Saturday, September 19, 2009

Isometrics the Skeptics can Believe in

Every once in a while, I see someone, somewhere doubt the effectiveness of isometrics. I can see their point too. Isometrics are so basic that they lack the one thing that all exercises have in common: movement. If you're not moving, then how on earth can it be exercise, right? Think about it: when you're not working out hard enough, what does your trainer/partner say? "GET MOVING" There's no movement to do in an isometric. What are you gonna say? "GET CONTRACTING" It just doesn't seem like hard work if you're not moving, does it?

So, on one hand you have those who doubt them. On the other side, you have people who think that their strength building properties are just miraculous. Naturally, that level of hype won't convince any skeptic. To them, that's about attractive as mosquito repellent. Anyone who is serious about strength training knows there's nothing miraculous in this world. It's all about how hard and smart you want to work out.

I've never considered isometrics miraculous but I do consider them an incredibly important part of my workouts. Hardly a training day that goes by where I'm not doing some sort of isometric work. I consider them almost as important as Calisthenics in my overall routine. If I'm flying, you can bet your ass that I'll spend at least part of the time doing isometrics on the seat.

Let's review what they are, and that's right in the name. ISO-metric... one length. They're any exercise which forces your muscles to contract without moving and maintaining that contraction for a period of time(so the muscle never changes it's length, hence the name). Now, there are several ways to do isometrics. You can contract at full force for a short period of time or you can contract at a lesser force for a longer period of time.

What I'm going to deal with are the latter isometrics because there are some brutally hard variations that even the most ardent ant-iso fan would have to concede are awesome exercises. In fact, there are some pretty common exercises that, by definition, are isometrics. They just don't get named as such. One such example is the L-sit. For those of you not familiar with the L-sit, it's pretty simple. Grab yourself two objects of equal height that can support your bodyweight. Place your hands on each and do this...

Then, hold it. Don't move. Don't let your legs down. Hold them at a right angle. For as long as you can. If you've never tried this, let me warn you: IT'S HARD! It's an isometric. If you can do a minute of that, you're a monster (FYI, I have done a minute but I can CONSISTENTLY do 45 seconds.)

Now, moving just a little down the Isometric ladder, one of my favorite Iso's, lately, has been the one-arm plank. The set-up is exactly the same as a One-arm push-up. Instead of lowering yourself to the ground, just hold that "up" position.

Just like it's father-push-up, you can tailor this to your ability. You can make this easier by spreading your feet out wider or you could do place your hand on a block. Also, to make it harder, place your feet closer together or raise your feet up. Make sure to do this with both hands, too. I like to hold both sides for one minute, 30 seconds. You may want to start out much less than that.

The next, most common isometric that i like to do is the wall chair. I'm sure that everyone has seen that one. What I haven't seen are two variations that I like to do with the wall chair. One is doing them with my heels off the floor, forcing my calves into action (ah-HEM). Another, much more difficult version that i recommended to one n8tive is doing them on one leg at a time. You can do these one of two ways. The easier way is to rest your free foot on your knee. The harder way is to simply stick your free leg out straight. Choose wisely. Even 30 seconds of this will wipe you out.

Yeah, they all go by different names but they're all isometrics. All of them can be done in less than 2 minutes. Most of all, they're all hard as hell! There isn't a muscle fiber in the targeted area that these iso's aren't going burn up! The difficulty of these iso's is twofold: they can hammer both slow and fast twitch fiber all in one sitting and they force your muscles to work THROUGHOUT THE DURATION OF THE EXERCISE! There's no cheating on the eccentric movement of the exercise... there isn't any! It's just you, forcing your muscles to stay contracted against the poor leverage and stability of iso posture.


Matt said...

funny you chose to write about isometrics today, as I was just about to search your blog for more info on them. I'm looking for stuff to do at work for a minute here and there, and these have great potential. Thanks!!

n8tive said...

Yea & I want you to know that those 1 legged wall sits are BRUTAL!!! 3 sets of 30seconds on each leg is almost more than is bareable. Thanks!!! said...

Good stuff Justin,
Ever try these moves with added weight?

e.sen said...

those look like exercises i could do all the time! and i bet they would really help me with my horseback riding! i'm going to start those! never thought to do those before!

pierini said...

Good blogflection and nice abs in the photo, evidence that you been making them in the kitchen.

Jon C (mtguy) said...

Justin, do you ever throw in an explosive/dynamic movement after the isometric (wall sit then squat jumps or a press then plyo push-ups)?

rcn said...

excellent post