Isometric training is a form of exercise that creates tension on muscles without changing the length of the muscle or joint affected by the movement. Basically, there are no eccentric or concentric muscle contractions during the exercise. With isometrics, you try creating as much tension as possible without actual movement. Some examples of this are planks, wall sits, holding the pull up position at the top of the rep, etc.
Isometrics are often overlooked in training protocols. People think they can’t “feel” it as much because you are holding a pose. Well, you definitely aren’t contracting your muscles as hard as you can if you can’t feel an isometric exercise.
Isometrics can help you build strength, muscle mass and improve cardiovascular endurance.
Utilizing isometrics is creating a ton of time under tension for the muscle group you are working or skill you are performing. More time under tension means more muscle fibers recruited.
Since force production is so high when you are holding a movement, you recruit more fast twitch muscle fibers. This sends the signal to your body to adapt and get stronger – and usually when strength improves, muscle mass improves as well. Isometrics also improve your joints and tendons’ ability to handle force. This improves explosive power and overall athleticism in general.
The tension you put on muscle fibers during an isometric hold also flood blood vessels. This places a mild stressor on your cardiovascular system which as we know, mild stressors cause you to adapt and grow! Same concept here – stress on the blood vessels helps strengthen the heart which means improved cardiovascular endurance.
The Mental Barrier
Isometrics aren’t fun. They are less fun than moving through ranges of motion. You literally have to use the power of your mind to not only push through to the end of your set but think about generating as much tension as possible on the skill or muscle group you are working. A lot of times, you might give up on an isometric set earlier than you should. Some strategies to combat this? Breath. Think about breathing into the area in which you are creating tension. You’ll feel stronger and more stable with proper breathing (especially diaphragmatic).
Incorporating Isometrics in Your Training
A good place to start is pausing your movements right after the eccentric portion of said movements. For example, pause for 5-10 seconds at the bottom of a squat, pause your chest right above the floor in a push up, hold your chin over the bar in a pull up (focusing on scapula retraction), etc. You can hold a lockout position until failure as well, i.e., placing 150% of your 1RM back squat on the bar and just unracking and holding until fatigue (safely of course – don’t go until failure because you’ll probably drop the bar before racking it and that would be a disaster…). You can also simply start your day with a couple sets of plank hold variations or wall sits.