All individuals have different goals. Some are more interested in developing massive strength, and less so in maintaining a ripped physique (e.g. powerlifters), while others are more interested in growing and specifically shaping individual muscles, while being less concerned about strength (e.g. bodybuilders). My interests have gravitated toward a hybrid of those, i.e. developing both the strength and physique I wanted as efficiently as possible.
For me, getting ripped became legitimately effortless once I understood how effortless it could be. Sort of a circular statement, I know, but it’s true. I also know from experience that it can also be excruciatingly difficult if it’s made to be that. I’ve noticed that my overall health and general physique flourish when I stress myself just enough, then stop long before I’m spent, and rest even when I feel I don’t need it. This is one of the reasons I dropped structured cardio almost completely out of my life several months ago.
To these points, I figure why bother with exercises that target only one thing, like crunches or biceps curls? I see many gym goers performing lots of these types of exercises; these are clearly two really popular muscle groups to isolate, so much that it sort of cliché. I don’t know what the goals of these individuals are, and I pass no judgement on why they’re doing what they’re doing, but my best guess is that they probably want definition and/ or growth in those areas. But for my particular goals though, there are a few big problems with isolating muscle groups like this.
Muscular balance is upset [functional fitness suffers]
I developed imbalances in my overall musculature when attempting to stress individual muscle groups, and even experienced impingement in certain areas as a result of the impossibility of applying loads in the right ratios to antagonizing muscle groups in isolation. Take a hamstring curl, for example. When ever during the course of real life would the hamstrings be isolated to that extent? There is literally no natural motion that isolates the hamstrings the way a very unnatural leg curl does. You can look at it from the other side too: an individual who favors leg extensions (either intentionally or unintentionally) to the point where the quads become more powerful than they should in relation to the rest of the lower body musculature, can develop a painfully tight lower back and lordosis. Chances are exceptionally high that if one major muscle group in the lower body is firing during a real life motion, the rest of those groups are as well. This is why it makes sense to me to almost exclusively perform compound exercises with a barbell, like squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and other fixed bar exercises like weighted chinups, pullups and dips.
Isolation takes too long
Two exercises for the biceps, two for the deltoids, three for the back, three for the chest, one for the abs… oh wait, make that two cause I gotta hit those obliques. Oh crap, lemme get my traps in there also, so one for that. I forgot triceps. I’ll add two exercises for those. This is pretty much the way I used to lift weights. I’ve written fairly extensively on the main pages of rippedforever.com about why it was so absolutely pointless for me. Now, if I perform 3-5 sets of close grip heavy weighted chinups, I hit the biceps, lats, abs (lots of isometric work during a heavy chinup), traps, rhomboids and posterior deltoids. And as a bonus, if I squeeze all the way to the top of the motion range, I get hard pectoral work. Five sets of five reps of very heavy chinups takes maybe eight minutes. That plus some heavy front squats and deadlifts can easily be a complete and very effective workout completed in 40 minutes.
Isolation doesn’t develop strength
At least not nearly to the same extent that heavy compound lifts can. Compound lifts tax the central nervous system in a big way like nothing else can. A shoulder raise can’t do that. Neither can a calf raise. Nor a shrug. Reverse curl? No way.
Isolation has a place
None of the above is to say that I think isolation or working smaller muscle groups is worthless. I can’t say that, because many individuals find them very valuable and critical to their own goals. They’re just not relevant to my goals, and they absolutely are not a requirement for getting ripped and staying ripped.