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“Train 10 minutes a day and increase your strength by over 30 percent in 10 weeks,” claimed one popular isometric training system. Others claim that isometrics have about as much value as the Belarusian Ruble (one dollar is nearly 10,000 BYRs). So what gives?
An isometric contraction is defined as a muscular contraction not accompanied by movement of the joint. Isometrics can range from static holds to pushing against immovable objects, a crucifix hold in strongman, a bodybuilder holding poses, to a clinch in grappling or MMA.
It’s a popular practice to have strength athletes push against immovable objects. This allows the athlete to produce roughly 15 percent greater force than could be produced concentrically. Furthermore, in a limit bench press, maximum force is maintained for 1/3 of a second as the weight is lifted up. Isometrically, maximum force production can be maintained for 5-6 seconds. In a nutshell: the athlete produces 15% more force 15 times longer in an isometric contraction. This is the ultimate sticking point remedy.
By pushing as forcefully as possible against an immovable object in a weak region, not only are you overloading this region but you are also programming your central nervous to be aggressive. This is in line with an offensive movement intention. By pushing against an immovable object, you will produce a localized training effect within 15 degrees of the joint angle you are targeting, i.e. a sticking point.
Any no-holds-barred or grappling sport has a crucial isometric element. Bottom line: the stronger you are, the less energy expended. Think about holding an isometric contraction that requires 200 pounds of force—if you can produce 500 pounds of force that requires a 40% exertion level that’s easy. If you can produce 250 pounds, that’s 80%, you won’t hold that for long. Improving isometric strength, then, improves conditioning by default.
If they are performed too often or too long, there can be potential negative consequences to adding all out isometrics to your training program. If performed incorrectly, isometrics can be detrimental to your rate of force development and can negatively impact your stretch shortening cycle.
Instead, try this simpler, more structured approach.
–Perform an isometric contraction against an immovable, strong, solid structure.
–Don’t start the isometric contraction at the point the isometric contraction will take place. Some dynamic movement is recommended pre- and post-contraction.
–Do not exceed 5-6 seconds for maximal isometric contractions.
–Perform some sort of explosive dynamic work after isometric contractions for the benefit of your central nervous system and positive neural adaptations.
–To maximize benefits, contract as hard as possible.
–After a workout that contains isometrics, try some breathing exercises, static stretching and/or proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching, and some foam rolling.
–Do not perform for more than 6-8 weeks at a time
The science on isometric training for increasing strength and eliminating sticking points is well documented. Anecdotally, isometric contractions are a great way to improve muscular quality and detail. Many lifters swear by the practice of static poses following working sets in order to further exhaust target muscles and to “teach” them how to contract more forcefully. To see how it works for you, at the end of any working set, flex that muscle as hard as possible – ideally in a mirror in order to better “control” the contraction – for a period of 5-6 seconds.
Josh Bryant, MFS, CSCS, PES, is the owner of JoshStrength.com and co-author (with Adam benShea) of the Amazon No. 1 seller Jailhouse Strong. He is a strength coach at Metroflex Gym in Arlington, Texas, and holds 12 world records in powerlifting. You can connect with him on Twitter and Facebook or visit his website at www.joshstrength.com