A Brief Discussion of Isometrics for Fat Loss, Muscle Gain, and Performance
Training with isometrics can be murderously difficult, even for those whose job it is to basically train for a living.
Let me give you an example: In the December 2014 Men’s Fitness issue, I was behind the scenes as the photoshoot’s fitness technician.
Also known as an fit-tech or exercise tech, this is the person who gives direction to the fitness models and the final thumbs up for the photographer. The responsibilities range from teaching these aesthetic-pleasing models specific movements to just cueing form for perfection.
While overseeing the models’ exercise execution, I noticed they all had the same struggle during their shots. No matter their leanness, vascularity, hypertrophy, or athleticism, the shakes and sweat would ensue.
The cause? You guessed it: isometrics.
Isometrics are static in nature and occur following the eccentric (negative) or concentric (positive) portion of the movement. Within the exercise, the joint angle and muscle length do not change even though the muscle is contracting.
Whether it was holding the bottom of a push-up on TRX, a kettlebell overhead in one sequence of the Turkish Get Up, or the bottom of a split squat, the models had difficulty holding these specific positions.
If even seasoned fitness models were being challenged by these isometrics, perhaps this training method could be the missing piece in your body recomposition puzzle.
Benefits of isometrics include:
Even Arnold credits his seven Mr. Olympia titles from including isometrics in his own training. Here are some ways to add isometrics to your training repertoire.
You’re not limited to these exercises. While these ones are tried and tested, we encourage you to get creative and try other movements as you go.
Each of them allow for an increased stretch in the isometric position.
These are the definition of quad burning, leg quivering isometrics. When you’re in the bottom position of this exercise, squeeze the glute of the leg that’s on the bench. You’ll need to work hard to maintain an erect position with your upper body as well.
To increase the difficulty, try elevating your front leg.
To decrease the difficulty, regress to the SPLIT SQUAT for one of the repetition techniques below.
Nothing special here besides increasing the difficulty by elevating your hands on blocks or with a suspension system like rings or the TRX. To back off, you can elevate your hands or go from the kneeling push-up position.
In this movement and your choices of one repetition technique below, you’ll quickly realize how much core is involved in the push-up. That’s why it’s considered more than just a moving plank.
You can do this movement in one of two ways. The easiest is from the bottom, hanging position. This is a great way to improve your grip strength, teach your scapula how to “pack” or position itself down and back, and increase your pull-ups and deadlifts.
The second is more difficult and comes from an isometric at the top of the pull-up, where you’re actually over the bar. In this position, you’ll want to think of jamming your elbows into your ribs and maintaining an erect posture. Jump up to the bar to eliminate fatigue from the concentric action of the pull-up.
After these isometrics your hamstrings won’t be very happy the next day. However, your gains in strength in the weak position of the lift will make up for it.
With any of the repetition methods explained below, shove your hips back and create the most intense hamstring stretch possible.
You can step up on a box to enhance the stretch as long as you maintain a neutral spine.
This is the kicker and where the isometric method may be most effective.
Bodybuilding pro Ben Pakulski preaches the importance of holding the contraction for abdominal development.
Too many gym goers use every body part possible to complete core movements without even contracting their abdominals, such as violently swinging the legs to complete those hanging leg raises. What a waste.
Try isometrics with ab wheel rollouts, hanging leg raises (holding the contraction in an L Sit position), or even traditional crunches.
Using any of the exercises above or one of your choice, complete the following:
Continue on this path until reaching 50 seconds ON.
The ON is held in the isometric position. So for the push-up, you’d hold 5 seconds in bottom position and then rest for 5 seconds.
Nothing too fancy here. Just adding some iron into the mix and hold the isometric position for a specific length of time.
Complete for 4 to 6 repetitions. You can either increase load or time under tension (in the hold) week to week.
In this technique, we’re going to blend the isometrics with some explosive repetitions out of the hold.
Hold the stretch position in one of the exercises mentioned above for 20 seconds. Then go immediately into 10 quick repetitions.
You can either rest between sets for 30 to 60 seconds or try going through a few cycles of the hold and rep hybrid. Work up to 10 total sets and reach beast level.
Now that you have the exercises and set techniques, where should you place them in your program?
You can use these in any number of ways, but when you’re first getting started with isometrics, the absolute best way to incorporate them into you program is as finishers.
Speaking generally, isometrics might look simple, but are actually pretty demanding. In the case of the methods suggested above this certainly applies. Further, all of the protocols in this article can tax the nervous and muscular systems pretty heavily—at least to the extent that performing them early in the training session can impede performance on everything to follow.
Applying these techniques as finishers allows you to get the most out of isos without compromising performance on dynamic sets during your workout. That said, you should be prepared for some epic DOMS the next day!
No matter how you choose to use these systems, we’re positive that they can take your training to the next level. Whether you’re looking to build a bit of mass, or be able to model for magazines without embarrassing yourself, a few sets of isometrics can help you on your way.
Master the exercises and methods outlined in this article, and you’ll be able to lose fat and build strength…without even moving a muscle.