CrossFit is synonymous with “Constantly varied functional movements performed at a high intensity”. Funtional movements are related to total body exercises, because in life there are very limited occasions in which you will perform an isolation movement. Think about curls, when do you perform a nice, strict, elbows-tight, bicep-only driven curl? Or any other isolation movement for that matter? The idea behind that is that it doesn’t matter how much you can curl if you can’t do many pull ups. Or how much you can leg press if you are unable to squat. Because ultimately, that is what you will need to do in life. But is there a place for isolation movements in CrossFit?

Before we get into that, let me say that isolation movements do work and are very beneficial depending on your end goal. The sport of Bodybuilding is mainly based on this type of exercise. It allows athletes to focus on specific muscles and areas of their body and mold their body to their own vision of “perfect looks”. Like I mentioned on previous posts, we, at Celebration CrossFit, are concerned with performance. To improve your functional movement’s capacity so you can have a healthy and enjoyable life outside the gym. But a big mistake people tend to hold on to is to think it’s a decision between the two. It is not black or white. And it shouldn’t be.

Here is why isolation movements are beneficial for CrossFitters:


  • It creates a mind-muscle connection

This is merely the ability to be aware of what muscles are being contracted during which exercises. It is much easier to learn and practice this mind-muscle connection during isolated movements than compound movements. Let’s look at the sit-up and the toes-to-bar movements. Both are meant to target the abs but it is a lot easier to feel and think about contracting the ab muscles during sit-ups than during toes-to-bar. Compound movements can have you thinking about multiple other factors and you can lose track of what you’re working on. So during toes-to-bar, for example, most people think about doing the kip, keeping a good grip and hitting the bar with their feet opposed to getting the core engaged, which causes them to perform the movement poorly.

Also, having a good mind-muscle connection means that you can easily correct a faulty muscle pattern. So when athletes have trouble keeping their back straight when they dead-lift, for example, a simple “keep your core tight” might not work. If you don’t know what it feels to contract your lower back and core how can you perform a good lift? The same idea works for all compound movements. Being able to contract and keep tension in certain muscles is the safest and most efficient way to perform functional exercises.

  • It reveals muscle imbalances

If you have been working out regularly for a while now, chances are you have found a movement in which one side is stronger than the other. Lunges, presses and squats can easily show a deficiency toward one side of you body. Since we do multiple total body movements in CrossFit, is it wise, if you have muscle imbalances, to perform those movements at maximum capacity?

Let’s look at the squat. If you have a muscle imbalance when you squat, what happens when you test your 1RM? Most likely you will push harder with the stronger leg, which might cause you to lean on one side, tilt your hip and possibly injure yourself due to those poor mechanics. Or, let’s say you can strict press 30 lbs with the right arm but only 20 lbs with your left. Then maybe you shouldn’t press 55lbs with a barbell overhead.

Isolation movements can help you overcome those muscle imbalances by working one side, one area at a time.

  • It works as prehab and rehab exercises

If you ever had an injury that required you to see a physical therapist, most likely you have been prescribed isolation movements. Light weight, or band assisted, exercises with high reps to build back the strength in the injured area. By isolating certain muscle groups you can better target, focus and prioritize that area. The census is that muscle strength, endurance and range of motion must be restored before intensity can be brought back.

Prehab should be the same way. To avoid injuries we must have a strong mind-muscle connection, body awareness and all the other factors mentioned above. We must have a strong foundation in which to build capacity. One of the best ways to do that is to implement isolation movements in your workout routine.

If you have questions on how to assess muscle imbalances, how to implement isolated movements in your workouts or how to get stronger in certain muscle groups come chat with one of your Celebration CrossFit coaches!


by Coach Matt