to warm up before a workout?  Ask amateur athletes and the very first thing they do is stretch.  Sometimes – maybe jog lightly.  Many times – jog first and then stretch, regardless of what specific activity they are warming up for.

A lot of this “knowledge” about the importance of stretching is simply observational by nature – they see everybody else do this in the gym as their warm up routine – and jump on the bandwagon, wasting their time by stretch bars along the walls.  Flexibility (which stretching exercises should allegedly lead to) is viewed as a marker of good health and fitness level.  But is this really so?  As it turns out – not quite.

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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 Avoid Lower Back Pain

lower back pain

Millions of people keep wondering how to avoid lower back pain, as they struggle through chronic or frequently occurring episodes. The methods used by most, however, focus on managing the pain itself, rather than eliminating the root cause.

As someone who likes lifting free weights that are considered heavy relative to my body weight, I always get surprised looks when I tell people that exercising with heavy weights does not injure your back – quite the contrary.  As well, there is a lot of misunderstanding around what causes, what cures and how to avoid lower back pain.

Let’s take a closer look at what you should and shouldn’t do, as well as a few minor tweaks you can make to experience no more back pain.

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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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Where to Get Motivation to Exercise

No Motivation to Exercise

Looking for motivation to exercise?  Try this!

Finding enough motivation to exercise – especially after you’ve been following the same workout routines for a while – seems to be one of the most challenging tasks.  No matter how much enthusiasm you may have when you just start out, that enthusiasm can quickly disappear with time when you realize that you can’t get ripped in a month or lose 60 pounds in a few weeks – despite a few “shortcuts” and almost guaranteed results when you follow a few simple rules, it all requires dedication and – most often than not – hard work.

Lack of motivation to exercise is one of the key reasons behind not achieving results.  People who lose motivation abandon their goals and sheepishly accept the reality the way it is, going back to square one and quickly negating all the previous progress.

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