Compounds and Isolations: Friends or Enemies?
There's a lot of talk on the forums about the benefits of compound exercises, and rightly so. However, this has sometimes taken a turn into the idea that compounds are the only thing worth doing, and isolation exercises are somehow worthless. If that were true, then bodybuilders would long ago have figured out they were not necessary, and would be training like powerlifters.
What the knowledgeable guys were really saying is that the "core" of any good routine should be built around the basic compound exercises: Squats, Deads, Bench press, Overhead press, Barbell rows, etc. However, you will not develop a true "bodybuilder" physique without other selected exercises, including isolations. Not only that, but a true bodybuilder will use any tool in the toolbox, if it does the best job for them.
Here's a good quote from Dave Tate, often quoted by the powerlifting crowd*:
"Bodybuilders get a rough ride from everyone else in the iron game. Powerlifters scoff at their meager strength levels (at least compared to them), while the functional training types snicker at the woeful athleticism some off-season bodybuilders display when asked to sprint up a flight of stairs or move a sofa.
And nothing draws more criticism from the rest of the iron world than the bizarre narcissism exhibited by some of bodybuilding's real bad apples. Ever notice that the businesses with the most mirrors are hair salons, bridal dress shops, and hardcore bodybuilding gyms? There's a reason for that.
But before you get carried away with the bodybuilder bashing, consider another thing. The most muscular mother****ers on the planet are bodybuilders.
An elite-level powerlifter might squat 800-plus and bench 600, but how many would have the quad and biceps size to even make a dent at a pro bodybuilding show?
No type of training will build muscle like bodybuilding training. Bodybuilders are obsessed with their craft, and if a modified powerlifting program was the ticket to winning a show, then the powerlifting dungeons would be overrun by shaved dudes in string tank tops.
It seems like almost every coach, lifter, or trainer thinks they have so much to teach, but very few try to see if there's anything they can learn in return. If you want to build muscle – and at some point, you all should – you should shut your face and listen to the bodybuilders. They just might have something you can learn from them."
It's Not Just a Numbers Game:
The Bodybuilding mentality is to continually monitor and assess what you're doing and the aesthetic result it produces. Then, make changes based on what you need to improve, not blindly continue to do every exercise known to man. Delts lagging? Do more shoulder work. Waist too thick? Drop the core exercises for awhile.
You also need to know when to start viewing numbers on the weight plates as just decorations. Again, progression - or using more weight or more reps - is a fundamental principle in both strength and hypertrophy, and should not be ignored. But once you've reached a certain level of development, it is also time to consider exactly how an exercise "feels". Are your pullups hitting your lats the way you want? Are you getting enough quad stimulation out of your squats? You can't just focus on the numbers. The weight now becomes just one of a few factors to consider. Often, it may be beneficial to actually lower the weight so that you can hit the muscle in just that right way.
Again, a quote from Tate*:
"So for the next few months...I began training Rick's way, which entailed cutting the weights I used by up to 50% and focusing on feeling the muscle contract.
Whenever I pissed and moaned about seeing my poundages plummet, Rick would remind me that the muscle doesn't know if it's pushing or pulling 400 pounds or 40 pounds; all it knew was if it was getting trained or not.
At first I had a real hard time with this, but after a while it was cool to see how I could absolutely destroy my chest with 70-pound dumbbells when before I was blasting away with the 150s. And I started to grow, big time.
Suddenly, I had biceps, triceps, hamstrings, and calves. My chest started to get shape and I could finally feel my lats working during chin-ups, pulldowns, and rows."
Full Body vs. Splits
The beginning "muscle" athlete, whether a bodybuilder, powerlifter, olympic lifter, strongman, or even the lowly "gym rat", coming from an untrained state, needs to first focus on just getting some muscle on the bones. Again, this is where the big compound exercises come in. There's just nothing more efficient for packing on the size (along with the proper diet). There isn't too much of a need to focus on every little muscle when you look like you just woke up from a 6 month coma.
But, when you start reaching the intermediate stage, where you've packed on some good muscle, and where linear progression from week to week is becoming more difficult, then is the time to start the walk down the road of your individual goal. For bodybuilders, this is where splits start coming in. Splits allow you to begin to utilize more exercises and start working on your body more as individual parts, and not just as a whole.
Here's a thread I put together awhile back on Full Body vs. Split Routines.
"Good bodybuilders have the same mind when it comes to sculpting, than a sculptor has. " -Arnold Schwarzenegger, Pumping Iron.
Let's talk facts. You're 100 pounds soaking wet today. You're not going to be on the bodybuilding stage this year. Nor the next. In fact, it may take you 5 or 10 years or more to get there. This isn't a sport for those with attention deficit disorder, or a lack of consistency. In fact, consistency, over time, is probably the most important single factor in the game (followed closely by intensity and obsessive-compulsiveness). You need to calibrate your mindset. It's going to take time. It's going to take work. And you're not going to make it happen over night. Don't try to keep the throttle at 120% all the time just to get to the end of the game faster. It won't work.
It helps to realize that you will only get so big, or so strong. I don't say that to imply that people shouldn't put forth full effort and intensity or to adopt a lackadaisical mindset, because that certainly won't get you there either. I mention it because if you maintain consistency you're going to get to the same end point. If you realize that you will get to your goal if you're just consistent, you don't sweat the small stuff as much.
The better path is to settle into a bodybuilding lifestyle. Start with a good beginner's program. Build mass. Gradually up your workload and begin targeting different muscle groups to develop the particular aesthetic you're going for. Think. Re-assess. Find what works, and ditch what doesn't. Get your diet in line. Maintain forward progress. Do research. Question everything. Learn.
Think for yourself.