If you’ve read any number of articles on strength training and bodybuilding you will probably know we like to bang on about using full range of motion over and over. But, that is not the only way to build strength and size. In fact, static contraction exercises – known as isometrics – are a very valuable tool in strength training and bodybuilding when utilised properly.
Take this for example. Many times when training people reach what is known as a plateau. This is when try as you might you are stuck on lifting the same amount of weight for a prolonged length of time, and nothing you do can get you any further; you just hit a brick wall. Often, these plateaus can seem to defy logic, as you can convincingly lift just a small amount of weight less yet just can’t seem to lift a little bit more.
One thing a lot of people like to employ at this time is isometric lifts. What this entails is loading the bar up with the weight you are struggling with or a greater amount and holding it in a set – static – position rather than trying to lift the weights upwards and lower it. To the surprise of many, they realise that they can hold the weight in a still position – isometric – convincingly and comfortably. This is because muscles are stronger in a static position than they are in a concentric or eccentric movement. What this can do therefore, is overload your muscles with the weight they were struggling with previously, thus helping you break through your plateau.
But… it is not quite as simple as that. When using this isometric method for lifting, the muscles only tend to gets stronger in the position that the isometrics have been applied with a little but limited range of strength developed out of this immediate position. So, the way to go is varying the position of the isometric lift gradually taking it throughout the full range of motion for that muscle.
For instance, the first set of an exercise – or maybe just this workout only – if you are using isometrics with a bench press, you would hold the barbell in a position that is several inches below lockout until your muscles begin failing and then rack it. The next time, you will do the same again only this time even lower. And on it goes: getting lower and lower on each separate occasion (or set) until you have taken the isometric lifts through the entire range of motion of a normal lift.
Of course, the beauty of using isometrics is you do not always need to use weights or any traditional bodybuilding equipment and are only limited by your imagination. For instance to work your triceps you could place yourself in a doorway with your back wedged against one side of the frame with one or both hands turned inward and pushing as hard as possible against the other side of the door frame.
Another isometrics exercise you can use is for the biceps and can also work the triceps on the alternating arm if done in a certain way. It goes like this: with one arm grasp tightly around the wrist of the other and try to hold as hard as possible whilst trying to contract the bicep of the arm being held. This is a very strenuous exercise if done for around 20 to 30 seconds at a time. Also, as I have said, depending on how we were holding with the other arm you may well be using your triceps to a large degree to suppress the contraction of your biceps on the other arm which also gives them a workout, too.
Besides using isometrics in different positions as I have already explained, the important thing is to always ensure that you do several sets as you would with regular bodybuilding exercises with just the right amount of time given to each isometric repetition to ensure that you reach muscular fatigue and near failure at the very end set. Then you’ll know you have gotten the most out of your muscles and you can expect the most growth.