Tag Archives: isolation

Nailing Down Your Accessory Work

One of the most frequently asked questions I get is about accessory work, specifically what exercises you should be doing and how to program it.

Let me hit a few main points, and then I will get into the movements that I think are most important.

Continue reading Nailing Down Your Accessory Work

Building Lifting Programs: 4 Vital Characteristics

If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll notice I don’t put a ton of lifting programs up on my site.

That will probably change in the near future but for now there are many reasons that I don’t. The overarching reason is because I pride myself on educating lifters so they can think for themselves, not just follow a program blindly. The fitness community is inundated with thousands of lifting programs that people can follow, but ask the average user to develop their own program and describe the inner workings of their training and they likely can’t.

“Give a man a fish and feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime”

I’d much rather teach you how to do your own programming so you can sustain yourself over a lifetime, rather than trying to find the next greatest thing after the end of an 8-week cycle.

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So in designing your own lifting program, what are the major factors that you need to develop it around?

#1: Your Goals

Far too often when I talk to someone about lifting, they don’t have a clear definition of what their end game is. When embarking in lifting programs, you need to train to both your short-term and long-term goals.

Do you want to add on mass? Or do you want to gain total body strength? Maybe your goal is lift specific and you want to add 25 pounds to your bench press?

You need to have your end game in mind. If you want to add mass, doing programs meant for powerlifters may not add a lot of hypertrophy, and inversely, if you want to get stronger, high-volume bodybuilding style programs probably won’t get you there.

All of your training must be done with intention.

Never Change The Goal
#2: Volume-Intensity Relationship

To induce a training effect you have to stimulate your body with enough volume under heavy enough loads.

Training to your goals will take care of a lot of this dynamic. Strength seekers will favor less volume with more intensity and the mass seeker will probably favor more volume with lighter intensities.

Knowing the relationship between volume and intensity is paramount and may take some manipulating to make the gains you are looking for. Throughout the course of your training life, you will come across periods where your body needs more volume to induce growth, whereas other times you may need to add weight to the bar to boost your gains. Unfortunately there is no magic recipe for this. This comes down to your knowledge as a lifter, understanding what your body is telling you, and your ability to manipulate your programming to what your body needs.

For some general guidelines on volume and intensity check these out:

How to Add More Volume To Your Training

Crank Up the Intensity

What Rep Range Should You Use to Gain Mass?

#3: Training Frequency

This is how often you train, and more specifically, how often you are stimulating your various muscle groups.

Depending on how you break-down your training sessions, your training frequency may vary but typically you should be training at least 3 or 4 days a week.

Your training frequency will also be dictated by the volume-intensity relationship as higher-volume or intensity sessions may require more time in between training sessions. Rule of thumb for Primal lifters is that you allow for 48 hours rest in between muscle groups.

#4: Exercise Selection

This is a big one for me. I’m a firm believer in recruiting more muscle to build more muscle, so I favor a lot of compound lifts. However, you must be careful when using a lot of compound movements and ensure that you are getting proper recovery and not over-training your nervous system.

This is not to say isolation movements don’t have their merits, but you just have to know when and how to use them.

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In Summary…

There are four major components of program design:

  1. Your Goals
  2. Volume-Intensity Relationship
  3. Training Frequency
  4. Exercise Selection

These are the only things you need to think about when designing a lifting program.

Any time I write a program for Primal, I am building it around these components. So as you progress in your lifting career, these are the things you need to think of in order to give yourself the proper programming to make both short and long-term gains.

As a parting thought, I want to finish by saying that there is no such thing as a perfect program. It just doesn’t exist.

Something may work for a while, but your body will adapt and your gains will stall. This doesn’t mean the program is garbage, it just means that you need to manipulate a portion of the program to reach your desired end state. This is what I call the 25% rule. To read more about the 25% rule, stay tuned for my next post…

— Tank

When Should You Use Isolation Movements?

Compound movements will always be king. I stress it in all of my writing and programs, and no matter how you spin the argument, you must recruit more muscle to build more muscle. The beginner lifter, or the person struggling to add mass or strength should be focusing on compound movements.

But…

That’s not to say that isolation movements and bodybuilding does not have its place. Quite the contrary in fact; you just need to know how to use isolation movements in your training to maximize your results.

The following situations are times where I incorporate isolation movements.

#1: Adding Pounds to Big Lifts

Accessory work is vital to improving your numbers on things like overhead press, squats, and deadlifts.

A big part of that is isolating the primary and secondary movers on those lifts and building size and strength in them.

If you want to be a better presser, you have to build up your triceps and shoulders, so things like tricep pushdowns and front and side delt raises are great movements.

Want better squat and deadlift numbers? Glute ham raises and RDL’s are crucial to isolate your hamstrings.

This situation is, by far, the most prevalent time I and a lot of my Primal Strength Gym members use isolation, and we usually hit at least one isolation movement per training session.

#2: Direct Arm Work

Arms tend to respond well to higher-volume training, and while I train my arms indirectly through pull-ups, row variations, and heavy pressing, it may take some added sets of curl variations and tricep work (push-downs, dips, close-grip bench) to add mass to your arms.

I tend to do a lot of direct arm work on my lower body days, as opposed to upper body days where my arms already get a lot of indirect time under tension. I also use movements like light banded curl variations for tendon health and rehabilitation from strained and achy muscles.

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#3: Bringing Up Weaknesses

If you are doing a lot of compound lifts, especially if you split your routines into an upper-lower split like I recommend, chances are you will need to incorporate some isolation movements to bring up neglected muscles, imbalances, and weaknesses.

Hamstrings are the prime example of this as it seems the vast majority of the population has weak hamstrings.

Upper back can be another common area, especially if you train a lot of compound movements.  For example, outside of deadlifting and farmers carries, I have to be conscious to make sure my upper back is getting trained frequently enough. So at least once a week, I’m dedicating some time to isolate my upper back with face pull variations and even shrugs.

Those examples aside, directly targeting and isolating any muscle that is lagging behind in development is a great strategy if you aren’t getting the results you want from heavy compound lifts.

#4: Adding More Volume to Increase Hypertrophy

Sometimes, especially for more experienced lifters, the solution to build more muscle mass is to increase training volume. If you are doing a lot of compound movements and recruiting a ton of muscle, your physical and neurological exertion will be elevated, making it very difficult to increase your training volume effectively (and it’s stressful on your central nervous system (CNS)).

Isolation movements are a great way to introduce more volume into your training to try and produce mass gains and hypertrophy, without over-taxing your body and CNS.

All the best,

— Tank