What is the body weight training cultures perception and knowledge about isometric exercise and the positive health benefits derived from incorporating this manner of muscular development in a fitness routine?
Isometrics is often misunderstood and at best difficult for most novices/average persons in fitness to properly apply this to their fitness routines. The applications, definitions and concepts are often cloudy and hard to apply because people do not seek out this form of fitness in their pursuit to health and fitness.
I have found that information of how to perform isometric exercises based upon body part/group training routines are not easy to find and or the information is often expressed in a manner that a beginner and at most times an intermediate fitness enthusiast will not understand.
Isometric exercises have been around for hundreds of years and can be found in use in the following forms of, martial arts, yoga, Buddhism, shaolin monks and Greek and romans civilizations. The Greeks and Romans called it “Soft Training”, and in Buddhism “Yijin Jing.” Chin Ching; literally (“Muscle/Tendon Change”).
Traditional types of exercise include isotonic exercise, where tension or resistance remains unchanged in either an eccentric (lowering) or concentric (raising) movements. Dumbbells and other free weights are good examples of this kind of exercises, where bicep curls and or other movements take place against a set resistance. Isotonic exercises require two specific types of muscle contractions according to the load placed on the body:
- A concentric muscle contraction occurs when the body is able to manipulate a weight load in a certain direction.
- An eccentric muscle contraction occurs when the weight is too much for the body, and the muscles focus on distributing impact, rather than raising or lowering a weight load.
Another kind of conventional training is isometric training. In isometrics, there is no movement, and the muscle length and joint angle do not change. Someone holding free weights while not in motion is an example of this kind of training. (AKA: Static Exercise)
There are two popular types of isometric exercises. One is overcoming isometrics and the second is yielding isometrics. “Overcoming isometric”, is where you press against an immoveable object such as pushing or pulling against pins, a stationary (fixed position) bar or even a wall. Yielding isometrics is where you hold a load and as fatigue sets in the load forces you into an eccentric contraction. “Yielding isometrics” are generally performed by “lowering and holding the barbell, dumbbells or object being used and trying to prevent it from lowering down. (AKA: negative reps)
One of the most important benefits of isometric action training is that it’s the contraction regimen that leads to the greatest activation level. “Activation” refers to the recruitment of the muscle’s motor-units.
A recent study comparing the level of muscle activation during isometric, concentric, and eccentric muscle actions found that a person can recruit over 5% more motor-units/muscle fibers during a maximal isometric muscle action than during either a maximal eccentric (lowering) or maximal concentric (lifting) action; that’s 95.2% for isometric compared to 88.3% for the eccentric and 89.7% for the concentric.
These findings are in accordance with the body of literature that finds that a person can recruit almost all motor-units during a maximal isometric action. (3) What this tells us is that isometric training can improve our capacity to recruit motor units during a maximal contraction. In the long run, this improved neural drive could greatly increase one’s strength production potential!
In the past, isometric exercises have been described as a technique that should only be used by advanced lifters. I beg to differ. One of the biggest shortcomings of lower-class lifters is the incapacity to produce maximum intramuscular tension during a concentric contraction. Isometric exercise can thus be used to learn how to produce this high level of tension, as it requires less motor skills than the corresponding dynamic action. For this reason, I see isometric exercises as very beneficial for all classes of athletes.
As in all exercise applications there are hundreds of, if not thousands of exercise variations using both of these techniques and the many other related forms for body weight fitness and weight training exercises.
Not only can the physiological (body/muscular) benefits like muscle strength and muscular definition be achieved with either form, but the psychological (mental/mind) aspects of linking your mind to your body using applied positive imaging (pictures in your mind), using your mind to think the exercise to beneficial results.
The common Consensus of using Isometric Exercise as a Training Tool and Benefits:
The common isometric consensus in isometric training is to apply a single angle muscular contraction (maximum flexed state) for somewhere between 10-60 seconds to receive the maximum muscular stimulation that enhance muscle strength and achieves muscular definition. It has also been stated that holding the contracted muscles position produces beneficial results without hitting the same muscle from multiple angles like in weight lifting or isotonic movements. However, I have found a greater benefit from changing the application angles when I perform isometric based exercises in my fitness routine.
DRS- (Direct Self Resistance) exercise movements are pitting one group of muscles against the other when performing BWT exercises and DVR (Dynamics Visual Resistance) mentally picturing the results in the movement where you tense or flex your muscles while contracting the muscle, (no weights). No equipment exercises that can be performed anywhere at any time. Examples of these can be found in John Peterson’s book, “Pushing Yourself to Power.”
The Solo Strength training system can assist you in any type of isometric exercise as it is fully adjustable allowing you to perform anything from isometric body squats, isometric pushups, isometric shoulder presses, isometric bent over rows, isometric triceps press downs, isometric bicep barbell curls and all other examples of isometric variations static exercises by simply sliding the bar into position and locking it in place.
The possible health and fitness benefit from isometric exercises are endless and should be considered to enhance any type of personal fitness training. The key to good health is in balance of all aspects in your life, spiritual, emotional, volitional, physical and mental balances.
Please remember to talk with your doctor before trying any training routine for the first time. Isometric exercise training involves placing your body under extreme physical stresses for a predetermined amount of time and is known to raise blood pressure levels and circulatory stresses on anyone that uses this form of training in a routine.
Contributing Editor for SoloStrength: Steven O.