Written by coach Jake James - 30th March '20
Isometrics - Synopsis There are different forms of Isometrics listed here; • Sensory Isometrics • Oscillatory Isometrics • Yielding Isometrics • Overcoming Isometrics • Extreme Isometrics
For the purposes of this text, we will be looking at the latter three and sub-categorising them for your better understanding:
Introduction: The use of what we know as isometrics today have been found and utilised by man for over 5000 years, whether it was a Nepalese sherpa, an ancient martial artist, or Buddhist monk - isometrics have been utilised across a broad spectrum. You’ll likely be more familiar with Bruce Lee’s workouts that famously brought isometrics into the eye of the people today.
Yielding Isometrics: When an athlete holds/ pauses in a position for a period of time with a sub maximal load - this is commonly referred to as a yielding isometric. A simple example would a pause in a squat. They are commonly used amongst strength coaches to either add time under tension (TUT) as a means of overloading a stimulus or to break through a specific joint angle ‘sticking point’ for those involved in strength sports.
As a means of increasing TUT - yielding isometrics are a great addition. This article is currently being written at the beginning of a nation-wide lockdown (Covid-19, March 2020 in the UK). With everyone confined to their garage gyms, minimal equipment set ups and very little access to weights, now is a great time to implement the use of yielding isometrics for those still needed to facilitate an adaptation (whether that's size, strength or power). If you only have a light kettlebell, held in a goblet fashion for a rear foot elevated split squat with a tempo that incorporates pauses, is a fast-track way to getting as near to a weight room stimulus as possible. Here are a few examples; https://www.youtube.com/watch? v=j3sMN9Nd-ZA
Overcoming Isometrics: When you as an athlete are either maximally pushing or pulling against an immovable object, this is typically and commonly known as an overcoming isometric (overcoming a resistant force).
Whether you have access to equipment or not, there are the ability for overcoming isometrics all around, a great way to facilitate and maintain strength, power and athleticism.
I would generally recommend sets to be around 6-8s with maximal intent and effort. Let me be clear here; overcoming isometrics won’t do jack unless you go in with maximal intent. Build the pressure in that certain position for 2-3 seconds and then maximally contract against whatever immovable object it may be; a bar in a rack, a door frame or whatever you have! As this is a max effort style lift, the intent of effort is key to facilitating adequate stimulus; around 3-4 working sets per position for around 3-4 lifts/movements should do the trick.
Here are a few examples; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MiUvTOJwTIQ
Extreme Isometrics: Also known as long-duration isometrics, these methods are typically unloaded (for most of us mere mortals) yielding isometrics held for long periods of time.
As a strength coach working with athletes on a busy and strict schedule, what I love to incorporate alongside extreme isometrics, is the ability to learn parasympathetic breathing. Both of these methods stand alone have good effect but when on time constraints, as they are not counter-conducive to one another, its great to practice both symbiotically - the old adage of two birds, one stone.
When you are holding an extreme isometric, your bodies natural reaction is to protect (sympathetic autonomic nervous system response), better known as fight or flight. To further benefit the intent of the activity, practice breathing techniques that are a para-sympathetic autonomic nervous system response, will leave the athlete euphoric, with little/no damage.
Start off with a 4-6 inhale, a 5-6 hold with an 8+ second exhale and whilst here, focus on extending those numbers without forcing them, this should be a calming technique of breathing, allowing for that parasympathetic response. If you struggle with nasal only breathing, whack some tape across your mouth. Here are some visual examples, including some interesting variations; https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=Wx9cBrGQ72w
Summary - Immediate Takeaway At the time of writing this article (March 2020), the world is in a state of pandemic. Lockdowns imposed, people forced to retreat to their homes without leaving; this gives us a great scope to at least explore the corners of isometric training. Whether you’re just adding tempo to your goblet squat as a means of overload (yielding), pushing against a door frame because that's all you have (overcoming) or getting out in the sun and holding positions for long periods of time (extreme) - hopefully this body of text and accompanying examples allows for some diligent thinking.