Isometric exercises got big for a while in the sixties. There were athletes gaining strength and size at frankly alarming rates and the popularity of isometric training skyrocketed.
Then, when it turned out that the biggest proponents of this training method were also some of the first recipients of anabolic steroids, isometrics got dropped like a hot potato!
But just because the athletes who were using isometrics were also cheating doesn’t devalue the training. So let’s look, without prejudice, at how isometric training can help you on your bodyweight journey.
HOW IT WORKS
In isometrics, rather than moving through the ‘normal’ range of motion for a particular action, you stop at a given point and either squeeze the muscle hard or you use an external point to resist you.
As an example, you could either do a full pull-up, stopping to squeeze at the top (or at several points, more on this in a moment), or you could position yourself so that you are physically unable to complete the movement (anchoring the feet to the ground with bands works very well here).
As above, you can also stop and squeeze at several points during the movement. For example, let’s say you want to get more out of a classic push-up. Go to the bottom of the movement, then try to slide the hands together, without them actually moving on the floor.
This attempt to squeeze the arms inwards will powerfully activate the pectoral muscles. Then come up, still holding the contraction until the arms are almost straight. Stop there and then switch to pushing the hands back towards the feet, again without actually moving the hands This will powerfully work the triceps and also the lats.
There are a few reasons why you should consider adding isometrics to your routine:
1) They just work!
The famous Coach Scott Summer claimed that by practicing isometrics at the top position of a pull-up, his athletes were able to increase both their maximum rep pull-ups and their weighted pull-ups. This is a man who knows a lot about bodyweight training and if he endorses it we are fully on board!
2) Injury prevention
Bodyweight training involves a lot of reps. ‘Serious’ injuries are less common than in many popular sports or fitness pursuits, but the risk of conditions like tendonitis is still relatively high. Isometrics mean time under tension for the muscles (stimulating growth), but less running back and forth across the joint. That in turn can allow you to maintain or increase your gains without further risk to your connective tissue.
3) Plateau busting
There are many ‘sticking’ points in your training life. You might spend weeks where you can do eleven pull-ups but not twelve. Or twenty pistol squats but not twenty-one. Isometrics can help. Find the weak point in the movement and hold it for as long as you can on your last rep.
Suddenly that magic eleventh rep is giving you parts of the benefit of three or four more reps, right where you need it. And next time, maybe that twelfth rep will be there. If not, just go longer, it’ll be there soon.
THE TAKE HOME
With so many benefits and so little time investment to get started, why wouldn’t you start implementing isometric exercises into your training today? Get on it, and see what isometrics can do for you.