Since the golden era of modern bodybuilding in the 60s and early 70s isolation resistance training (training more specific body parts) has increasingly become the dominant methodology in strict form resistance training. Arguably the emergence and popularity of Crossfit and obstacle course races like Tough Mudder and Spartan Race have bucked this trend to some degree in most recent years. However, most training plans commonly available are focused around training certain related body parts on different days.
Much of the reasoning for the growth of isolation training came from the development of bodybuilding where it provided an opportunity to train areas of the body more intensely and allowing recovery time between sessions – without necessarily dropping training session frequency. Ie. On day 1 legs could be trained then on day 2 upper body could be trained while the legs are recovering. In addition, split training can allow for more volume per muscle group. This development, particularly in the 60s, 70s and 80s was also coupled with the innovation of fitness equipment.
However, what is often forgotten is that isolation training has some drawbacks. These can include unbalanced muscle development if body parts are not trained correctly. No doubt you’ve seen that dude in the gym with the big arms and chicken legs or the great chest and no lats. Sadly, most gym goers have been guilty of this at least during some part of their fitness life. Not least Arnold Schwarzenegger who admitted to neglecting his calf training in his early days meaning he had to train them extra hard to catch up and even out his Mr Olympia physique. Now that’s another level of training for most of us, but even if looking good is not your main goal, having a balanced body is generally better.
Another drawback is that isolation training can neglect the core and be less beneficial for overall fitness. In other words, what’s the use of having bulging biceps if you regularly have back discomfort or pain. No doubt there are others like training frequency, but you get the picture.
It’s also worth noting that unless you are at least intermediate to advanced doing lots of isolation training isn’t the best bang for your buck. Again, if we look back through history to bodybuilding in the 50s, athletes like Steve Reeves, professional bodybuilder and Hercules actor, isolation training is not necessary to build a champion physique, which would look great even by today’s standards. That’s not to say that isolation training isn’t relevant and important, but here are some reasons to mix it up with a bit of overall body training.
- Doing core compound movements that work multiple body parts is great for overall strength.
- Some studies have also shown that whole body training and more generally compound movements are an effective way to increase muscle mass. Linked to this is better testosterone to cortisol ratios and increased anabolism.
- Full body training will help to keep your body balanced and symmetrical.
- Training your whole body regularly can also be good for your core foundation, functional fitness and overall health.
- Some research has demonstrated that whole-body training 3x per week can be better for fat loss than common split training programs.
- Full body training will fire up all your muscles as well as your metabolism burning more fat and carbs through the day.