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Ask Tawnee: Isolated vs. compound movements when strength training

Posted Jan 10 2011 9:11am

Strength-training-for-women Editor's Note: Contributing writing and USA Triathlon Coach Tawnee Prazak answers some of your most important training questions.

#2) Q: Would you agree that strength training, ideally, involves more than one muscle group?

Yes, certain ST exercises are multi-joint and utilize multiple muscle groups (aka compound, total body, etc), but many are not – know the difference! Triathletes will benefit most from compound exercises, such as those that load the spine (back or front squats), Olympic lifts (cleans, jerks, push press), etc. However, learning the technique of many compound exercises is a difficult process and takes time. Make sure you're doing such exercises correctly before adding heavy weight to prevent a crazy injury – aka seek professional help.

As for single-joint isolated exercises, I generally do not recommend these unless you're in rehab, addressing a weakness and/or correcting a deficiency/imbalance. hands-down I recommend doing mostly compound/multi-joint stuff because you want to get the most bang from your buck – you don’t want to spend 5 million hours in the gym doing silly little things like wrist curls and leg extensions – yuck.

For example: doing a leg curl (single-joint isolated exercise that works hamstrings) may seem worthwhile but it’s pretty lame (and boring) in my opinion. Instead do a deadlift and work hammys, other parts of the leg, shoulders, traps and core – even arm muscles get an isometric workout.

Bottom line: When considering isolated vs. compound movements in relation to triathlon – are you every just working your bicep in triathlon? Just your quad? Just your deltoid? No!!! So why waste your time in the gym doing exercises that target just one muscle? Triathletes should do exercises that use the motions/movements you use in triathlon, and should work in multiple planes even though our sport essentially just goes in one direction (forward). That said, isolation exercises are great if you’re injured or addressing a specific issue.

Tawnee Tawnee Prazak is a Triathlete, USA Triathlon Coach, Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (NSCA), personal trainer, exercise science grad student, freelance writer.

You can read more of her knowledgeable advice on her most excellent blog HERE .

Follow on twitter @ everymantri or view latest videos on YouTube .

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