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Other/Mixed New training block, Isometrics as primary resistance training

Other strength modalities (e.g., Clubs), mixed strength modalities (e.g., combined kettlebell and barbell), other goals (flexibility)

North Coast Miller

Level 8 Valued Member
Am a few weeks into a block I intend to run for 3-4 months. Pretty excited about this, so thought I'd share with the crew.

The literature supporting use of Iso-only for mass gain is not very plentiful despite plenty of anecdotal accounts and examples from old time strongmen (who's exact training regimen is largely lost to time). My intention is to use this to gain about 8-10lbs 100% lean mass as well as improve my isotonic lift numbers, will be testing every 4-6 weeks or so.
Have used isometrics before but never in a comprehensive manner and never with intent to do more than rehab or maintain. Through past use I have developed some insight into what I feel is a solid approach, the early results are encouraging. The following is a disgorgement of my thoughts on the topic as well as overview of my current approach (subject to revision!) Also included is pic of the latest training widget that solves a lot of the challenges facing comprehensive use of Isometrics, namely ability to mimic traditional lifts with minimal equipment and ease of change-over.


My Isometrics Manifesto:
Muscle contraction without changing length.
Overcoming Isometrics - exertion against an immovable resistance
Characterized by
- Reduced muscle glucose utilization
- High % type II muscle fiber activation at >50% effort
- Significant tendon remodeling at >70% effort + > 5 second holds = stiffness nearly 2x
- Analgesic effect on chronic tendon pain and reduction in pain response generally

Longer muscle length increases strength through entire dynamic range - movement dependent! Compound lifts use recruitment patterns that are not uniformly loaded throughout. The shorter the muscle length at exertion, the more specific to that joint angle strength gains will be - reduced strength increase, reduced hypertrophic response

Bracing a muscle group with another of approximate equal strength is contraindicated as it tends toward a balancing act that limits MVC. Use of posture or bracing that relies on bodyweight to anchor contraction effort is likewise contraindicated for same reason. Avoid the "balancing act", it can be tricky to spot with some movements.

Isometrics tend to increase strength more than hypertrophy due to reduced glucose usage and reduced blood occlusion. Glucose metabolism is a driver of anabolism via the Cori Cycle and other metabolic processes. HIIT increases heart rate and preferentially depletes muscle glucose in fast twitch fibers faster than any other exercise strategy. Combining the two should be an effective strategy to improve the adaptive response to isometric stress.

Best Practices I have identified for practical application:
For compound squat, hinge/ lower body movements select a point the ROM that stretches the target muscles and or use a hold from the first (lowest) 1/3 to 1/2 of the lift. For upper body select a hold that stretches the target muscles and pits/braces the hold against a lower body squat or hinge pattern. Generally the bottom 1/3 to 1/2 the ROM. There needs to be a 100% immovable resistance overall, or a winner/loser relationship with the loser being the target muscle group and the winner being used to increase tension during the hold, or even better force a slight eccentric opening of the initial joint angle.

Longer holds can be used, but generally holds using MVC cannot be sustained beyond 12-15 seconds. Holds shorter than 3-5 seconds do not develop max force production. Submaximal efforts should be restricted to rehabilitative and pain management roles, or as an introduction to higher levels of force production. For fitness, in the absence of some external increase in tension, one should do increasing number of repeat efforts if more volume is desired, rather than longer holds. A rest period of about 2:1 or 3:1 is a good starting point.

----------How I use them:
- intent to produce the fastest possible force production. The literature describes best results from a "ballistic effort". I break my holds into 3-4 exhales, the first exhale corresponds with attempt to generate MVC as rapidly as possible, the remaining exhales intent is to ramp up force with every exhale.

- use of stronger muscle groups to overload weaker ones. This cannot really be applied to Squat, DeadLift, Benchpress. For those, tweak the load to floor distance to recruit the best blend of motor units. For upper body holds, set up over a squat or deadlift posture and use them to overload the upper body hold, either to increase tension or to force a bit of eccentric opening of the joint. Eg. overhead press done with a partial knee bend as if finishing off a squat. Press the bar with MVC and then slowly increase tension using leg drive. You will find your ability to exert more force over time increases with an active resistance. Try to replicate that increased effort when training passive resistance holds.

- attempt to "hold" tension on inhale and increase it on exhale- when possible train muscles at longest possible length that still allows good muscle activation to gain better strength increase through the entire ROM. Generally if mimicking traditional lifts, exert at the bottom 1/3 to 1/2 of the ROM.

- use of fast, blood flow encouraging movements between exercise selection such as running in place, jumprope, stationary bike

- 12:36 seconds work to rest. Avoid full blown Valsalva - breath through the movement as though performing isotonic exercise

- 5 "sets" of each exercise with two intervals of max effort jumprope between exercises.

Generally all my programs are constructed around primary push, pull, hinge, squat with accessory exercises as compliment. In most cases this equals 8 exercises (4 primary, 4 accessory) with a few additional abdominal, bicep, tricep thrown in at the end. I alternate primary and accessory by classification.

This gives every primary lift pattern a break every other session, while maintaining consistent volume to some of the prime moving muscles. This strategy works well with every resistance training mode out there. The selection of specific exercises can be swapped out periodically but should be readily identifiable by classification or otherwise accounted for in the daily volume.

A timer is super helpful!

Day 1
- Zercher Deadlift (primary hinge)
- High Pull/Upright row (accessory pull)
- Quad extension/Hack Squat (accessory squat)
- Benchpress, sandbag for bench (primary push)
- Hammer curls
- Crunches

Day 2
- Squat (primary squat)
- overhead press (accessory push)
- Hamstring extension/curl (accessory hinge)
- Bent Row (primary pull)
- Triceps extension
- Leg raises

Day 3
Jump rope HIIT - 15 minutes

Then repeat Day1 and Day2. I view the HIIT day as optional based on time constraints.

The tool - 2x3' 3/4" plywood with cutouts for strap angle, 4 foot by 2" dowel, 14ft cargo strap with hooks cut off and replaced with webbing tie downs.

FoBQJerm.jpg

Example in use with accessory Quad isolation lunge:
Mj0OfmRm.jpg


Having the strap cut-outs off center allows me to lean into a lot of my lifts, pre-loading the muscle and providing some initial load feedback.
 

BJJ Shawn

Level 6 Valued Member
About 20 years ago, I knew NOTHING about anything, and being inherently lazy I came across Train Smart by Pete Sisco. I spent maybe 3-4 months at 24 hour fitness using nothing but machines since I did all training by myself and was not about to use free weights in this manner in front of anybody, and one day I decided to go work out with my much larger friend (I am 5'8" and was about 150 lbs, he's 6'3" about 240 lbs) and I'll be damned if I didn't lift heavier weights than him after having never even done the movements. I was doing sets of 10 with 225 on bench press, and the last time I had ever done a bench press I failed with 135.

Now, I don't know why it worked, or if it was sustainable, but I have never lifted that heavy since and I don't have any reason why I stopped other than I was in college and moving around a lot and just didn't stick with my routine. I often think about that and think about trying a block or 2 of isometrics because I swear it was the best thing I ever did. And the best parts of his program, is that it starts at 1 day a week and reduces down to once every 2 weeks then to once a month...and somehow it worked...
 
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pet'

Level 8 Valued Member
Hello @North Coast Miller

Sounds very interesting and effective !

I have a couple of questions:
- why do not you use 3 levels (bottom / middle / top) of ROM for each move with a hold of 6-8s (for instance)
- have you noticed an improvement in 'regular' lifts such as DL, pull ups, press, etc..

Kind regards,

Pet'
 

Training for Life

Level 4 Valued Member
Very interesting, thanks for sharing.

I have a question this part:

Bracing a muscle group with another of approximate equal strength is contraindicated as it tends toward a balancing act that limits MVC. Use of posture or bracing that relies on bodyweight to anchor contraction effort is likewise contraindicated for same reason. Avoid the "balancing act", it can be tricky to spot with some movements.

Could you explain this a bit further (like explaining it to a five year old)? Do you mean one should avoid having two muscle groups push against eachother?
 

North Coast Miller

Level 8 Valued Member
@Pet,
The literature doesn't really support the notion that an Iso hold needs to be done at multiple angles to gain strength throughout. Testing showed that training at longer lengths produced comparable strength gains, and training multiple angles would be too time consuming.

I have only been running this for three weeks and two of those were not "complete" as-scheduled weeks, missing several sessions. Am planning to do a quick test in mid Oct. As I sit typing, my:

- arthritic knee, arthritic lower back, inflammation in my neck all feel pretty good. In case of my knee, better than it has in 3-4 months.

- whole body feels pretty pumped even though I haven't trained since yesterday if you don't count the short jump rope HIIT I did at 6:30am. There is a general "heat" sensation coming off my body I know well, that tells me if I want to put on mass I only need to eat more.
 

North Coast Miller

Level 8 Valued Member
Very interesting, thanks for sharing.

I have a question this part:

Bracing a muscle group with another of approximate equal strength is contraindicated as it tends toward a balancing act that limits MVC. Use of posture or bracing that relies on bodyweight to anchor contraction effort is likewise contraindicated for same reason. Avoid the "balancing act", it can be tricky to spot with some movements.

Could you explain this a bit further (like explaining it to a five year old)? Do you mean one should avoid having two muscle groups push against eachother?


Exactly. The old "Dynamic Tension" and similar approaches are not a good idea, although you can make some modest gains that way. If you are already in good shape it is a dead end. The brain will tell you that in a balanced posture or hold you are exerting as hard as you can, but at best only one side of the tug-of-war can possibly be doing so, the other is holding back, even in a largely symmetrical force on force. How much? Who knows. Who knows if both aren't?

That's why I recommend only pitting lower vs 100% immovable resistance, or upper vs lower, where you know and can easily demonstrate a winner/loser relationship.

As another example imagine doing an Iso bent row from a Deadlift midrange posture. As you begin to pull with increasing force, the hinge pattern isn't even really trying hard - there is no way you can DL anywhere near your max with a bend in your elbows. Now actively hinge up, the row pattern is completely outclassed and will fight like hell to hold that joint angle. Its up to you if you want to force the pattern open or match the max row output.

It is virtually impossible to do the same with any upper vs upper match-up, don't bother.
 

North Coast Miller

Level 8 Valued Member
About 20 years ago, I knew NOTHING about anything, and being inherently lazy I came across Train Smart by Pete Sisco. I spent maybe 3-4 months at 24 hour fitness using nothing but machines since I did all training by myself and was not about to use free weights in this manner in front of anybody, and one day I decided to go work out with my much larger friend (I am 5'8" and was about 150 lbs, he's 6'3" about 240 lbs) and I'll be damned if I didn't lift heavier weights than him after having never even done the movements. I was doing sets of 10 with 225 on bench press, and the last time I had ever done a bench press I failed with 135.

Now, I don't know why it worked, or if it was sustainable, but I have never lifted that heavy since and I don't have any reason why I stopped other than I was in college and moving around a lot and just didn't stick with my routine. I often think about that and think about trying a block or 2 of isometrics because I swear it was the best thing I ever did. And the best parts of his program, is that it starts at 1 day a week and reduces down to once every 2 weeks then to once a month...and somehow it worked...
Back when I was 9 I trained on my older brother's Bullworker for an entire Summer and into the Fall. One of the smallest kids in the class I wound up being the strongest (aside from the resident farmboy - man he was tough!). I easily beat everyone arm wrestling except Sister Ann - no way she was going to lose to a 10 year old and the class weisenheimer to boot!
 

North Coast Miller

Level 8 Valued Member
New, or re-gain?
Yes...
Regain in technical sense but last time I did was at a higher bodyfat % than I should have been. I also went through an almost immediate detraining period that had me drop 15 lbs in three months. If this goes off well, it will be my heaviest lean bodyweight.

Will also be 3 yrs older, turning 54 in a week.
 
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North Coast Miller

Level 8 Valued Member
Ooh, harsh.

Good luck, and no matter what the outcome, I applaud the experiment.
Its going to be a real walk in the wilderness, I've never used iso like this and until somewhat recently have been ver skeptical it could work well in this role.

Coming off of 4 months or so of sandbag Clusters that put some size and strength on me but dropped some definition. Also left me feeling pretty abused, so really looking forward to how this pans out.
 

North Coast Miller

Level 8 Valued Member
Am going to put some non-specific observations in here as I go. Part of my ongoing experiment is to identify ways that this can and has misfired for a lot of people. I want to anticipate and avoid or limit any waste of time.

Something I've noticed on compound movements is the need to identify the entire target chain and engage it even though the position of all the parts is not in their usual place. It is not enough to line up and exert as hard as possible. Clarification example: Bent Row

The first couple times I used this it felt like more of an isolation exercise. Realized that I was only truly pulling with my lats and rear delt because my scapula wasn't in motion to activate the rest of my upper back. Once I realized this, I was able to fire everything between my spine and my tricep, really pulling on the scap, trying to haul it up. Huge difference.

And so it goes with many compound movements where most of the time one aspect dominates and "hands off" the primary mover role to the next guy in the chain as the moment arm(s) change length. One has to expand focus to activate everything as much as possible. Again, it helps to set up on the point in the ROM where the most prime muscles involved are somewhat stretched yet still capable of being fired maximally. Depending on individual bone structure and insertion/origin points this won't look exactly the same for everybody.
 

LukeV

Level 6 Valued Member
I don’t know anything about isometrics so apologies if this is a stupid question, but why would someone workout like this? Is it better than traditional ‘move the weight‘ or quicker or just for when you don’t have any equipment?
 

Kenny Croxdale

Level 6 Valued Member
The literature supporting use of Iso-only for mass gain is not very plentiful
Isometric Only For Gaining

Isometric only isn't the most effective method for gaining mass.

Isometric provides an ancillary contribution to gaining mass.

Bodybuilding Research

Dr Brad Schoenfeld's research determined the three most influenctial factors are...

1) Mechanical Tension

This is produced with Maximum Strength Training; heavy loads, low repetitions and long rest periods.

The ancillary benefit of Isometric would in this area.

Increasing Maximum Strength carrier over to being able to increase the load for Hypertrophy Repetition Sets; which lead to an increase in muscle mass.

2) Metabolic Stress

This produces "The Pump" or "The Burn", which is the primary factor that drive and increase in muscle mass.

Low to Moderate Loads with High to Moderate Repetitions (8 Reps plus) pump blood into the working muscles.

Due to the constant contraction of the muscles with multiple repetitions, blood is trapped in the muscles. This triggers an anabolic effect.

While blood is trapped in the muscle in an Isometric; the Isometric does little to pump blood to the muscles.

With in mind, after completing a Hypertrophy Training Set, performing some type of Isometric with the same muscle in the exercise, ensure blood remains trapped in the muscle. Thus, it accentuates to some degree that Metabolic Stress placed on the muscles.

3) Muscle Damage

This is produce by...

a) Pushing an exercise to near failure or failure in the final week of a training cycle.

b) This also occurs during the Loaded Stretch of the muscles during a movement.

Loaded Stretch Examples

1) Full Squat

In performing a Full Squat, the load at the very bottom produces Muscle Damage, which trigger an anabolic response.

2) Dumbbell Bench Press

Dumbbell Bench Pressing allows a lifter to go down much lower that a Barbell Bench Press; a Loaded Stretch.

Isometrics For Strength Training

Isometric shines in this area.

1) Sticking Point Training

Isometrics allow lifter to develop greater strength at their Sticking Point.

Strength is developed between 15 degrees below and above where the Isometric is performed.

Thus, it allows lifters to specifically work their Sticking Point.

With that said, where the bar stops moving isn't the Sticking Point.

Car Analogy

Think of the Sticking Point like a car that run out of gas.

Once the car runs out of gas, it continues to move forward.

Where it finally stops isn't where it ran out of gas.

The same applies to Sticking Point in a movement. The Sticking Point is lower and earlier in the movement.

Thus, to increasing Sticking Point Strength in a movement, the bar need to be just below where it stopped moving.

2) Maximum Strength Training With Isometrics

Isometric are the only method that allows a lifter to preform all out Max Effort Strength Training.

This ensure a greater percentage of the Fast Twitch Muscle are engaged, trained and developed.

3) Isometric Are Less Taxing

Isometric are less taxing the Concentric Training; they take less out of you.

The Ego Issues of Isometrics

One of the issues with Isometrics is that they are hard to measure; it is a ego, guy thing.

It is hard to measure but not impossible.

Isometric Crane Scale

For individual who feel they need a number to measure their "Isometric Load", a Crane Scale is effective. a $20 - $30 Crane Scale works.

Another method is...

Functional Isometrics

This is a great method.

Bench Press Example

1) Place a Bar in a Power Rack so that is a few inches off you chest.

2) Place another pin a few inches up higher.

3) Load the bar with weight. Then push it from the bottom pin into the upper pin and perform a Isometric.

4) Start out as you would with a light weight and progressively increase the bar load.

This allows lifter to have some bar load reference range in training the Bench Press, Squat, Deadlift, etc.

Summary

Isometrics and Functional Isometrics are great training methods that are misunderstood and rarely used by most lifters.

They are one of the most effective methods at increasing strength, specifically at Sticking Point in a lift.

They are an effective ancillary method that will assist with increasing muscle mass.

However, as a "Stand Alone Hypertrophy Method" they are not as effective for increasing muscle mass.
 
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North Coast Miller

Level 8 Valued Member
Isometric Only For Gaining

However, as a "Stand Alone Hypertrophy Method" they are not as effective for increasing muscle mass.

In the past I've noticed a cause/effect when combining isometrics with HIIT. Namely, if a HIIT session was performed within 48hrs (24hrs ideally) of a whole body Isometric session, a pronounced pump resulted. Did a bunch of experiment using iso, metcons, external load resistance to see if any other combination could produce this effect and only the iso/hiit worked.

This doesn't mean it was triggering hypertrophy, but I believe it indicated a possibility if Iso is combined with blood flow promoting follow up to supply the metabolic component, it should be enough to do so. This is somewhat experimental but I believe it has a very strong chance of success.

The biggest issues with Iso is no standardized gear or usage protocol, so very difficult to say what it can or cannot do in an absolute sense, very similar to external resistance training prior to DeLorme codifying "progressive resistance" "sets" reps".

Like a seasoning everyone has in their spice rack, but hardly anyone uses it, those that do all use it differently in their own recipes.
 

North Coast Miller

Level 8 Valued Member
I don’t know anything about isometrics so apologies if this is a stupid question, but why would someone workout like this? Is it better than traditional ‘move the weight‘ or quicker or just for when you don’t have any equipment?

You can safely use higher levels of mechanical tension, it recruits more muscle fibers than concentric or eccentric.

You have total control over contraction speeds

It makes your joints feel good

It increases tendon stiffness and density which should lead to more efficient force production

Folks who have run out of weight to increase loading or are otherwise limited in gear, weight, space can still train basic lifting patterns at high tension

It might lead to more effective strength carryover to day to day - having run several multi week blocks of only Iso, I am convinced of this. The issue then becomes what needs to be added to it for a more rounded package, to improve the one thing it really doesn't do well - put on mass?

Its a bit of a muddle, much of the research shows mass increase in the interventions, but anecdotally nobody uses it for size. I'm trying to understand the disconnect.
 

North Coast Miller

Level 8 Valued Member
@LukeV
In my case specifically, I want to answer some lingering questions I have from prior usage.

I want to give my joints a break coming off of a few months of heavy sandbag Cluster Set training.

I want to find out if the specific approach I'm using improves my cardio fitness and muscular strength/size with a single comprehensive approach. There's no way I could do mini HIIT between sets of regular resistance training, but this approach seems to enhance it.
 
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