Are functional exercises better than isolation movements?

May 9, 2015

Q: Do you think faster, functional exercises like kettle bell swings are better than slower, more isolated movements where each repetition is controlled?

A: There are a lot of great exercises out there today that require the body to use functional movements that are fun and burn tons of calories.

By all means, incorporate all of these cool and exciting things into your workouts, but never forget the basics, and be sure to incorporate isolation movements into your routine, as they will build the foundation for greater muscle development and injury prevention.

Develop mind-muscle connection

Babe Ruth didn’t just pick up a bat and hit a home run every time without thousands of hours of practice to develop the perfect swing.

The same principle can be applied to learning proper weightlifting form.

It takes months, sometimes years, of practice to learn how to control the weight while mentally focusing on the muscles to get the results for which you are looking.

After you have mastered the basics and built a strong foundation of muscle and tendon strength with slower, more controlled movements, you can then incorporate faster, functional exercises.

Protect your joints from injury

When you use momentum to lift the weight, gravity is doing a lot of the work for you, and you can sometimes put your body at risk of injury.

As you rock back and forth, you’re actually taking a lot of the pressure off the muscles and putting it on the joints. This means the muscles get less of a workout and the joints get traumatized. Incorporating isolation movements will allow you to build muscle and tendon strength while giving your joints and connective tissue a break, keeping your body fresh and injury-free so you will not be sidelined with nagging injuries that stop you from working out.

Build muscular endurance

I find it amazing when people tell me they can do 100 crunches or push-ups, but when made to do them correctly they can’t even do 25. This is because they have relied on momentum to get more reps, and the muscles make very little improvement. When they slow down the lift and control the weight, the muscles get a much better workout and eventually they will build muscular endurance that will take them to a completely new level capable of accomplishing much greater goals. This will also help you build the explosive strength required for the faster, more functional movements you can add to your routine.

Add variety

Remember, variety is the spice of life, so don’t limit yourself to one kind of lifting. Instead, integrate functional, body weight and isolation movements into your routine as you progress and you will continue to get results while keeping your workouts fresh and interesting so you don’t get mentally or physically tired of your workouts.

The bottom line is that learning how to effectively isolate the muscles by lifting weights in a controlled, deliberate fashion will yield great results as well as help you learn proper form and reduce the chances of injury. Once you have learned how to do the exercises properly and have built a strong foundation of strength and muscular endurance, combine functional and isolation movements together to take your workouts to the next level.

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