Isometric training is one of the most powerful training methods that you can use. It works extremely well for building muscular size and strength. If you want to take your training to the next level then you must learn the ins and outs of isometric training!
- Part 1: The Advantages Of Isometrics For Building Strength
- Part 2: The Advantages Of Isometrics For Building Muscle
- Part 3: The Disadvantages Of Isometrics
- Part 4: How To Use Isometrics For Powerlifting
- Part 5: How To Use Isometronics To Build Strength And Size
- Part 6: How To Build Muscle With Yielding Isometrics
- Part 7: How To Build Muscle With Loaded Stretches
In this comprehensive guide I am going to teach you everything you need to know about how to build size and strength with isometrics. There are three different types of muscular contractions:
- Concentric muscular contractions
- Eccentric muscular contractions
- Isometric muscular contractions
Concentric contractions occur any time you are lifting a weight up with your muscles. For example when you bench press a barbell from your chest to the lockout position you are performing a concentric muscular contraction.
Eccentric contractions are the opposite: they occur when you are lowering a weight down under control. For example when you are lowering yourself down from the top position of a back squat to the bottom position you are performing an eccentric muscular contraction.
Isometrics are a little different.
Isometric contractions occur when your muscles are contracting and producing force without actually moving. There are two main types of isometric contractions: overcoming isometrics and yielding isometrics.
Overcoming isometrics occur when your muscles are applying force against an immovable object. Powerlifters often incorporate overcoming isometric contractions by pushing or pulling a barbell as hard as they can against a set of safety pins.
For example here is Al Davis performing a bench press overcoming isometric contraction:
Overcoming isometrics are amazing for increasing maximal strength. They teach your body to recruit more motor units and help you obliterate your “sticking points” or weaknesses in a lift.
There are many different ways to incorporate overcoming isometrics including powerlifting style isometrics and a training method called “isometronics.” I will cover these training methods in more depth in parts 4 and 5 of this article.
Yielding isometrics are a little different: your muscles contract to prevent an external load from moving you. Bodybuilders often use yielding isometrics to make their muscles work harder and to stimulate muscular hypertrophy.
Here is a video of Dusty Hanshaw performing a yielding isometric contraction on the incline bench press:
This isometric rep was performed at the end of a rest-pause set to absolutely annihilate his chest. Yielding isometrics are a fantastic tool for building muscular size. They dramatically increase the amount of time under tension of your sets and stimulate the release of IGF-1 and other growth factors into the working muscle.
There are two main types of yielding isometrics: iso-dynamics and loaded stretches. They will be covered in more depth in parts 6 and 7 of this article.
I hope you have found this introduction to the world of isometric training helpful. Now let’s dive right into the heart of this comprehensive guide.
In the first half of this article I will teach you the advantages and disadvantages of isometric training. This will include a detailed discussion on the science of isometric training. In the second half of this article I will cover the 4 best isometric training methods for building size and strength.
Note: if you find it difficult to read the sample training programs in this article then go ahead and read this article.
Now let’s get down to business…
Part 1: The Advantages Of Isometric Training For Building Strength
Isometric training is one of the most powerful training methods you can use for building maximal strength. In fact Josh Bryant considers isometric contractions to be his “secret weapon” for building a world class bench press or deadlift.
The strongest bench presser in the world Julius Maddox often uses isometric bench presses to prepare for his powerlifting competitions.
As a general rule of thumb overcoming isometrics are preferred over yielding isometrics when you are trying to build strength. There are at least 6 advantages to using overcoming isometrics when training for strength:
- Increased motor unit recruitment
- Increased force production
- Increased rate of force development
- Increased intra- and inter-muscular coordination
- Allows you to target specific weak points in a lift
- Desensitizes the golgi tendon organ
Let’s take a closer look at each of these factors.
Advantage #1: Isometric Training Lets You Recruit More Motor Units
One of the most effective ways to build strength is to use training methods that teach your body to recruit more motor units. A motor unit is part of your nervous system. It is what actually causes your muscle fibers to contract.
Research has shown that the average untrained person is able to recruit about 40-50% of their motor units. On the other hand world-class powerlifters such as Matt Wenning or Eric Lilliebridge are probably able to recruit 80-90% of their motor units.
If you want to build strength then it is a great idea to use training methods that teach your body to recruit new motor units.
Research has shown that isometric contractions are a superior training method for maximizing motor unit recruitment. In fact all-out overcoming isometric contractions allow you to recruit up to 5-6% more motor units than either concentric or eccentric muscular contractions (1)!
This is consistent with the larger body of literature that shows overcoming isometric contractions allow you to achieve near-maximal motor unit recruitment (2-8).
Just take a look at the following video of IFBB professional bodybuilder Johnie Jackson performing an isometric deadlift:
Johnnie is pulling the empty barbell into the safety pins as hard as he possibly can. As he does this his muscle fibers enter a state of “tetany” where all available motor units are firing non-stop without any rest. His muscles are contracting so hard that he looks like he has a bad case of Parkinson’s disease!
Make no mistake: overcoming isometrics are the single most effective way to maximize motor unit recruitment ini the gym. This has profound implications for your long-term strength gains.
Advantage #2: Isometric Training Increases Your Overall Force Production
Maximal isometric contractions are the most effective way to improve your ability to generate force. In fact the research has shown that you are able to generate up to 15% more force during isometric contractions than either concentric or eccentric contractions.
Let’s say that you are an intermediate level powerlifter and your best bench press is 300 pounds. This means you are able to generate approximately 300 pounds of force on the bench press. If you were to do an overcoming isometric bench press then you would actually be able to produce up to 345 pounds of force! This is a huge achievement.
This improvement in force production is a big part of why isometrics work so well for strength gains. In fact the scientific literature has shown strength gains of up to 5% per week using various isometric training protocols (9)!
Josh Bryant often has his athletes alternate sets of isometric bench presses with speed bench presses. This is a great way to teach your body to apply more force in your regular dynamic sets. This isometric strategy will be covered in more depth in part 4 of this article.
Advantage #3: Isometric Training Increases Your Rate Of Force Development
The rate of force development is a measure of how quickly you can achieve maximal force production on a lift (10). This is an extremely important concept for any strength athlete. It does not matter how much force you can produce if it takes you forever and a day to work up to maximal force production!
Consider two trainees: Explosive Ely and Slow Steve. Both of these trainees can produce about 300 pounds of force on the bench press. Explosive Ely uses training methods such as isometrics to increase his rate of force development on the bench press. As a result he can achieve maximal force production on the bench press in .3 seconds.
In other words it only takes him .3 seconds after the bar leaves his chest to use his full 300 pounds of force.
On the other hand Slow Steve never trains his rate of force development. It takes him a full .5 seconds to achieve maximal force production on the bench press.
Both of these men are equally strong. However, Explosive Ely is faster at displaying his full strength potential. As a result Explosive Ely will have a much higher 1-rep max on the bench press.
Overcoming isometric contractions have been shown to dramatically increase your rate of force development. They are right up there with other training methods such as the dynamic effort method as popularized by Louie Simmons.
Of course combining these methods together is pretty much the ultimate way to increase your rate of force development. Check out part 4 of this article for more information.
Advantage #4: Isometric Training Increases Your Intra- And Inter-Muscular Coordination
Your body has to coordinate a huge number of motor units any time you perform a big compound lift such as the squat or deadlift.
Your body has to coordinate hundreds of different motor units within your individual muscle groups such as the hamstrings. This is known as intra-muscular coordination.
It also has to coordinate multiple different muscle groups together to lift the load. This is known as inter-muscular coordination.
Many low-rep training schemes such as the maximal effort method, the modified Hepburn method, cluster sets, and wave loading are great at improving both intra- and inter-muscular coordination. This is one of the reasons these training methods are so effective at increasing strength without building muscle mass.
Maximal isometric contractions also work extremely well for accomplishing this task.
Advantage #5: Isometric Training Lets You Target Weak Points In An Exercise
I’m going to make a bold statement: overcoming isometric contractions are the single most effective training method for strengthening “sticking points” on an exercise. Yes, this is a bold claim. But it is absolutely true and I’m going to prove it to you.
A “sticking point” describes a specific area of an exercise where you are weak. For example on the bench press you might be weak a couple inches off of your chest or a couple of inches before locking out the weight. These are examples of sticking points.
If you have a sticking point in a lift then the single best thing you can do to increase your strength on that lift is to strengthen the sticking point. As powerlifting guru Louie Simmons likes to say, “a chain is only as strong as the weakest link.”
Research has shown that when you perform all-out overcoming isometric contractions most of the strength gains occur at the exact joint angles that you are training. In other words if you perform a bench press isometric 2 inches above your chest then almost all of the strength gains occur 2 inches above your chest!
Compare this to a regular set of bench presses where the strength gains occur evenly throughout the whole movement. There is also a small radiation effect so you build strength slightly above and below the sticking point you are training.
If you want to get technical isometrics build strength at the exact joint angles you are training plus or minus 15 degrees either way (15-19).
When you perform an isometric bench press 2 inches above your chest you are probably building strength 2 inches above and below your sticking point.
There is another big reason why isometrics are the ultimate sticking point solution: time under tension. During a normal set of bench presses you might spend 1/3 of a second at your sticking point. During a set of overcoming isometrics you are spending 6-8 seconds at your exact sticking point!
This means isometrics give you 18-24 times the amount of time under tension at your sticking point compared to regular sets! This is a massive difference!
Take a look at the following video:
This powerlifter is using isometric deadlifts to attack his sticking point just below the knees. Just look at how much time under tension he is achieving at his exact sticking point! It is literally impossible to mimic this with full range of motion sets.
There is a reason Josh Bryant calls isometrics the single best tool you can use to blast through sticking points. They produce results where it counts: in the real world.
Advantage #6: Isometric Training Desensitizes The Golgi Tendon Organ
The golgi tendon organ is located within every muscle in your body. The golgi tendon has one job: to make sure you don’t get injured doing something stupid in the gym. If your golgi tendon senses that you are doing something that might get you injured then it will send signals to your brain that prevent your muscles from contracting as hard as possible.
In some ways this is a good thing. You don’t want to suffer an injury if it can be avoided!
The problem is the golgi tendon organ tends to be extremely sensitive. It will actually stop your muscles from contracting as hard as possible even when it is safe to do so.
The golgi tendon acts like the brakes of your car. It does not matter how hard you are pressing on the accelerator if your other foot is pressing down on the brakes! If you want to realize your strength potential then you need to use training strategies that inhibit the golgi tendon organ.
Overcoming isometrics are by far one of the best training methods for inhibiting the golgi tendon organ. When you perform an all-out overcoming isometric contraction you produce about 15% more force than normal. Over time your body learns that it is safe to apply this new level of force and the golgi tendon becomes less active.
Part 2: The Advantages Of Isometrics For Building Muscle
Most people believe that isometrics are primarily used for building strength. Yes, it is true that isometrics are one of the best training methods you can use for building relative and absolute strength. However, they are also an incredibly valuable tool for building muscle mass.
If you want to use isometrics to build muscle mass then you should primarily focus on yielding isometrics. In other words you want to contract your muscles to prevent an external load from moving you.
There are two main ways to use yielding isometrics to build muscle:
- Isodynamic yielding isometrics
- Loaded stretches
Both of these training methods are extremely effective for building muscle. An isodynamic yielding isometric means that you combine regular lifting and isometric holds together in the same set.
For example here is Dusty Hanshaw performing an isometric hold at the end of a rest-pause set for shoulders:
Dusty is not trying to lift the weight up. Instead he is fighting like hell to prevent the weight from moving down towards the ground. This is the essence of yielding isometrics.
Loaded stretches are a little bit different. They involve holding a muscle in a loaded stretched position. For example here is Dusty Hanshaw again performing an extreme stretch for the lats:
I will cover both of these isometric training methods in more detail in parts 6 and 7 of this article. For now let’s talk about 4 of the biggest reasons why yielding isometrics are so effective for building muscle mass:
- Time under tension
- Muscle fiber fatigue and damage
- Anabolic hormone release
Let’s take a look at each of these advantages.
Advantage #1: Isometric Training Increases The Time Under Tension
We know that two of the most important factors for building muscle mass is the training load and the time under tension. Hypertrophy can be thought of as the following equation:
Hypertrophy = (Load) x (Time Under Tension)
In an ideal world you would be lifting a very heavy weight for a large number of reps so that you could accumulate a large time under tension per set. I really like the way Ronnie Coleman said it: “Bodybuilding is about repetition. Heavy weight, as heavy as possible and for as many repetitions as possible.”
Research has shown that the optimal time under tension for building muscle mass is about 40-70 seconds per set. If you want to maximize hypertrophy then you need to use training strategies that prolong the time under tension of your sets. This is where yielding isometrics really shine.
One of the most effective yielding isometric strategies is to perform isometric holds in three separate positions after reaching concentric muscular failure.
For example you could perform a set of close supinated grip chin ups for 8 reps on a 3/0/X/0 tempo. After you complete your last concentric rep you would perform 3 separate isometric holds on the way down.
You could pause above parallel for 8 seconds, pause in the mid-range position for 8 seconds, and pause below parallel for 8 seconds. Your final repetition would last at least 24 seconds! This is in addition to the time under tension of the first 8 reps.
As you can see yielding isometrics are a fantastic strategy to increase the time under tension of your sets without having to decrease the training load.
Advantage #2: Isometric Training Causes Massive Muscle Fiber Fatigue And Damage
We know that there are three main ways to stimulate muscle growth:
- Mechanical tension
- Muscle damage
- Metabolic stress
Yielding isometrics are simply amazing for increasing the amount of muscular damage incurred during your workouts. This is especially true for loaded stretches or “extreme stretching.”
During a loaded stretch you are contracting your muscles as hard as possible to prevent the weight from moving further downward. This powerful muscular contraction actually causes muscle fiber fatigue and damage.
We also know that the stretched position of an exercise tends to cause more muscular damage than any other part of an exercise. Performing an isometric hold in the stretched position is a tremendous way to stimulate maximum muscle fiber damage and muscular hypertrophy (13).
Dante Trudel, the inventor of DC Training has often said that there is a huge amount of “structural remodeling” going on during these loaded stretches.
Advantage #3: Isometric Training Dramatically Increases MTOR Activation
MTOR stands for “mammalian target of rapamycin.” Don’t worry, you don’t have to memorize this. There won’t be a quiz at the end of the article! The important thing to know is that mTOR is the “anabolic switch” that turns on protein synthesis.
Dr. Layne Norton discovered in 2006 that the amino acid leucine is responsible for activating mTOR and increasing protein synthesis in humans (11). Fortunately for us there are also ways to increase mTOR with weight training.
There are two types of training methods that have been shown to increase mTOR the most:
- Accentuated eccentrics
- Loaded stretching
In other words yielding isometrics are the way to go for increasing mTOR activation!
Advantage #4: Isometric Training Increases The Release Of Anabolic Hormones
One of the biggest reasons yielding isometrics work so well is that they create an occlusion effect within the muscle cells.
When you perform a yielding isometric ala Dusty Hanshaw your muscles are in a constantly contracted state. This prevents blood from entering into the working muscle which leads to a decrease in oxygen and an increase in lactic acid within the muscle cells (12).
This “hypoxic” state within the muscle cell causes a release of two of the most powerful muscle building hormones:
- IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1)
- MGF (mechanical growth factor)
Yielding isometrics also increase the sensitivity of your IGF-1 receptors. In other words your muscle tissues have more IGF-1 floating around in them AND your muscles are more sensitive to IGF-1! Talk about a double whammy!
As soon as you finish your yielding isometric contraction there will be a huge rush of blood flowing into your working muscles. This is known as reactive hyperemia and will enhance the anabolic effects of IGF-1 and MGF.
Part 3: The Disadvantages Of Isometric Training
I am a huge proponent of using isometrics. I regularly use them with my online training clients to rapidly build muscle mass and strength. As much as I like isometrics they are not a perfect training method. They definitely have some disadvantages that you need to be aware of.
Here they are in no particular order:
- Must be paired together with full range of motion work for optimal results
- Only work for short periods of time
- Should only represent a small percentage of your overall sets
- They are an extremely advanced training method
Let’s take a closer look at each of these disadvantages.
Disadvantage #1: Isometrics Only Work For Short Periods Of Time
There is an old saying: “a training program is only as good as the time it takes you to adapt to it.” In other words even the best training routine will only work for a little while. Once your body adapts to it your best bet is to move onto a different routine in order to continue progressing.
One of the big downsides of isometric training is your body adapts to it very quickly. This is especially true for overcoming isometric contractions.
The scientific literature has shown that isometrics stop working after about 6-8 weeks (20). Josh Bryant usually only uses powerlifting-style isometrics for 3-6 weeks at a time with his advanced trainees. After 3-6 weeks he finds you have to take a break from them because they stop working. In fact Josh uses isometrics only 2-3 times per year with his powerlifting clients.
Other isometronic training methods such as “isometronics” are even more severe. I recommend you use isometronics for no more than 2-4 weeks at a time before moving on.
Yielding isometric contractions are somewhat less taxing on the central nervous system and can be used more frequently. Dante Trudel used to have his DC trainees perform yielding isometrics at the end of their rest-pause sets on a year-round basis.
You certainly don’t have to use yielding isometrics year-round. The point is they are somewhat more forgiving on the body than all-out overcoming isometric contractions.
Disadvantage #2: Isometrics Must Be Paired With Full Range Of Motion Sets
This is a major drawback to isometric training. Even the earliest scientific literature demonstrated that you have to pair isometric contractions with full range of motion movements for optimal results. If you do pair them together then the results are fantastic (14).
Fortunately there are many ways to get around this problem. Josh Bryant likes to superset powerlifting-style overcoming isometrics with compensatory acceleration sets.
He has his trainees perform a set of isometric deadlifts, rest 2 minutes, perform a set of speed deadlifts, rest 2 minutes and then perform another set of speed deadlifts. This process is repeated for 2-6 total sets of each exercise.
Here is a great video of Josh Bryant explaining this isometric training strategy:
The isometric sets teach your body to recruit more motor units and produce force right at your sticking points. Then when you go and perform your speed sets you are actually able to produce more force than normal.
Pairing together isometric sets and speed sets together in this manner is a great way to teach your body to be stronger in your regular sets. Another great way to pair together overcoming isometrics with more traditional dynamic lifting is with isometronics.
Isometronics is basically a combination of partial range of motion lifting with overcoming isometrics. You perform 4-6 partial range of motion reps in between two sets of safety pins and then perform your isometric set against the top pins on your last rep. For example:
I will cover isometronics in more detail in part 5 of this article.
Yielding isometrics also have to be paired together with more full range of motion work. Fortunately this is pretty easy to accomplish. You can easily perform “static holds” at the end of your regular sets to further fatigue your muscle fibers after approaching failure.
The loaded stretches are even easier to program: you simply perform them after your regular full range of motion sets for that body part.
The bottom line is that isometrics MUST be paired together with full range of motion sets within the same workout. This is key for teaching the nervous system how to utilize the strength gains in a full range of motion lift.
Disadvantage #3: Isometrics Should Represent A Small Percentage Of Your Sets
Isometrics are fantastic for building muscle and strength. The downside to them is that it is very easy to over-use them. The world-class strength coach believed that isometric sets should only represent about 10% of your overall sets. He liked his athletes to use the following ratio of concentric, eccentric and isometric sets:
- Concentric: 70%
- Eccentric: 20%
- Isometric: 10%
In my experience this is a very good ratio. Of course your exact ratios of concentric, eccentric and isometric lifting will vary depending on a number of factors. For example a bodybuilder with a ton of fast-twitch muscle fibers may use a much larger percentage of accentuated eccentric training.
On the other hand a bodybuilder with more slow-twitch muscle fibers may forgo eccentric training entirely.
As always there is no cookie-cutter approach to training that will work for everyone. You have to individualize the training approach for optimal results.
Disadvantage #4: Isometrics Are An Extremely Advanced Training Method
Make no mistake: isometrics are NOT for beginners. I recommend you have at least 2 years of hardcore training experience before you start experimenting with ANY of the isometric training protocols covered in this routine.
I’m not trying to be mean. If you have not been training for at least 2 years then you are not ready for them. Besides, as a beginner you will respond to practically any training method you use. Why would you want to use something as brutal as isometronics or loaded stretching if you can get better results with something much easier?
After you have been training for 2 years you should at least start experimenting with isometric training methods. By then you stand to benefit from them and you should have the maturity to use them appropriately.
Part 4: How To Use Isometrics For Powerlifting
The powerlifting coach Josh Bryant has developed a unique way to incorporate isometrics into a powerlifting training program. Before we talk about the specifics of how he incorporates isometrics we have to talk about how he organizes his powerlifting training cycles.
As a very general rule of thumb Josh likes his clients to use 12-week peaking cycles. Some athletes will get better results off of 16 week cycles while others will do best with shorter, 8-week training cycles.
However, as a general rule of thumb Josh tends to use 12-week peaking cycles. He generally organizes these training cycles into 3 separate training blocks. For example:
- Week 1: Triples
- Week 2: Triples
- Week 3: Triples
- Week 4: Deload
- Week 5: Doubles
- Week 6: Doubles
- Week 7: Doubles
- Week 8: Deload
- Week 9: Singles
- Week 10: Singles
- Week 11: Singles
- Week 12: Deload
Week 13: Competition week!
On each workout you will work up to a triple, double or single on the competition lift. This will be a heavy but slightly submaximal lift. Then you will perform speed sets, supplementary exercises and accessory exercises in that order.
Here is a perfect example of what James Strickland’s heavy bench press sessions looks like:
Heavy Bench Press Day
- A1: Bench press (competition grip), 1 x 3, 1/1/X/0, 4 minutes rest
- B1: Speed bench press (competition grip), 5 x 3, 1/1/X/1, 2 minutes rest
- C1: Reverse band bench press (competition grip), 1 x 5, 1/0/X/1, 2 minutes rest
- D1: V-bar dips (forward leaning torso), 2 x 6, 1/0/X/1, 2 minutes rest
- E1: Lat pulldown (wide / overhand grip), 3 x 10, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- F1: DB floor flys (neutral grip), 3 x 10, 2/1/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- G1: Standing rope cable pushdown, 3 x 10, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
Here is the training video for the week 1 heavy bench workout:
As you can see James starts his workout with a heavy but slightly submaximal set of bench presses. Then he moves on to some speed sets, 2 supplementary exercises and 3 accessory exercises.
Now let’s talk about how to incorporate all-out overcoming isometric sets into this type of training routine. Josh simply has his clients alternate sets of isometric bench presses with sets of speed bench presses.
The isometric bench presses are performed with an empty bar while the speed bench presses are performed with anywhere from 60-80% your 1-rep max. The training percentages increase as you get closer to your powerlifting meet.
This strategy of supersetting isometric sets and speed sets works so well because the isometric sets make your speed sets more explosive. Remember, you can recruit about 5-6% more motor units on the isometric sets than you can with regular heavy lifting. When you go to perform your speed sets these motor units are still activated!
You may find that your speed sets are even more explosive than usual or that you can use a heavier than normal weight.
As a general rule of thumb Josh likes his clients to perform anywhere from 2-4 sets of isometric bench presses. You can perform all of your sets at one sticking point or split up your sets between two separate sticking points. The choice is up to you.
Here is what a typical Josh Bryant style bench press workout looks like with the isometrics thrown in. Check it out:
Isometric Bench Press Workout
- A1: Bench press (competition grip), 1 x 1, 1/1/X/0, 4 minutes rest
- B1: Bottom position bench press overcoming isometric (competition grip), 2 x 1, 6-second hold, 2 minutes rest
- B2: Speed bench press (competition grip), 2 x 2, 1/1/X/1, 4 minutes rest
- C1: Lockout position bench press overcoming isometric (competition grip), 2 x 1, 6-second hold, 2 minutes rest
- C2: Speed bench press (competition grip), 2 x 2, 1/1/X/1, 4 minutes rest ,
- D1: V-bar dips (forward leaning torso), 2 x 5, 1/0/X/1, 2 minutes rest
- E1: DB floor flys (neutral grip), 3 x 10, 2/1/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- F1: Lat pulldown (wide / overhand grip), 3 x 10, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- G1: Standing rope cable pushdown, 3 x 10, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
Here is the training video:
Keep in mind that James Strickland is a bench press specialist who was training for a bench only meet when he performed this workout. If you are a full meet lifter then you may want to perform a little less volume than this. Of course the same isometric training strategy can be utilized if you are training the deadlift.
Here is a sample deadlift workout from Chad Wesley Smith’s training log when he was being coached by Josh Bryant. Check it out:
Chad Wesley Smith Isometric Deadlift Workout
- A1: Conventional deadlift (competition stance), 1 x 2, X/2/X/0, 180 seconds rest
- B1: Conventional deadlift isometrics (just below knees), 4 x 1, 1/0/X/6, 120 seconds rest
- B2: Conventional deadlift speed sets (competition stance), 4 x 2, X/2/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- C1: Deficit conventional deadlift (3 inch deficit), 2 x 3, X/2/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- D1: Barbell bent over row, 3 x 8, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- E1: Glute ham raise (holding weight behind head), 3 x 4, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- F1: Standing bilateral barbell shrugs, 5 x 10, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- G1: Wide leg situps (weight behind head), 3 x 8, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
Here is the training video:
I mentioned in part 3 of this article that isometrics only work for about 3-6 weeks at a time. After 3-6 weeks they stop working and you have to take a break from them for a while. Here is how you might organize a 12-week training cycle utilizing isometrics leading up to your powerlifting meet:
- Week 1: Triples
- Week 2: Triples
- Week 3: Triples
- Week 4: Deload
- Week 5: Doubles (With Isometrics!)
- Week 6: Doubles (With Isometrics!)
- Week 7: Doubles (With Isometrics!)
- Week 8: Deload
- Week 9: Singles (With Isometrics!)
- Week 10: Singles (With Isometrics!)
- Week 11: Singles (With Isometrics!)
- Week 12: Deload
Week 13: Competition Week!
Keep in mind that this is only one possible way of organizing your meet prep cycle. Josh sometimes uses isometrics at the beginning of the training cycle instead of at the end.
I hope you found this discussion of powerlifting-style isometrics useful. If you want to learn more about how to use isometrics for powerlifting then I highly recommend the following articles:
- Isometrics For Powerlifting: The Ultimate Guide!
- The Josh Bryant Powerlifting Program!
- The Josh Bryant Bench Press Program!
- The Josh Bryant Deadlift Program!
I am confident you will find the information you are looking for in these articles.
Part 5: Build Strength And Size With Isometronics
Isometronics are another AWESOME way to incorporate overcoming isometric contractions into your long-term programming. Isometronics are sometimes called “functional isometrics” and were popularized thanks to the efforts of Charles Poliquin.
Isometronics are a combination of partial range of motion reps and all-out overcoming isometric contractions. The procedure for performing an isometronics set is as follows:
- Perform 4-6 partial range of motion reps in between 2 sets of safety pins.
- On your last rep perform an isometric contraction against the top pins for 6-8 seconds.
- At the end of the isometric contraction lower the weight to the bottom pins and attempt 1 final partial range of motion rep.
Here is a great isometronics video:
This counts as one isometronics set. This training method gives you all of the benefits of partial range of motion reps AND all of the benefits of overcoming isometric contractions. This is a very powerful way to build maximal strength. It is also quite effective for increasing the size of your fast-twitch muscle fibers.
An isometronics workout includes ten sets on your primary exercise. For example if you were performing isometronics to improve your bench press then you would perform 10 total sets of bench presses.
Here is what your workout would look like:
- Perform 3 sets of isometronics in the bottom third of the lift
- Perform 3 sets of isometronics in the middle third of the lift
- Perform 3 sets of isometronics in the top third of the lift
- Perform 1 full range of motion set
The final full range of motion set is very important. It teaches your body how to integrate the strength gains from all the previous sets into the full range of motion movement. If you skip the final set then you may find that your actual bench press does not improve or even goes down after a few exposures to this training method.
Some trainees find that they have a hard time recovering from all ten sets of work. If you have a below-average recovery ability then there are a couple of strategies that you may want to try.
The first strategy involves performing only 1-2 sets of isometronics at each position. For example:
- Perform 1-2 sets of isometronics in the bottom third of the lift
- Perform 1-2 sets of isometronics in the middle third of the lift
- Perform 1-2 sets of isometronics in the top third of the lift
- Perform 1 full range of motion set
This way you are only performing 4-7 total sets of work rather than the 10 sets of work with the original training protocol. I think you will find this option to be much easier to recover from. The downside to this option is that the quality of the training stimulus will be slightly lower.
Another option is to perform 2 heavy warm up sets and 1 working set with maximum weight at each position. For example:
- Set #1: 80% of max weight x 4-6 reps plus the isometric contraction
- Set #2: 90% of max weight x 4-6 reps plus the isometric contraction
- Set #3: 100% of max weight x 4-6 reps plus the isometric contraction
This sequence would be repeated at each of the three isometric positions. This is a great way to get in more volume but without destroying your central nervous system with ten heavy sets of work. You are still performing all-out isometric contractions even on the “lighter” sets so these will still do a great job of stimulating strength gains.
One of the nice things about isometronics is they can be performed on just about any barbell exercise. Here is a lift of some exercises you can train with isometronics:
- Bench press
- Incline presses
- Overhead presses
- Barbell curls
Yes, even barbell curls can be trained with isometronics. Here is the Olympic gold medalist shot putter Adam Nelson performing some mid-range barbell curl isometronics:
No, I am not recommending you perform barbell curl isometronics in most gyms. There are dire consequences for people who curl in the squat rack…
Now let’s look at some sample training programs. There are some different ways to perform an isometronics workout. The number of sets can vary depending on your recovery ability. It is also possible to perform antagonistic supersets.
For example you could superset sets of bench presses with pull ups. For the purposes of this article I will keep things simple.
Here is a sample bench press program that you may want to try. Check it out:
Bench Press Isometronics Routine
- A1: Bottom position bench press isometronics (competition grip), 3 x 4-6, 1/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Middle position bench press isometronics (competition grip), 3 x 4-6, 1/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- C1: Top position bench press isometronics (competition grip), 3 x 4-6, 1/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- D1: Bench press (competition grip), 1 x 5-7, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- E1: Dead stop skull crusher, 3 x 8-10, 2/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
Here are the exercise videos:
A1-A4: Bench press isometronics
Dead stop skull crushers
Here is a sample squat program that you may want to try. Check it out:
Squat Isometronics Routine
- A1: Bottom position front squat isometronics (medium stance / heels flat), 3 x 4-6, 1/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Middle position front squat isometronics (medium stance / heels flat), 3 x 4-6, 1/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- C1: Top position front squat isometronics (medium stance / heels flat), 3 x 4-6, 1/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- D1: front squat (medium stance / heels flat), 1 x 5-7, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- E1: Front foot elevated DB split squat, 3 x 7-9, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- E2: Bilateral lying leg curl (feet plantarflexed / neutral), 3 x 7-9, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- F1: 45 degree back extension (with bands), 3 x 7-9, 2/0/1/1, 120 seconds rest
Here are the exercise videos:
A1-A4: Front squat isometronics (medium stance / heels flat)
E1: Front foot elevated DB split squat
E2: Bilateral lying leg curl (feet plantarflexed / neutral)
F1: 45 degree back extension (with bands)
And finally here is a deadlift isometronics training program. Check it out:
Deadlift Isometronics Routine
- A1: Bottom position conventional deadlift isometronics, 3 x 4-6, 1/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Middle position conventional deadlift isometronics, 3 x 4-6, 1/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- C1: Top position conventional deadlift isometronics, 3 x 4-6, 1/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- D1: Conventional deadlift, 1 x 5-7, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- E1: Leg press, 3 x 8-12, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- F1: Lat pulldown, 3 x 8-12, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
Here are the exercise videos:
A1-A4: Deadlift isometronics
E1: Leg press
F1: Lat pulldown
While this method is awesome for building strength it is not necessarily your best bet for peaking your 1-rep max strength. If that is goal then I recommend you focus more on the powerlifting-style isometrics covered in part 4 of this article.
Part 6: How To Build Muscle With Yielding Isometrics
Yielding isometrics are a very underrated training method for building muscle mass. The basic idea is to hold a weight in a static position for anywhere from 3-30 seconds at a time.
Here is Christian Thibadeau giving an excellent overview of yielding isometrics for hypertrophy:
There are a couple of different ways that you can incorporate yielding isometrics into your routine:
- Performing them throughout your set on every repetition
- Performing them at the end of your set as a post-failure training method
Both of these strategies have their place. Let’s take a closer look at each one.
Yielding Isometrics Strategy #1: Performing Them Throughout Your Set On Every Repetition
This strategy is very simple: you simply insert an isometric pause on either the concentric or eccentric range of each of your repetitions.
I recommend you pause for anywhere from 1-8 seconds on your sets although 1-3 seconds is normally used. This can be a great strategy to increase the intra-muscular tension at specific points within the strength curve. For example you can use yielding isometrics to overload the stretched position of the strength curve on ez-bar preacher curls.
Certain body parts respond particularly well to yielding isometrics. For example research has shown that when you use a static hold on reverse curls with your elbows between 30 and 45 degrees of elbow flexion you dramatically increase the recruitment of the brachialis muscle.
Here is strength coach Charles Poliquin giving a perfect demonstration of this method:
The reverse curls with the yielding isometric was performed as part of a tri-set.
Here is the full routine:
- A1: 30 degree incline DB curl (offset grip), 3-5 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Standing thick grip ez-bar curl (wide / reverse grip), 3-5 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0**, 10 seconds rest
- A3: Seated preacher thick grip ez-bar curl (wide / supinated grip), 3-5 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
**Perform a 2-second isometric pause at 30-45 degrees elbow flexion on the concentric range one very rep.
Here is the full video for this tri-set routine
A more extreme training strategy is to perform 3 separate yielding isometric contractions on the eccentric range of every repetition. In other words you would lift the weight up and then you would perform a 3-8 second pause at 3 separate parts of the lift on the way down.
Charles Poliquin was a big proponent of using these yielding isometric contractions on deadlifts to increase the lower back strength of his athletes. Here is a sample training program you may want to try. Check it out:
Deadlift Yielding Isometrics Program
- A1: Snatch grip deadlift, 6-8 x 3**, 9/1/1/0, 240 seconds rest
- B1: Unilateral kneeling leg curl (feet dorsiflexed / neutral), 3 x 6-8, 4/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- B2: Machine hack squat, 3 x 8-10, 4/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
Here are the exercise videos:
A1: Snatch grip deadlift
B1: Unilateral kneeling leg curl (feet dorsiflexed / neutral)
B2: Machine hack squat
Note: I do not endorse the lifter’s form on the snatch grip deadlifts. The athlete’s butt is shooting up too much on both the concentric and the eccentric rage which reduces the quality of the training stimulus.
The video does a good job of showcasing the three separate isometric holds on the eccentric range. Expect some serious soreness after this workout!
Yielding Isometrics Strategy #2: Performing Them At The End Of Your Set As A Post-Failure Training Method
This is probably my favourite way to perform yielding isometrics. The basic idea is you perform your set just shy of failure. Your last rep should be very challenging but you will complete it without your technique breaking down. Then on your last eccentric rep you perform isometric holds in 1-3 seperate positions.
If you are performing static holds in 3 separate positions then I recommend you hold the weight for 6-8 seconds in each position. If you perform only 1 static hold then I recommend you hold the weight in place for literally as long as you can before gravity pulls the weight down.
In my experience this high-intensity training method works best on exercises where you start in the bottom position such as chin ups, dumbbell presses, hammer strength machine presses and deadlifts.
Exercises where you start in the top position such as bench presses and squats are poor choices for this method because you will be trapped in the bottom position of the exercise!
Here is a sample chest and back routine that you may want to try. It features isometric holds in three separate locations on the last eccentric rep. Check it out:
Chest And Back Yielding Isometrics Routine
- A1: V-bar dips (forward leaning torso), 4 x 6-8**, 3/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
- A2: Medium supinated grip chin ups, 4 x 6-8**, 3/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
- B1: 30 degree incline DB press, 3 x 10-12, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rets
- B2: Machine pec dec, 3 x 12-15, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- B3: T-bar row, 3 x 10-12, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- B4: Seated machine chest-supported row, 3 x 12-15, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
**Perform 3 seperate 8-second static holds on the last rep of your last set. Perform the static holds in the top-range of the lift, the mid-range of the lift and the bottom-range of the lift.
These post-failure static holds are an extremely demanding training method. If you are going to program them into your own routines then I recommend you use them on the last set of your exercises. This will help you to gauge your recovery ability.
If you are recovering well then go ahead and perform them on 3-4 different sets per exercise and see how that goes.
Of course it is impossible to talk about post-failure yielding isometrics without talking about rest-pause sets. Rest-pause sets were popularized by Dante Trudel and his DC Training program. The basic procedure for a rest-pause set is as follows:
- Perform a set to failure in the 7-10 rep range, rest 20-30 seconds
- Go to failure again with the same weight, rest 20-30 seconds
- Go to failure again with the same weight, done!
Most trainees will get something like 9 reps on their first attempt, 4 reps on their second attempt and 2 reps on their third attempt. This is a powerful way to stimulate strength and size gains.
Some advanced DC trainees such as Dusty Hanshaw and David Henry would actually add in static holds after their third attempt. They would lift the weight up a few inches and then hold that position for as long as they could.
Here is Dusty Hanshaw demonstrating a static hold at the end of his rest-pause set on incline smith machine presses:
You don’t have to use DC training to take advantage of this method. Just perform your set just shy of failure and then perform a static hold for as long as you can to further exhaust your muscle fibers.
This is a very painful but extremely effective training method. Just make sure that you are not performing it on exercises that tax the lower back such as squats and deadlifts. The risk is simply not worth there.
Part 7: How To Build Muscle With Loaded Stretches
Loaded stretches are an extremely controversial training method. There are many people in the fitness industry who say that they are either worthless or very ineffective at stimulating muscle growth. I couldn’t disagree more with these experts.
Loaded stretching is exactly as it sounds: you place a muscle into a deep stretched position while your muscles are contracted against an external load. Loaded stretches (or “extreme stretching”) was popularized by John Parillo and then Dante Trudel as a means for stimulating muscle growth.
Dante was fascinated by the results of some animal studies where loaded stretching training protocols resulted in 100-200% muscle growth within 1-3 months. To make things even more interesting these loaded stretching protocols resulted in a significant amount of hyperplasia.
Hyperplasia is different from hypertrophy in that the muscle cells actually split in two and then those smaller muscle cells start to grow larger.
In reality there are many different mechanisms by which loaded stretches might stimulate hypertrophy:
- Loaded stretches flip the anabolic switch (mTOR) that triggers protein synthesis
- Loaded stretches create an occlusion effect within the muscle cells
- Loaded stretches cause the release of IGF-1 and mechanical growth factor
- Loaded stretches increase IGF-1 sensitivity within the muscle cells
- Loaded stretches increase the strength of your connective tissues
- Loaded stretches stimulate growth through muscle fatigue
- Loaded stretches *may* be able to stretch the muscle fascia
- Loaded stretches *may* stimulate muscle hyperplasia
The last two points have not been confirmed by the scientific literature. However, there are scores of elite level bodybuilders who absolutely swear by this training technique.
Elite bodybuilding coaches such as John Meadows and Dr. Scott Stevenson use various loaded stretching techniques as a core component of their training programs. There are just too many bodybuilders who have found benefit from this training method to ignore it.
Elite strength coaches such as Christian Thibadeau often used them to increase the performance of their athletes.
Here is Christian Thibadeau talking more about the benefits of loaded stretches:
I hope I have captured your attention. Now let’s cover how to do loaded stretches for each body part. Note: these videos are not exhaustive. There are many ways to do these stretches for each body part. Covering every possible extreme stretch for every body part would fall outside the scope of this article. Here they are:
Chest Extreme Stretch
Shoulders Extreme Stretch
Triceps Extreme Stretch
Back Extreme Stretch
Biceps Extreme Stretch
Quadriceps Extreme Stretch
Hamstrings Extreme Stretch
These stretches must be performed AFTER you have trained each body part. This is absolutely critical!
You do not under any circumstances want to be performing these upper body stretches if you have not already trained that particular muscle group. Ideally you want the target muscle to be absolutely engorged with blood. This makes the movement much safer and much more effective.
I must warn you that these extreme stretches are extremely painful, and I do mean extremely!
As you progress through the set your muscles will begin to fatigue and you will be able to sink even further into the stretched position. At this time your body will start to recruit all available muscle fibers to try and support the weight. You do not want to attempt these unless you have an above-average pain tolerance.
There are a few different ways you can program extreme stretches into your training routine.
One method is to perform one extreme stretch to failure immediately after working that body part. This is the method that Dante Trudel uses in his DC Training program and the results speak for themselves.
Another method is to perform 3-4 slightly submaximal loaded stretches at the end of your workout. This is something that Christian Thibadeau uses with his athletes.
A final method is to use various full range of motion exercises that stretch out the muscle towards the end of your routine. This is something that John Meadows likes to do in his Mountain Dog training programs. John might use a stiff-legged deadlift to stretch out the hamstrings or a pec-dec fly to stretch out the chest.
These are performed as dynamic movements rather than static stretches but they work for similar reasons.
Isometric training is one of the most effective training methods you can use to build strength and muscle mass. I don’t care what your goal is. If you are serious about training then you should be using isometrics in your long term programming.
There are so many ways you can incorporate isometrics into your routines. I am confident that at least one of them will work awesome for you and accelerate your results.
If you are ready to take your training to the next level then check out my online coaching page. I regularly use isometrics and other advanced training methods to help my clients blast through strength and hypertrophy plateaus.
“Have a vision, think big, ignore the naysayers, work your ass off, and give back and change the world. Because if not us, who? If not now, when?”
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!
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