T Nation

Core vs. Isolation


I've always wondered what would make for the best regimen: one based heavily around core excercises or one largely rooted in isolation movements.
I remember awhile back that CT noted that "Any exercise will build some size--" core or not.
It seems some people swear by core exercises (e.g. heavythrower, and it's working for him) while others focus on each individual muscle at a time.
How do you guys structure your workouts as per core v. isolation?
Personally I've seen good results with core excercises off set by a couple isolation moves--but then again I really haven't trained enough to say I'm sure about this subject, hence I'm asking these questions.


If you say you haven't been training for very long, then you should stick with core, or multijoint, exercises.

The only time you should be doing isolation exercises in something like a bodybuilding setting is when you have a lagging bodypart and you need to bring it up to par with the rest of your body.


Basically, do core exercises to get a good base.

Then, depending on your goals, we'll say aesthetics; do isolation work for muscles that haven't responded well to the work you've done so far.

Think of it this way. What would you rather do? An exercise that works the biceps, lats, and rear delts (chinups) that only takes you about 10 minutes to do? Or 3 different exercises that work the biceps, lats, and rear delts that takes you 30 minutes to do?


It really depends why you are training. If you're an athlete where weights are there to improve your on field performance then isolation work should be minimal,in fact I would only do isolation work to strengthen weak points such as triceps, rotator cuffs etc. and focus on the compound lifts.


Most workouts contain core and isolation exercises. Think about pre-exhaustion. Isolation, then core. Think about the Big Back Stack. Core, then isolation.

Personally, I use the core first, isolation 2nd method, as most of us here do.


For a few years I was following basically a bodybuilding program that focused on a lot of isolation movements.

About 2 years ago I began incorporating workouts using core powerlifting & Oly lifts and made good progress after being at a plateau for quite a while.

My goal is to increase strength & improve athletic performance, so core movements are working well for me. I also use some isolation exercises to improve strength in certain lagging areas.

But I may have different goals than you, and I'm sure less experience than others on the forum.

Best of luck


Isolation is borderline homo.


Actually, CT calls them Beach exercises. But,in general stick to the basic (core) or as CT would like to call them "Money" exercise while throwing some beach exercise thats fine.

FYI- there are zero exercise that isolates one muscle.

In Health,

Silas C.


Thanks, I had the idea that the best way would be like in OVT where you do core then isolation.
Thakns for the point about building up your base strength with core excercises--that should be one of the reasons they're called that.


i agree with IKE. it is definitely "homo" when you see the frat geeks hogging up the flat bench doing concentration curls to help build their 13 inch biceps.



Some would say having a forum where guys post pictures of themselves that leave nothing to the imaginiation is more than borderline homo...but then again its hard to argue with someone who loves deadlifts as much and probably a hell of a lot more than I do.


IKE, PDOG: I see your point there. That's one of the reasons I built a home gym, and the fact that the only commercial gym in my area was Ballys.


I do high-rep isolation at the end for increased blood flow


cool, stick with the home gym. all you need is an olympic barbell, a bench, a squat rack, and somewhere to do pullups.

bally's is 100% without a doubt a homo place to train. my gym is pretty homo too but at least i can control the music selection, and no one there but me squats so it aint too bad.


Ike, P-Dog: Somehow I don't think King, CT, and others are homo. I mean we've seen CT's girlfriend, and I don't think anyone thinks she's a dude. Both include isolation exercises as part of their workouts, though mainly as a method of improving core movements.

I love my deadlifts, squats, dips, bench press, and more. But skull crushers (or elbow fuckers), concentrated curls, hammer curls, and a whole host of other exercises also have their place in my workouts. I think they do for many of us here on the forum.


i think ND brings up a good point. isolation exercises can be fine when used for example, in a training phase prior to a phase of compound movements. the point of course being to strengthen the muscles involved in the core lifts, through differnet ranges of motion than the compound movement itself is capable of. examples of this would be dr michael colgan using "extension-connection" and "strength-stabilization" phases before his power phase. ian king does the same. just look at any of his programs on t-mag like "12 weeks to super-strength." so allthough most of us(myself included) advise to stay away from isolation movements, they obviously have their place.


ok ok , i agree with you guys there is a time and place for iso exercises. however i dont think that time comes until youve trained seriously with heavy compound movements for a couple of years.


sorry...wasnt trying to discount anyone's opinions. i RARELY use any isolation movements myself either.


My fave core workout incorporates cable crossovers with ezy-bar curls, and maybe some kickbacks after.


But seriously, since I've cut the shit and started concentrating on the big movements, I don't have the energy to do much more. Maybe some close grips every other week, or a forearm/grip day etc.


beyond the pissing match, progress for me was made when I quite chasing bitterflyes. "Oh I gotta have X inch arms, X waist", etc. When I went to a notebook and realized that everything else aside, the one thing that I was able to measure was pounds pressed or pulled. To hell with tempo, just move more than I could before, striving to continue to do so, and let the body adapt how it could. All the neurotic counting of calories, timing the rest to the nanosecond, and all the other things that may result in a fraction of a 1,000th of a per cent that are easily offset my the body's reaction to the stress that is caused by worrying about the minutia is not worth the investment, nor is it productive. Do more, faster, better and reap the benefits while you sleep