If I could travel back in time and add something to each and every program I’ve done over the past fifteen + years of training, it would be isometrics. Young me would see an isometric in the program and skip over it or at best half ass it. I didn't fully understand the intention, and to be honest they seemed way too low level.
I wanted gains, bro. How are isometrics supposed to help me get there?
Well, you get it.
In this blog, I will cover the basics of why I think you should be including isometrics into your training, the benefits, and some sciency stuff.
What are isometrics?
Isometrics are a type of strength training in which the joint angle and the muscle length do not change during the duration of the movement. Within the category of isometrics, there are two main subcategories:
Overcoming: Active contracting into an immovable object. Think Batman Vs The Joker. An immovable object meets an unstoppable force.
Yielding: This is when a set load is held in a static position. Your standard plank would be a great example of this.
What are the Benefits of Isometrics?
They allow us to override the stretch reflex temporarily. This allows us to expand the range of motion in a joint.
Can efficiently & effectively activate motor units at end ranges. This is HUGE because we naturally lack control at our end ranges, making producing force and activating muscles at these ranges very difficult.
They provide an analgesic effect. In English, they decrease the pain stimulus. This is why isometrics are a great idea when working with pain.
They are super SAFE. Having a balanced contraction on either side of the joint = no joint shearing. This helps decrease inflammation at the joint = a no brainer when rehabbing someone.
What Does the Research Say?
This is always a topic of discussion. “Where’s the research, bro?” Now don’t get me wrong, research is important. But research is also for people who can’t throw hands.
Anyway, there have been a ton of studies looking into the efficacy of isometrics. Studies have shown that isometric training produces significant strength increases over a range of up to as much as 15 degrees on either side of the training angle. This fact alone is critical to understanding the benefit. When introducing isometrics into our training programs, we are strengthening approximately 30 degrees in both directions. We know from the strength length curve that we are weaker at our end ranges of motion. So by creating a high stimulus isometric force at these ranges, we are not only expanding usable range of motion but also mapping that path in our central nervous system of how to get back into that specific joint angle.
Increased Strength + Increase usable range of motion = improved mobility. The ole’ two player sway.
The biggest grievance against isometrics in training is the idea that they aren’t really doing much of anything. And if you feel that way, then you're probably not trying hard enough.
In the Journal of applied research, a study showed that using isometrics for six minutes would be the equivalent of working a muscle for nearly thirty minutes on commercial weight lifting equipment.
In short, try harder. Max effort means max effort. Silly.
Below are two examples of isometrics
The first is an example of an overcoming isometric done at end range shoulder external rotation. I am pushing as hard as I can into the kettebell. It won't move, but damn it I'm trying dad.
This is an example of a yielding isometric where a set load (me) is held in a static position.
Any questions? Slide into the DMs, or schedule a free discovery call to see what working with me is all about!