There’s a commonly held belief that, in order to effectively work on a muscle or joint, movement specialists need to isolate that body part. While emphasizing certain joints or muscles in rehab or training is important, there are also negative consequences of removing the rest of the body from movement.

Where your conventional education is lacking, Applied Functional Science® supplies the missing pieces of the puzzle. At Gray Institute®, this strategy is called Integrated Isolation. If this sounds like an oxymoron, it is—and that’s what makes it such a powerful concept.

So how does a movement practitioner isolate or emphasize one area while keeping that area integrated with the rest of the body? Keep reading to learn more.

Compound Exercises vs. Integrated Exercises: What’s the Difference?

Compound exercises are movements that are similar to the ways athletes and people move in real life. They involve multiple muscle groups and more than one plane of motion; squats and lunges are great examples of compound exercise or compound movement.

Integrated exercises take a similar approach. While definitions can vary throughout the industry, the general principle is that exercises that integrate the entire body are more effective than ones that isolate a certain body part or area. For example, a training protocol that focuses on improving multiple metrics—like balance, flexibility, and strength—through a full-body workout could be considered integrated.

A bench press, bicep curl, triceps dips, hamstring curls, or quad extensions focuses on one specific muscle group, so these are considered isolation movements.  These exercises are hallmarks of any strength training program because they promote muscle growth, but focusing on isolated movements means you miss out on the benefits of compound exercises. Similarly, only building muscle through integrated exercises means you miss out on the benefits of isolation exercises.

So, what is a movement professional to do?

Fortunately, in situations where patients or clients could benefit from an integrated and isolate approach, Applied Functional Science (AFS) has answers.

Integrated Isolation: A Critical Part of Your Rehab Protocol or Workout Routine

Many years ago, Dr. Gary Gray coined the term “integrated isolation” to describe a new approach to rehabilitation and training. Gary did this in response to the commonly held belief that, in order to effectively work on a muscle or joint, movement specialists needed to isolate out that body part. 

Gary agreed that emphasizing certain joints or muscles in rehab and training programs was important.  However, the negative consequences of utilizing exercises where the rest of the body was removed from the movement were obvious to him. Integrated isolation is a principle that empowers practitioners to emphasize areas while keeping it integrated at the same time.

What Happens When We Rely on an Isolation Strategy

Applied Functional Science is based on the truth of human movement. This means that our rehabilitation, treatment, and training programs should align with the realities of everyday life. Otherwise, it’s not authentic to our patient or client’s life.

Without integration, movement professionals like personal trainers or physical therapists put their clients in a position with no relationship with the activity they want or need to perform. This changes the effect of gravity on the movement. In functional movements, the body measures and uses gravity as part of the movement. All the joints work together to create a successful movement.

Without integration, movement professionals like personal trainers or physical therapists put their clients in a position with no relationship with the activity they want or need to perform.

When we isolate movements from the rest of the body, the joints adjacent to the focus area can’t contribute to the movement. This also prevents the integration of information from the proprioceptive, visual, and vestibular systems.

Why does this matter? Because bodies rely on “help” from neighboring regions to function in real life. Restricting this movement and contributions is not only inauthentic, but it can also negatively affect your patient or client’s progress.

Strategies for Incorporating Integrated Isolation

To avoid the negative effects of isolating a certain body part or region, movement specialists need to be equipped with strategies to isolate while utilizing integration.

When a training program aims to increase the demand on individual muscles to make them stronger (for example, buy using heavier weights), we need to redefine what it means to isolate. In this case, “isolation” means to emphasize.  The program must isolate tissue while it is integrated with the rest of the body during a global movement.  The tissue is isolated, but it is integrated globally within the body.

In another scenario, when a muscle or single joint is injured or is recovering from surgery, we would need to use a traditional approach to prevent the body part from being overused (or abnormally stressed) while it’s still healing.  This is a different kind of isolation, not one to emphasize the tissue stress, but rather isolation to limit tissue stress to protect the body as it heals and reduce the risk of injury.  But without integration later, the same negative effects listed above will occur.

Exploring Isolated Integration

What happens if we explore even more possibilities? Let’s imagine what our options are using the reverse of Integrated Isolation—Isolated Integration.

This strategy aims to integrate the muscle or joint into the movement while isolating it from harmful stress. 

During integrated functional movements, the stress is normal, and only becomes harmful if it exceeds the tissue's capacity to handle it.  One of the great benefits of this strategy is that a controlled, gradual increase in normal tissue stress actually enhances tissue healing.

The Integrated Isolation strategy provides a foundation for progressing from isolating and protecting to isolating and emphasizing using authentic, functional movements. 

Use Small Changes to Make a Big Impact With AFS

Applied Functional Science also gives us the tools to adjust our protocol to meet our specific client’s needs by making small changes (called “tweaking”) to how we use other muscle or joint resources in other regions of the body. This allows you to make different tweaks depending on what you want to protect or emphasize.

The progression from “protect” to “emphasize” is a gradual process. There’s no universal roadmap that we can apply to everyone we work with; this process is specific to each individual.  The exact tweaks depend on the response of the client’s body. The power of the AFS approach is that while the specific movements are designed for a single individual, the principle-based strategies of integrated isolation never change.

If you are ready to learn more about principles like Integrated Isolation, using small tweaks to achieve goals, or how to progress your clients through the spectrum, consider Certification in Applied Functional Science (CAFS). One our cornerstone courses, CAFS is a corrective exercises certification course that gives you the tools you need to develop custom assessments, treatment plans, and tailor-made training programs for each individual patient or client.  

No matter your experience level or specialty in the movement industry, CAFS equips you to understand the truth of human movement and make choices that facilitate functional movement, real healing, and undeniable growth.

RELATED: You Should View Rehab, Training, and Injury Prevention as the Same Thing. Here’s Why

Education Authentic to Human Movement

For over 40 years, Gray Institute has championed using Applied Functional Science to help people heal, move, and live better. If you’re ready to incorporate principles like Integrated Isolation into your work, we’d love to connect with you. You can learn more about CAFS, our courses, and Gray Institute on our website, or you can reach out to our team to speak with someone directly.

We look forward to speaking with you!