There is often talk – online and in fitness magazines about the benefits of compound movements. One is often recommended to choose exercises like the bench press, the deadlift and the squat in order to target larger parts of the body than one will be able to do with isolation exercises.
In this article I will list and recommend 5 exercises of the opposite kind and for the opposite reason. These exercises are great precision tools that will allow you to isolate the targeted muscle group, which in turn will lend you increased control of your overall results and appearance.
If you are deliberately sculpting your body, with a clear and detailed vision of what your body is going to look like in the future, then these exercises can be of great use for you, depending on your specific goals for the different muscle groups.
The so often recommended compound movements mentioned above can help you lay a foundation, but there will come a time when you are more advanced and want to start chiselling away at the details. That´s where these exercises come into play.
1. Biceps: Preacher curl, one handed, dumbbell.
The preacher curl bench is especially designed to help you target your biceps with precision and intent. This works especially well when training one arm at the time, using a dumbbell. If you are having problems isolating and really feeling the biceps working in other exercises, then the preacher curl could be worth a try since the technique is so straight-forward.
Make sure to keep your upper arm pressed against the pad at all times. If you start leaning back or if you are struggling to such an extent that your arm leaves the pad, this usually means you have opted for a weight that is too heavy. During the lift, make sure to keep your palm facing the roof.
2. Calves: Calf press, one foot at the time, performed in the leg press.
This is a great exercise that allows you to work the calves with precision. Here I´d like to repeat what I wrote in my article “Great and undersused exercises, part 1”: It works best in the old fashioned kind of leg press machines – the kind where you load it up with weight plates and perform your reps laying down, somewhat beneath the weights that are being used. It's a great exercise if you want to add extra width to the calves. In my opinion it is superior to most standing calf machines, since here you don’t have much stress on the rest of the body.
3. Triceps: Rocky extensions
Also known as seated, one-handed triceps extensions behind the neck, using a dumbbell. I call it “Rocky” as a homage to Stallone’s raised arms in Rocky 3 & 4 in which he displayed excellent arm definition and striations of the kind that this exercise helps to isolate and target.
The triceps is, as its name implies, a three-headed muscle and this exercise especially targets the longest part. It is one of the exercises that I most often see getting performed in the wrong way. The reason is often too much weight. This is truly a precision exercise, where the weight is of subordinate importance in comparison with performance technique.
Perform the exercise seated. Keep the raised upper arm stationary and close to your head. Make sure the forearm is the only moving part of the arm. Experiment with how you prefer to make use of the resting arm – personally I like to place it across my body with the hand resting on the shoulder of the arm that is currently at work. This gives me good balance.
4. Quads: Leg extensions
In these squat worshipping times many people forget about the many different alternatives available at a well-equipped gym. The leg extensions machine is a good example. This exercise will let you target the quads with precision. As with many precision exercises the weights are less important than your level of presence and your technique.
When doing leg extensions, it is all about enduring the burn. This is one of those exercises where you most often have many reps left in you when the pain and the lactic acid sets in.
About the pad, you will most probably feel instinctively where you want to put it, but in broad terms I’d recommend you to place it just above your feet.
Also note that you shouldn´t go below 90 degrees between the upper and lower leg, since this put an unnecessarily amount of strain on your knee.
5. Pecs: Cable crossovers
After the bench press and the dips you might find the standing cable crossovers a good way to finish off your pecs session with some precision work. Like the Rocky extensions this exercise is often poorly executed due to all too heavy weights. Make sure to perform a big, sweeping movement. You want to feel the stretch in your pecs. If you feel the urge to press forward too soon, so that it more resembles a press than an arc, then you have put on too much weight. Keep your arms slightly bent, but still straight enough to be able to draw the already mentioned arc through the air in front of you. Perform the whole movement leaning forward a bit, with one foot in front of the other, for the sake of balance.
Implement these 5 precsion tools into your routine and then start chiselling!