Push And Pull Before You Flex And Extend

Published: 04th December 2008
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Copyright (c) 2008 Athleticbodysystem

I want to touch on a very sensitive subject. Isolating muscles while training versus training heavy and in big compound movements has always been at the centre of controversy.

For example on 'Bicep day and Abs day' doing about four different curl variations followed by some crunches. Here's my first problem; dedicating an entire day to such a small and comparatively weak muscle just doesn't sit right with me. Look at the following two resistance training sessions:

Session 1: (Isolation Based)

Barbell Bicep Curls

Dumbbell Hammer Curls

Barbell Reverse Curl

Dumbbell Alternating Curls

Session 2: (compound Movements)

Pull ups (pronated grip/ Palms facing away)

Chin ups (supinated grip/palms facing you)

Parallel grip Chins (palms facing each other)

Isolating a muscle is inherently WRONG it doesn't happen in real life and doesn't make sense from a physiological standpoint. Your body works in patterns of movement it never isolates! Going against your natural coordination pattern and lifting sub max weights is just silly!

Look at the session number 1 . . massive 'pump' right? 'oooh yea I'm hitting the biceps from every angle'. Well not really, you are hitting the muscle sub maximally with LOTS of repetitions and essentially you are training your biceps for endurance! Now I know your going to say 'but bodybuilders use these methods' yea EXACTLY! And you aren't a bodybuilder! Less than 1% of the population are of the genetic predisposition that they will make muscular gains much easier than everyone else. That's life! If you wanted to be a bodybuilder you should have chose your parents better because they are the one that gave you those genes.

Now look at the session number 2. You might say 'there's no bicep exercises in there' look closer! any pulling movement 'contains' a functional curl. I.e. Chins or any heavy pull are essentially working your biceps they way they were intended to work! A functional movement!

Now what if I said that isolating muscles was actually COUNTERPRODUCTIVE not only are you at risk of not adding muscle but you are also breaking down muscle you added in previous sessions? Have I got your attention now? We discussed this in the main manual but I will reiterate the point here. ANY Exercise initiates a stress response from the endocrine system; cortisol. Low intensity and isolation exercise, by its very nature never allows the body to reach the intensity required to release growth promoting and fat releasing testosterone and HGH and continually exposes the body to unopposed cortisol which makes weight loss more difficult and BREAKS DOWN MUSCLE. Cortisol, in its wisdom also increases blood sugar levels, thus increasing insulin levels and decreasing fat loss. What I'm getting at here is that most if not all exercise should contain a level of intensity and isolation exercises such as crunches should 1) not be performed at all and 2) even if they are performed they should NEVER be preformed on their own! Ever heard of someone going to the gym to do their biceps and their abs? Could they have picked a more low intensity workout? Unopposed Cortisol City!

Now I am not saying that isolation exercises should NEVER be performed! Generally speaking, if somebody has only ever performed isolation exercises they are not strong, period! Have you been curling them same 25 pound dumbbells for 3 months thinking that 'maybe next week you'll get stronger/bigger. And the definition of insanity is?

'repeating the same behaviour over and over expecting different results' - Albert Einstein

Now in order to make a limb strong enough to do heavy enough curls to tax the muscle appropriately you need to train it the way it can be trained hardest! Makes sense yea? I don't know about you but a 200 pound row or a weighted chin up would tax the biceps a LOT more then a concentration curl!

'Earn the right to isolate'

Now that isn't to say that you can't add a little volume to your training with isolation exercises but 2/3 sets at the end of a session will suffice. Do the important stuff first! Challenge the biceps and grip heavily with the chins and rows and deadlifts (yes deadlifts strengthen your biceps too)

'Why on EARTH is he talking about grip? I don't care about my grip strength'

Grip strength has been shown to be related to overall arm, back and shoulder development. 'Why'? You ask? Again your body functions as a unit. If your grip strength is sub par then you will inevitably be weak at your 'pulls' i.e. Deadlifts, Chins and Rows. It is impossible to tax your body properly doing all of these BIG moves with submax weight because your girly grip is failing you.

But I use bar straps, so hah

But the weakness is still there, it is very hard to trick your body on this one! if you cant grip the weight tightly enough. your brain detects this and concludes you are not strong enough to lift this weight! Hence development will be submaximal, just like the weight you are lifting.

Bodyweight before external load

Another great one I see is people doing 5kg dumbbell presses!? What the hell?! I am a strong believer that an individual should be able to perform bodyweight exercises before EVER going near external load i.e. weights! It doesn't make any sense! always begin using bodyweight exercises when starting out.

'I cant do a single push up'

for this of you that cant perform bodyweight exercises YET that doesn't mean you retreat to the pink weights section! NO. Perform some assisted bodyweight exercises such as band assisted push ups chins dips and inverted rows (Click here to see these) until you can perform the traditional versions then move to the progressions.

So your take home points are. . .

Push and pull before you flex and extend,

Bodyweight exercises before external load

'Earn the right to isolate'


For more muscle building truths log onto my website below:

Bryan Kavanagh BSc CSCS

'Athletic Body System'


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