Isolation is where it’s at (and no, we don’t mean quarantine 😉).
Isolation exercise is when you target one specific muscle group at a time. This can help you meet your fitness goals and maximize gains.
Here are 25 top-notch exercises to target specific areas.
25 great isolation exercises
- Barbell back squat
- Dumbbell lunge
- Leg press
- Hack squat
- Switch step (step up)
- Pull up
- Resistance band pull down
- Dumbbell row
- Dumbbell shrug
- Standing curl
- Seated hammer curl
- Back cable curl
- Overhead triceps extensions
- Triceps pushdowns
- Low-weight high-reps barbell bench press
- Dumbbell chest press
- Dumbbell fly
- Machine chest fly
- Push up
- Walking lunge
- Glute bridge
- Barbell hip thrust
- Glute kickback
- Mountain climbers
In the spirit of isolation, we broke our favorites down into five different muscle groups. (And don’t worry — there’s something for all fitness levels!)
Your quads are a group of four muscles on the front of your thigh. Some folks are all about that definition, while others just want more strength. These exercises will help you get both.
1. Barbell back squat
OK, so squats are technically a compound move. They can boost your butt, back, and core strength. But throwing a barbell or dumbbells into the mix makes your quads the star of the show.
2. Dumbbell lunge
This lunge is a great step toward killer quads. It will strengthen your muscles and build your balance. You can start with lighter weights and work your way up.
3. Leg press
Not a fan of squats? This is a great alternative. It will activate your quads to the max. Just be sure to keep your foot position narrow to isolate the right area.
4. Hack squat
This is basically the opposite of a leg press, but it’s just as effective. You push against weighted shoulder pads or a fixed bar instead of a weighted foot platform.
5. Switch step (step-up)
The switch step (no, not this one) will increase quad strength and stamina. It’s also a great way to get your heart pumping ❤️.
Biceps get the street cred, but your back muscles are SUPER important. These exercises can help improve your strength, posture, and balance.
Pull-ups are perfect for a deep back workout. They’re particularly good for your latissimus dorsi (your largest upper back muscle) and trapezius (which covers your neck and part of your shoulders).
7. Resistance band pulldown
This one’s great for your latissimus dorsi (aka lats). It can also help improve posture and increase upper body strength. Plus, you can make good use of your fave resistance bands.
8. Dumbbell row
This popular exercise hits several back muscles such as your lats, rhomboids, and rear delts. The trick is to pull with your back, not your arms. This helps isolate the right muscles and reduces your risk of injury.
9. Dumbbell shrug
Dumbbell shrugs can help you build a better upper back by increasing flexibility and range of motion. Just be sure to keep your spine aligned.
We won’t judge you if you put a cape on for this one. It’s great for your lower back muscles and doesn’t require any equipment. Beginners can take it down a notch by raising only one leg and arm at a time.
Whether you want Schwarzenegger arms or lean, “cut” limbs, these exercises can help you reach your goal.
11. Standing curl (barbell or resistance band)
Standing curls work your brachialis and brachioradialis (your lower arm muscles). They’re also banging for your biceps. Start with lighter weights or resistance bands and work your way up.
12. Seated hammer curl
Get ready for hammer time. The hammer curl is a fab way to define muscles and increase strength. It’s also a great exercise for beginners and seasoned pros alike. Just pick the weight that suits you best.
13. Back cable curl
It might have “back” in its name, but this one’s all about that arm strength. Pro tip: Resistance bands work just as well if you don’t have access to a cable machine.
14. Overhead triceps extension
This exercise promotes well-rounded growth in your triceps. You can use a dumbbell, straight bar, or rope attachment. All three work 10/10.
15. Triceps pushdown (standard or single-legged)
Here’s another one for #TeamTriceps. You use a band or pulley to build strength and tone. Pro tip: Balance on one leg for a bigger challenge.
Get your best chest with these diverse exercises.
16. Low weight, high reps barbell bench press
Barbell bench presses are simple but hella beneficial. Doing more reps with less weight is a great way to get strong, lean muscles. Just be sure to mind your form and isolate your chest muscles.
17. Dumbbell chest press
Using dumbbells for this exercise allows for a greater range of motion. It’s perf for strengthening your pecs and deltoids. You can do different weight variations to build muscle at the right rate for you.
18. Dumbbell fly
The dumbbell fly is a great chest accessory workout. It’ll give you a full stretch as you work your chest muscles. Just remember to take it slow to reduce your risk of overextending.
19. Machine chest fly
The machine chest fly uses the same movement pattern as the dumbbell chest fly, but the resistance is more consistent in this one. It’s a solid choice for the pectoralis major and the pectoralis minor.
Push-ups are a classic (and with good reason!). You use your own body weight to build muscle and strength. Just spread your arms out a bit to isolate your chest muscles.
These exercises aren’t sponsored by Sir Mix-A-Lot… but(t) they prob should be. Here’s how to get the bomb booty of your dreams 🍑.
21. Walking lunge
Sure, this exercise hits multiple muscle groups. But it’s *extra* great for your glutes. Add dumbbells or a barbell for a more intense workout.
22. Glute bridge
Here’s one you can def do at home. While it requires a bit of flexibility, it’s a great way to test out your new yoga mat. Just try not to squeeze your tushy too tightly to prevent a literal pain in the butt.
23. Barbell hip thrust
It’s all in the hips. The hip thrusting motion is one of the best ways to activate your glutes. Pro tip: Use a padded barbell for added comfort.
24. Glute kickback
You can find a machine for this exercise at most gyms. If that’s a no-go, you can easily do the move at home on the floor. Be sure to keep your spine aligned and back flat to prevent injury.
25. Mountain climber
This exercise is featured in lots of boot camp-style workouts. It’s a great way to make your rump firm AF. Bonus: It’ll get your blood flowing.
Isolation exercises target a single muscle group. Peeps dig these workouts because they can:
- correct muscle weakness after an injury
- increase the size of a specific muscle group
- activate specific muscles to increase strength
Compound exercises work several muscle groups at the same time. Benefits include:
- keeping your heart rate up
- getting a full-body workout in less time
- possibly burning more calories than in isolation workouts
Which one is better? Well, it really depends on your goals. But lots of folks prefer compound exercises because you get more bang for your buck with each sweat sesh.
Keep in mind that your best bet is to do a combo of isolation and compound moves. Do a routine where both types of exercises complement each other. That way, you get the best of both workout worlds.
Proper form is hella important for all workouts. Here’s why:
- Injury prevention. Poor form can be a one-way ticket to Ow Town. It can lead to overcompensation and misalignment, which adds stress on your joints, tendons, or muscles.
- Targeting the right spots. The key to workout success is to establish goals. This can’t happen if you work out the wrong muscle groups or wind up with an injury.
- Energy (not the vibe kind). If you don’t have proper form, you’ll use more energy to complete movements. This can curb your stamina and may increase recovery time.