Small Tweaks for Big Impact: Muscle Isolation

Have you been looking for ways to make your workouts work harder for you? Sometimes that can mean supplementing with items like creatine. However, there are also things you can do during your workout to help your results.

When you are looking for small tweaks for big impact, muscle isolation may be just what you need. Here are some areas to target and how to best add them in.

Small Tweaks for Big Impact: Muscle Isolation

What is muscle isolation?
Triceps, legs, and glutes
Biceps and back

What is muscle isolation?

Muscle isolation exercises are weight training exercises that target specific muscles. Whereas most weight training exercises work to strengthen muscle groups, these work to strengthen specific muscles. Many of the machines at your local gym and developed with muscle isolation in mind. This gives you the ability to put more focus on a specific muscle at a time. Isolation exercises are also used for many people who are in physical therapy to help them strengthen those muscles and rehabilitate them.

Isolation exercises are often used because they let you focus on a specific area without overworking other areas. If someone is recovering from an injury they may opt for an isolation exercise to target areas that are not part of their injury. This gives them the ability to continue their exercise routine without hindering recovery, and this will give you the ability to work out specific muscles without getting injured muscles involved.

Isolation exercises also help you to target lagging muscles. This will help your overall performance on compound exercises. So, if you have a stubborn muscle, the extra, focused stimulation that an isolation exercise offers can help you thoroughly fatigue that muscle to stimulate muscle growth. This focused stimulation can help to get that lagging muscle up to par so that you can better perform.

Having a lagging muscle area can limit your performance with other compound workouts. This is why you want to use an isolation exercise to better develop that muscle so that you can see better gains during your workout. Remember to add in proper nutrition and supplementation for the fastest recovery for muscle building.

Triceps, legs, and glutes

When you are working to target specific muscles using muscle isolation it can be overwhelming to pick the right exercises. We have put together a list of exercises for triceps, legs, and glutes based on our research. These isolation exercises will focus primarily on each area. This will help you to get focused gains on these muscles and help your overall workout routine. Adding in these workouts can help you to see more dedicated results in these areas.

Tricep Muscle Isolation Workouts

If you are working on isolating your triceps for your workout you will want to look at some of the following exercises. 

Close Grip Bench Press
Lie back on a flat bench. Using a close grip (around shoulder width), lift the bar from the rack and hold it straight over you with your arms locked. This will be your starting position.

As you breathe in, come down slowly until you feel the bar on your middle chest. After a second pause, bring the bar back to the starting position as you breathe out and push the bar using your triceps muscles. Lock your arms in the contracted position, hold for a second and then start coming down slowly again.

Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extension
With feet shoulder-width apart and core tight, hold a dumbbell with both hands. Lift the dumbbell until your arms are fully extended with palms facing the roof and elbows pointing forward. This is the start position. Bending at the elbows and squeezing your triceps, slowly lower the dumbbell behind your head. Slowly return to start position and repeat.

Cable Triceps Overhead Extension
Attach a rope to a cable stack as high as possible and assume a standing position. Utilize a split stance, grasp the rope overhead with a neutral grip (palms facing), and lean forward by hinging at the hips. Initiate the movement by extending the elbows and flexing the triceps. Pull the rope down until the elbows are almost locked out and then slowly lower under control back to the starting position. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Leg Isolation Exercises

Many times people will remind you to not skip leg day. Whether you are making up for fewer leg days or targeting specific leg muscles, isolation exercises can be a great help. Here are a few exercises to use when targeting the legs. Each exercise will link out to a video to show proper form for the exercise.

Hamstring Curls
Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Place your hands on your waist or on a chair for balance. Shift your weight onto your left leg. Slowly bend your right knee, bringing your heel toward your butt. Keep your thighs parallel. Slowly lower your foot.

Lying Leg Curls
Adjust the machine lever to fit your height and lie face down on the leg curl machine with the pad of the lever on the back of your legs (just a few inches under the calves). Keeping the torso flat on the bench, ensure your legs are fully stretched and grab the side handles of the machine. Position your toes straight (or you can also use any of the other two stances described on the foot positioning section). This will be your starting position. As you exhale, curl your legs up as far as possible without lifting the upper legs from the pad. Once you hit the fully contracted position, hold it for a second. As you inhale, bring the legs back to the initial position. Repeat for the recommended amount of repetitions.

Leg Extensions
Place your hands on the hand bars. Lift the weight while exhaling until your legs are almost straight. Do not lock your knees. Keep your back against the backrest and do not arch your back. Exhale and lower the weight back to starting position.

More Leg Muscle Isolation Exercises:

  • You can also try the popular Calf Raises and One-Legged Cable Kickback.


Glutes Isolation Exercises

Are you looking to build your glutes without further building your hamstrings or quads? Glutes isolation exercises may be just what you need.

Barbell Glute Bridge
Place the barbell just above your pubic bone with a bar pad like the squat sponge. Keep your chin tucked and flatten your lower back against the floor to start each rep. Lift your toes off the floor and push through your heels to maximize glute activation.

One-Legged Glute Bridge
Tighten your abdominal and buttock muscles. Raise your hips up to create a straight line from your knees to shoulders. Squeeze your core and try to pull your belly button back toward your spine. Slowly raise and extend one leg while keeping your pelvis raised and level.
Hold. Return to the starting position with knees bent.

Single-Leg RDLs
Get into a position incorporating soft knees and soft hips. This means relaxing these joints as you stand comfortably. Extend both arms out as you reach forward. At the same time, drive your hips back. Your chest should be facing toward the ground and your elevated leg should be straightened out, extending back. Your body should be in a straight line. Hold this position for 30 seconds.

Biceps and back

Working out your biceps and back can help you to get more targeted results. With the exercises listed below, you can work in each area more specifically.

Bicep Isolation Exercises

Working your biceps specifically can be achieved with the following exercises. Click the link provided to see a video of the exercise in action.

Concentration Curls
Select the desired weight from the rack, and sit in an upright position on a flat bench.Hinge forward and position your elbow near the base of your knee. Place your free hand on the other knee to stabilize yourself. Using a supinated (palms facing up) grip, take a deep breath and curl the dumbbell towards your shoulder. Once the bicep is fully shortened, slowly lower the weight back to the starting position.

Hammer Curls
Stand up with your torso upright and a dumbbell in each hand being held at arm’s length. The elbows should be close to the torso. The palms of the hands should be facing your torso. This will be your starting position. Now, while holding your upper arm stationary, exhale and curl the weight forward while contracting the biceps. Continue to raise the weight until the biceps are fully contracted and the dumbbell is at shoulder level. Hold the contracted position for a brief moment as you squeeze the biceps. After the brief pause, inhale and slowly begin to lower the dumbbells back down to the starting position.

Preacher Curls
To perform this movement you will need a preacher bench and an E-Z bar. Grab the E-Z curl bar at the close inner handle (either have someone hand you the bar which is preferable or grab the bar from the front bar rest provided by most preacher benches). The palm of your hands should be facing forward and they should be slightly tilted inwards due to the shape of the bar. With the upper arms positioned against the preacher bench pad and the chest against it, hold the E-Z Curl Bar at shoulder length. This will be your starting position.

As you breathe in, slowly lower the bar until your upper arm is extended and the biceps are fully stretched. As you exhale, use the biceps to curl the weight up until your biceps are fully contracted and the bar is at shoulder height. Squeeze the biceps hard and hold this position for a second.

More Bicep Muscle Isolation Exercises:

  • Incline Dumbbell Curls
  • Incline Hammer Curls
  • Barbell Curl
  • EZ-Bar Curl
  • Machine Bicep Curls
  • Cable Curls
  • Overhead Cable Curls


Back Isolation Exercises

The back can often be part of other exercises. However, if you are looking to focus on back isolation exercises we have a few for you.

Cable Straight-Arm Pulldown
Attach a wide grip handle to a cable stack and assume a standing position. Grasp the handle with a pronated grip (double overhand) at roughly shoulder width and lean forward slightly by hinging at the hips. Keep the elbow slightly flexed and initiate the movement by depressing the shoulder blades and extending the shoulders. Pull the bar to your thigh until the lats are fully contracted and then slowly lower under control.

Seated Back Extension
Adjust the machine and select an appropriate load. Seat yourself with your upper back against the roller and grasp the handles with your feet planted firmly on the footrest. Your head should remain looking forward and your chest should be up. This will be your starting position.

Initiate the movement by extending at the hips and lumbar spine to straighten your body, pushing the roller to the rear. At the top of the motion pause, and then return to the starting position.

Dumbbell Roll
Choose a flat bench and place a dumbbell on each side of it. Place the right leg on top of the end of the bench, bend your torso forward from the waist until your upper body is parallel to the floor, and place your right hand on the other end of the bench for support. Use the left hand to pick up the dumbbell on the floor and hold the weight while keeping your lower back straight. The palm of the hand should be facing your torso.

Pull the resistance straight up to the side of your chest, keeping your upper arm close to your side and keeping the torso stationary. Breathe out as you perform this step. Lower the resistance straight down to the starting position. Breathe in as you perform this step.

Chest Muscle Isolation Exercises

If you are looking to rest muscles in other areas while working out the chest muscles to strengthen them you will want these chest muscle isolation exercises. The list of chest exercise options is much large; however, here are three chest muscle isolation exercises you can add to your workout routine.

Dumbbell Flyes
Grab a pair of dumbbells with an overhand grip and lie face up on a flat bench. Extend arms out to sides so that they are parallel to the ground and dumbbells are at chest level. In a controlled motion, raise arms so that the palms are facing each other and dumbbells are directly over chest. Pause and squeeze chest muscles together at top of the movement. Slowly lower the dumbbells in an arc down and away from your body. Once the dumbbells are almost in line with the chest, reverse the movement back to the starting position.

Cable Iron Cross
Set both pulleys as high as possible and select the desired weight. Grasp both handles with a neutral grip and keep your feet in line with the pulleys. Remain upright, keep a slight bend in the elbows, move entirely at the shoulder joint, and pull both handles together in front of your body.
Slowly lower back to the starting position and repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Single-Arm Dumbbell Bench Press
Lie down on a flat bench with a dumbbell in one hand on top of your thigh. By using your thigh to help you get the dumbbell up, clean the dumbbell up so that you can hold it in front of you at shoulder width. Use the hand you are not lifting with to help position the dumbbell over you properly. Once at shoulder width, rotate your wrist forward so that the palm of your hand is facing away from you. This will be your starting position.

Bring down the weights slowly to your side as you breathe in. Keep full control of the dumbbell at all times. As you breathe out, push the dumbbells up using your pectoral muscles. Lock your arms in the contracted position, squeeze your chest, hold for a second and then start coming down slowly.

More Chest Muscle Isolation Exercises:

  • Decline Dumbbell Flyes
  • Incline Dumbbell Flyes
  • Cable Crossovers
  • Bodyweight Flyes
  • Butterfly Machine
  • Flat Bench Cable Flyes
  • Incline Cable Flyes
  • Decline Cable Flyes
  • Single-Arm Cable Crossover
  • Low Cable Crossover
  • Cable Chest Press
  • Incline Cable Chest Press
  • Decline Cable Chest Press


Shoulder Muscle Isolation Exercises

When working on targeted muscle groups you will want to invest some time into your shoulders. These should muscle isolation exercises will help you to target those muscles while letting other muscle groups rest.

Barbell Shrug
Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, place a barbell in front of your thighs, hands shoulder-width apart, palms facing your body, and arms fully extended. Keeping your arms straight, shrug your shoulders as high as you can. Pause, then lower to the start position.

Car Drivers
While standing upright, hold a barbell plate in both hands at the 3 and 9 o'clock positions. Your palms should be facing each other and your arms should be extended straight out in front of you. This will be your starting position. Initiate the movement by rotating the plate as far to one side as possible. Use the same type of movement you would use to turn a steering wheel to one side. Reverse the motion, turning it all the way to the opposite side.

Reverse Flyes
Grab a pair of dumbbells and stand with your feet hip-width apart and your knees slightly bent. Hinge forward at the hips and let your arms hang straight down from your shoulders, palms facing your body. Raise both arms out to the sides as you squeeze your shoulder blades together. Return to start.

More Shoulder Muscle Isolation Exercises:

  • Dumbbell Shrug
  • Reverse Flyes Machine
  • Dumbbell Lateral Raise
  • Dumbbell Front Raise
  • One-Arm Front Cable Raise
  • One-Arm Lateral Cable Raise