When I began working out, I read the Arnold Schwarzenegger Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding cover to cover. I admired his determination, and of course his physique. I, like many who learned from past generations, believed that muscles look the best when they are trained in isolation. With this in mind, I trained hard by isolating body parts one muscle group at a time because that's what I knew would yield a lean, defined body.

Yet over the past few years, a new buzzword is hitting the fitness industry: Functional Training. People are now training “functionally,” using whole body movement patterns. Thanks to the work of experts like Thomas Myers through Anatomy Trains and Michol Dalcourt with loaded movement training, we are realizing that our bodies are designed to work as a unit, not in isolation.

While taking a post workout selfie after their chest/tri day (#BeastMode), the “isolator" might argue, “Well, I have been doing this for years and I know I'm looking pretty good. Why should I stop doing what I do because I know this works?"

The Muscles May Look Good But…

The bottom line is—isolation training does indeed work. Take a look at any bodybuilder, fitness model, or competitor who trains in isolation. It is evident that their bodies have responded to the stimulus they've provided and most will argue that these individuals look amazing.

Even though we can agree that it works, take a long look at the individuals who have been doing this type of training for an extended period of time. Picture someone in their 50s or 60s who has done a lot of bodybuilding. Do they have a nice bounce in their step or do they move slowly? Do they have good posture and are they free from pain, or are they often slightly hunched over and suffer from some type of orthopedic discomfort?

Look at the body of any gymnast, some of the most well-developed athletes in the entire world. Are they going to the gym and sitting on the leg extension machine?

Dr. Ed Thomas, Health and Physical Education Consultant of Iowa Department of Education, comments, “We used to go to the gym to acquire a new physical skill and the workout and physical development were the secondary benefits." 1

The questions I pose to the isolators are:

1. Can we train solely in isolation and still have sound, resilient bodies?

2. Are we maximizing our time and our overall potential with isolation exercises?

3. What are you looking to accomplish? Are you hitting the gym to look good right now or are you thinking about your future body knowing you only get one?

4. Do you think you can still “look good" by training with functional movements?

I believe that short-term thinkers (those concerned with their appearance today) are the ones who end up settling into the isolation bucket. In contrast, those who think about their present AND future bodies recognize the benefits of training with a more functional approach.

"At the end of the day, I want to play until I'm 40. I 100% think that my basketball is ahead of me" - Kevin Love (ESPN, The 2015 Body Issue)


Let's take a closer look at functional training and see why it is becoming the preferred way to train.

Our body was designed to perform everyday tasks. Although we aren't hunting and gathering anymore to survive, we are still walking, lifting, grabbing, or catching something before it falls. Without our command, our muscles should know how to fire and work together to perform.

When you train your body as a unit, you get more neuromuscular recruitment, a stronger collagen network, multiple muscles working at once, and body wide stability.

Rob MacDonald, training director of the popular “Gym Jones" facility comments, “If someone tells me they want to get fit, I ask, ' Fit for what?' Fitness is task dependent; you need to map things out and set a goal, whether that's to finish a triathlon or simply to look and feel healthier." 2 The Gym Jones facility is known as being one of the most mentally and physically demanding training systems. Founder Mark Twight comments, “ Aesthetics are actually our last concern. And true fitness comes from training the muscle that sits in your skull: your brain ."2


As I'm sure many trainers can attest, I have heard a growing number of individuals who literally have been forced to train more functionally because of an injury and/or pain. “I used to do x,y,z…and then my back really started to hurt so I had to change the way I did things." Sometimes we have to learn the hard way.

"I worked hard this offseason to get my body where I needed to get it because, finally, I wasn't hurt." - Bryce Harper (ESPN, The 2015 Body Issue)


Tip #1Share this article with a friend who may also want to move better. Together, set up a workout where you perform your typical isolation training, such as chest day, but change one part of the workout to include more function. For example, instead of doing bilateral flat DB chest, try a single arm DB press. Training the body in this unilateral way will require core stability more since you are resisting rotation with weight on only one side of the body. Additionally, this also provides a challenge for hip stability as well for the same reason. In the end, you are still getting in your "chest press."

Tip #2 - Master the basic fundamental movements that have stood the test of time: squat, hinge (deadlift), lunge, step, horizontal push/pull, vertical push/pull, and anti-rotational core drills. Performing all of these actions over the course of a weekly routine will still have a tremendous carry-over to aesthetics. You do not have to re-invent the wheel!

Tip #3 - Add in a transverse plane movement (most often neglected with isolation training) and a mobility training drill within your isolated workouts. For every two isolated exercises, attempt to perform one movement that involves rotating in the transverse plane and one mobility drill. For example, on back day: Do pullups and straight arm pulldowns, and superset it with an athletic stance horizontal cable row with rotation through the thoracic spine. Then finish the circuit with the World's Greatest Stretch.


I was fortunate enough to attend a Level 2 FMS certification with Brett Jones several years ago and he posed this: “You want to know the best exercise for biceps? —Pull-ups."3

Maybe we are starting to realize that some of the best functional exercise routines also yield an aesthetically pleasing physique.

Strength coach Dan John often reminds us that “everything works” —but only for so long and sometimes at a price.4

There are exceptions to every rule, and I’m sure there are some of you reading this who can give me examples of individuals who have done only isolation training and feel fine. I would also venture to say that these individuals end up moving often in a variety of directions either throughout their daily lives and/or do other types of training, in effect, training their bodies “functionally.”

Does isolation training work? Yes, and your body looks good today. Does functional training work? Absolutely, and your body feels and looks just as good tomorrow.

Renowned physical therapist Gray Cook may have summed it up best: “ We've built a fitness empire without considering movement . . . maybe the better fitness methodology starts with realizing what was overlooked in the first place ."1

About the Author: Giovanni, a graduate of Michol Dalcourt's Institute of Motion Level 1 & 2 mentorships, is currently a Tier 4 Coach for Equinox's private training facility “E" in Greenwich, Connecticut. Additionally, he is a master instructor for ViPR and Kettlebell Athletics. Giovanni is a part of Nike's exclusive trainer network where he is involved in exciting, upcoming projects for the fitness powerhouse. In January 2015, he was selected as one of 14 trainers from around the world by renowned fitness website PTontheNet to be an official global ambassador for the company. You can learn more about Giovanni at www.GiovanniRoselli.com or follow him on Twitter @GiovanniRoselli

If you enjoyed this article, check these out next…

Transitioning From Athlete to Trainer: 5 Mistakes to Avoid

Functional Training: 4 Body Weight Exercises You Should Do


1. Cook, Gray (2015, July 28) Movement Club [Blog Post], Retrieved from http://www.functionalmovement.com/articles/Screening/2015-07-28_movement_club

2. Mac, Rob (2015) Men's Health September 2015: Magazine

3. Jones, Brett (2015) Functional Movement Systems [Workshop]

4. John, Dan (2015) Everything Works [Perform Better Summit Presentation]