Let’s explore a thought, shall we? You tell me that you’re a martial artist, and you’ve been training for most of your life.
My natural response would be to say, “What martial art do you train?”
So you reply, “Kung fu.”
Which is great -- the only problem is, that barely narrows down your style of martial arts. That could mean bajiquan, xinyiquan, xinyiliuhequan, tajiquan, choy li fut, chin na, shaolinquan, baguazhang, drunken boxing, wing chun…
You see how this list could get extensive.
The bottom line is, you only have a general idea of their art when they say “kung fu”.
The same concept applies to weightlifting. Telling someone that you’re a weightlifter doesn’t help determine whether you’re a powerlifter, bodybuilder, strongman, athlete, or simply if you pick things up and put them down. The term is way too broad to establish one line of results, effectiveness, or understanding about the training.
Yet for some reason, whenever I bring up the word isometrics, everyone assumes that the term is specific enough to understand all there is to know about it.
Ya know, isometric exercise is that training where you don’t move but apply tension, and it only helps within 15 degrees of the point of contraction, and doesn’t help to build muscle etc…
These are the people who misuse (or don’t use at all) and misunderstand isometric exercises.
In reality, isometrics are about as diverse a training style as kung fu is a martial art. How so?
Well, for instance, isometric exercises can be incorporated into weight training, martial arts training, calisthenics, and rehabilitation all in different ways. The different styles approach different goals, and varying levels of muscle control affect the difference in the results from one style to the other.
Let’s explore the diversity of styles, shall we?
To me, static contraction is the most fundamental form of isometric exercise to learn. Static contraction is, in essence, flexing. When someone says “Show me your guns!” and you lift your peaking biceps to show them, you’re doing a static contraction.
If lift your actual bag of guns, you’re doing a pragmatic action (haha).
Static contractions are fundamental because they have so many uses. For instance, Maxick, one of the pound for pound strongest men who ever lived, exercised in his bed at home by doing static contractions, because he was too sickly to lift weights.
He found that, as his muscle control increased, the intensity of his contractions increased. With this alone, he managed to improve his health and strength to the point that he was far stronger than the other men at a health club he attended.
As we know, intensity is one of the key points to developing lean functional muscle, and your level of muscle control can increase your level of intensity.
Furthermore, static contractions can be done to rehabilitate an injury, as in a broken arm obstructed by a cast. The more consistency you train with your static contractions, the higher percentage of your own muscle you’ll be able to readily utilize. Plus, static contractions can, and should, be coupled with any other areas of isometric training to maximize its results.
Yielding isometrics are any isometric exercise that requires a hold over time to prevent a weight from moving. If, instead of curling a weight to train your biceps, you held a weight halfway through a movement to prevent it from falling, that’s a yielding isometric exercise.
What’s great about yielding isometrics is the time under tension aspect. If you’re holding a weight to keep it from dropping, you’re tensing your muscles for however long it takes that weight to drop, and doing an eccentric exercise as the weight falls if you maintain the tension. That’s a phenomenal way to truly active the nerves, tendons, and muscles of whatever area you train.
Also, although it falls more under static contraction, doing stances (like the horse stance or the cat stance) are a form of yielding isometric, because the weight you’re trying to prevent from falling is yourself. If you’re keeping tension in your legs as you do a stance, you’re coupling both yielding isometrics and static contractions for a rather powerful workout.
Overcoming isometrics is when you’re applying force in attempt to overcome an immovable object, for instance pushing against a brick wall (unless, of course, you’re strong enough to push through a brick wall. Kudos to you.)
Unlike yielding isometrics or static contractions, overcoming isometrics can maximally train a muscle. Think of it like this: even if there is a weight that you consider your “max”, if the weight can still move, that isn’t quite your maximum force output.
This is my personal favorite, and one of the most versatile and intense, form of isometrics. With overcoming isometrics, you truly accelerate your muscle control, tendon strength, nervous strength, muscle size, and level of concentration. Because of the explosive intensity, overcoming isometrics should only be trained for 7-12 seconds, or else you’re simply taxing your nervous system rather than training your muscle.
7 Seconds to A Perfect Body program couples the intensity of overcoming isometrics with the focus and intensity of static contractions for an incredibly powerful workout, and the reason that I have the strength to bend steel today is because of this program.
Time under tension is a very important factor in isometrics and with lifting in general. During a sustained tetanic contraction, motor units activation rotationally, so that some of them can rest and recover while others actively contract.
“When you decide to perform a specific arm movement, specific groups of motor neurons in the spinal cord are stimulated. The contraction begins with the activation of the smallest motor units in the stimulated muscle. These motor units generally contain muscle fibers that contract relatively slowly. Over time, larger motor units containing faster and more powerful muscle fibers are activated, and tension production rises steeply. The smooth but steady increase in muscular tension produced by increasing the number of active motor units is called recruitment, or multiple motor unit summation.” (Source)
What this means for isometric training, especially when doing the intense isometric exercises that combine overcoming isometrics with static contractions, is this: as you continue to apply tension, your motor units are rotating to allow others to rest, but the tension is continual, so all of the motor units actively contract in a very short amount of time. The exercises are safe as well, because the tension of the muscle doesn’t exceed the resistance (which is what makes it isometric).
Furthermore, your time under tension and difference in intensity can change the goal of your exercises. Short, explosive intensity for 7-12 seconds is great for developing dense, lean muscle. The mass building exercises require multiple isometric sets to stimulate more of the nervous system and recruit more muscle growth.
Yet, increasing the duration of the exercises while reducing the intensity, or increasing the number of muscle groups involved, can truly demonstrate the fat loss potential of isometric exercises.
Steve Justa attributes much of his fat loss to this style of isometrics, which practically torches bodyfat off. One man actually managed to use this training to cut 14lbs of fat in 7 days.
That means not just losing weight, but cutting an actual 14lbs of bodyfat in the span of a week, and he filmed it in realtime.
What’s misunderstood oftentimes is when to apply different styles, or what the results will be. Well coupling overcoming isometrics and static contractions can be used in different ways: one, to train isolated muscles in order to develop dense, myofibrillar muscle with steel cables for tendons, as with 7 Seconds to A Perfect Body.
Another yet is to work compound muscle groups in order to get a larger CNS response, which will, in turn, increase the amount of HGH and testosterone that your body releases to pack massive muscle onto your frame. Yeah, that’s right, isometric exercises can be used to pack on serious mass, and Maximetrics is a program that has proven that in many cases.
Even further still, you can use your prowess with static contraction to train your full body all at once, just as an intense martial arts kata would warrant.
In fact, doing this full body training is also great for burning fat, yet also will truly integrate your strength, empower your fascia, and give your sinews and tendons a strength makeover.
The strength of your muscles is integrally related to your nervous system, and few exercises will activate the nervous system like isometrics, which is why I use isometric exercises to teach people how to use 100% of their muscle strength.
Isometric exercises are way more diverse than many people give them credit for; most will only put a foot in the water, thinking they fathom the depth of the water. Nevertheless, there is so much to learn about the style, which can be catered to so many body types and goals. Hopefully, now, you understand at least a little of my fascination with the art of isometrics.
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