Thursday, October 14, 2021

Isolation Movements for Powerlifting - Joel Livingstone (1975)

John Kuc

Isolation movements are being used more and more by today's top powerlifters. But a great many people still have no idea as to how or when to use such exercises. Yet such movements aren't really complicated. 

In the curl, for example, the basic movement is from a resting point on the thighs to a resting point against the deltoids. Provided this is accomplished without heaving or back bending, the brachialis, plus both heads of the biceps are worked. Many bodybuilders, however, find they have a gap between the upper biceps and forearms which is not being worked fully by the basic curl. These people, then, attempt to isolate this area by adding either Scott or reverse curls.

Powerlifters face a similar problem. Each of us has inherited body leverages and muscle insertions which place more emphasis on certain areas only partially worked. This is where isolation movements come in. They bring these weaker areas up to the level of the rest of the body.

Yet as important as isolation movements are, many lifters coming from bodybuilding or Olympic lifting overemphasize such movements. In the end, such lifters merely wind up exhausted. Because, unlike other iron sports, powerlifting is strictly a strength competition. You don't need to worry about exercises to develop flexibility, style, or little muscles that look pretty but don't contribute to overall body strength.

The only thing a powerlifter need concern himself with is the development of strength in the three powerlifts. And this strength is best developed by doing the powerlifts in sets of from 1 to 5 reps. Sound like I'm telling you to avoid isolation movements altogether? I'm not. I'm merely cautioning you to avoid filling your schedule with too many exercises. Most of today's champions devote between 20 and 30 percent of their training time to assistance movements and none go over 40 percent.

Another point I must caution against is starting isolation work too soon. Two years of steady training should be the prerequisite. Before that time the three powerlifts plus a few bodybuilding movements will work the muscles as hard as they can be worked. Trying to push past this point by adding more exercises will only result in overtraining. Perhaps even more important, before that time you won't have the experience to know your weak points. Often apparent weaknesses are simply results of faulty technique: bouncing and arching in the bench, not going deep enough in the squat etc. 

One final caution: The best isolation movements are those which must closely relate to the three powerlifts. For example, do close grip bench presses instead of triceps extensions; stiff legged deadlifts instead of prone hyperextensions, etc. Yes, I know there are champions who use these. But they have the experience to know exactly what builds them. For you it would be much wiser to use the more closely related movements. The more exotic exercises build minor muscle groups. Important in the latter stages of your lifting, perhaps, but not now. 

For those of you who wish to incorporate isolation work into your routine I have listed every assistance movement in use today. These exercises have been listed according to the lift, the part of the lift it isolates, and the importance of each lift. Those closest in relationship to the lift itself are, of course, the most important and have been listed under ONE. Those listed under THREE are of least importance and are mostly for building muscle and/or strength in minor muscle groups. 


Start of Bench Press - the pecs start the weight off the chest. Exercises which develop the start of the bench press are: 

1) bench press with 10 second pause
2) wide grip bench
3) power starts on rack (pushing bar up to a pin 6" above chest)

1) dumbbell press

1) bent are flyes
2) pec dips

Middle of Bench Press - deltoids take over and drive the weight up still further. Exercises for developing the middle of the bench press are: 

1) low angle, shoulder width incline press
20 middle stop bench press on rack

1) all types of presses, especially behind the neck and military style

1) front raise
2) laterals
3) upright row
4) side laterals

Finish of Bench Press - triceps lock out the weight. Exercises for developing the finish of the bench press are: 

1) close grip bench 
2) lockouts on power rack (close grip)
3) half bench presses
4) floor press

1) decline bench
2) bench on leg press machine

1) dips done in triceps style
2) jerk presses
3) prone triceps extension
4) pressdowns


Start of the Squat - it is the thighs and knee extensors which start the squat. The lower the squat, the more knee extensors are involved. Exercises which develop the beginning of the squat are: 

1) power starts on isometric rack
2) deep bottom squats

1) single leg squats
2) low bench squats (15" high)

1) front squat
2) hack squat
3) leg extension
4) leg curl
5) calf extensions

Middle of the Squat - lower back takes over in an attempt to straighten the body. Hips are also involved to a greater or lesser degree depending upon the individual. Exercises for developing the middle are: 

1) middle starts on the isometric rack

1) good mornings
2) high bench squat (18-19" high)

1) stiff legged deadlift
2) prone hyperextension
3) cleans

Finish of the Squat - hips drive to push the body into standing position. Exercises for developing the finish of the lift are: 

1) lockouts on power rack
2) half squats
1) 1/4 squats

1) leg press
2) harness or straddle lift


Start of the Deadlift - three areas are involved: grip, lower back and hips. Exercises for developing the start of the deadlift are: 

1) stiff legged deadlift
2) deadlifts performed while standing on boxes or blocks
3) power starts on isometric rack

1) deadlifts done on a thick handled bar
2) one arm deadlift
3) high repetition deadlifts

1) prone hyperextension
2) good mornings
3) leg press
4) bench squat
5) all types of gripping exercises

Middle of Deadlift - hips and lower back shift to upper back. Exercises for developing the middle of the deadlift are: 

1) middle starts on the isometric rack

1) power clean
2) snatch
3) dead hang clean
4) continental clean (bar is pulled to the waist, rested there momentarily, then thrown upward with a powerful heave of the hips). 

1) rowing
2) chins
3) work on lat machine
4) high pulls
5) curls
6) reverse clean

Finish of the Deadlift - emphasis is now placed on the shoulders, traps and head. Exercises for developing power in the lockout position are: 

1) lockout deadlifts done on isometric rack
2) rebounding deadlifts (performed by placing bar on bench or boxes, then pulling it into lockout position, lowering it quickly to floor so it rebounds).
3) deadlifts done from boxes or benches

1) shrugs
2) head pulls (using nothing but head pull weight from mid-knee ??????
3) continental cleans

1) upright row
2) neck and teeth pulls
3) wrestler's bridge. 

Enjoy Your Lifting! 



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