Isometronics: The Ultimate Guide!


Isometronics

Isometrics are one of the most effective training methods in the world for building raw strength.

There are many different ways to incorporate isometric contractions into your training programs. However, one of the most effective methods is actually called “isometronics” or “functional isometrics.” This unique training method was invented in the 1950s and is still used today by many of the strongest athletes in the world!

Introduction

  • Part 1: How Do You Perform An Isometronics Workout?
  • Part 2: Why Do Isometronics Work So Well?
  • Part 3: Which Exercises Can I Perform Isometronics On?
  • Part 4: Sample Bench Press Isometronics Routines
  • Part 5: Sample Squat Isometronics Routines
  • Part 6: Sample Deadlift Isometronics Routines
  • Part 7: How To Incorporate Isometronics Into Your Long-Term Programming

In this comprehensive guide I will teach you everything you need to know about how to use isometronics to build strength and muscle mass.

Isometronics is a special training method that combines partial range of motion repetitions with all-out overcoming isometric reps. The combination of these two types of reps in a single set creates a powerful stimulus for strength and size gains.

Please note that the isometronics training method goes by a few different names. It is sometimes called “functional isometrics” or even “auxotonics.” All of these different names are referring to the same thing.

Now let’s get down to business…

Part 1: How Do You Perform An Isometronics Workout?

Here is how you perform a functional isometrics workout: first you are going to take a barbell exercise such as the bench press and divide it into three equally divided ranges of motion:

  • The bottom third
  • The middle third
  • The top third

In order to do this you will use 2 pairs of safety pins. At the start of the movement the barbell will be resting on the bottom pair of safety pins. Then on each rep you press the barbell from the bottom pins until it makes contact with the top pins which should be about 6 inches higher.

The procedure for performing an isometronics set is as follows:

  • Step 1: Perform 4-6 partial range of motion repetitions in between the 2 sets of safety pins. You want the bar to make contact with the top pins and the bottom pins on every rep.
  • Step 2: On your last rep you will press the barbell against the top pins as hard as you can for 6-8 seconds. This is an all-out isometric contraction: you are literally trying to break the top pins in half!
  • Step 3: After the isometric contraction you lower the barbell back to the bottom position and attempt 1 final partial range of motion repetition.

Let’s take a look at some training videos to make sure you understand the procedure.

Here is what a set of bottom position functional isometrics set looks like:

Here is what a set of middle position functional isometrics set looks like:

And here is what a top position functional isometrics set looks like:

As you can see the athlete is performing 4-6 partial range of motion reps in between the safety pins, performing an all-out overcoming isometric rep against the pins, and finally attempting 1 more partial range of motion rep. These 3 steps performed in a row constitute 1 set of functional isometrics.

Now that you understand how to perform 1 isometronics set let’s talk about how to perform a full isometronics workout.

There are 4 steps to performing a full isometronics workout:

  • Step #1: Perform 3 sets of 4-6 reps in the bottom position
  • Step #2: Perform 3 sets of 4-6 reps in the middle position
  • Step #3: Perform 3 sets of 4-6 reps in the top position
  • Step #4: Perform 1 set of 4-8 reps using the full range of motion

This is the “official” procedure for the workout. One of the most difficult aspects of this workout is picking the right weights for each of the ranges of motion.

If you are training in person with an experienced coach then they will be able to help you pick your weights. If you are training alone then you are going to have to make your best educated guesses.

The bench press videos above demonstrate perfect weight selection. The weight should be heavy enough that you cannot complete your last rep that you attempt after the isometric contraction. The weight will lift up off the pins 1-2 inches but you will not be able to complete it.

If you have very good recovery ability then you will be able to perform a full isometronics workout without any issues. However, if your recovery ability is not so good then you will need to make some modifications.

Here are two options that you may want to try.

Modification #1: Perform 2 warm up sets and 1 all-out set at each position

This is a great option for people with average or slightly below average recovery ability. You still perform 3 sets in the bottom third, middle third, and top third of the exercise.

The main difference is that 2 of these sets are heavy warm up sets while the third one is your all-out working set. For example:

  • Set #1: 80% of your all-out working set
  • Set #2: 90% of your all-out working set
  • Set #3: 100% of your all-out working set

Let’s say that you think you can use 200 pounds for your all-out working set on bottom position bench press isometronics. In that case you would use 160 pounds for your 1st set, 180 pounds for your 2nd set and 200 pounds for your third set.

These heavy warm up sets will still help to improve your strength and size. You will still be using an all-out effort during the isometric contraction against the top pins. The big difference is that you won’t wear yourself out with too many heavy partial range of motion reps.

Modification #2: Only perform 1 all-out set at each position

This is a great option for people who have well below average recovery ability. This option also works great for trainees who just respond better to a lower number of sets per exercise. You are just going to perform 1 all-out set for each of the three partial ranges of motion.

For example here is what the workout would look like:

  • Set #1: Bottom third functional isometrics for 4-6 reps
  • Set #2: Middle third functional isometrics for 4-6 reps
  • Set #3: Top third functional isometrics for 4-6 reps
  • Set #4: Full range of motion exercise for 4-8 reps

You are only going to perform 4 total sets instead of 10 sets like you would with the standard functional isometrics protocol. This makes the workout MUCH easier to recover from.

I personally get my best results with an overall lower number of sets regardless of what program I am using. If I were to perform an isometronics workout then this is the option I would choose.

Part 2: Why Do Isometronics Work So Well?

Isometronics are unbelievably effective for building strength and size. The world-class strength coach Charles Poliquin considers isometronics to be one of the absolute best ways to break through a strength plateau.

Josh Bryant, arguably the best bench press coach in the world, has many of his powerlifting clients use isometronics to set world records in the bench press.

So why do isometronics work so well?

Isometronics are so effective because they are a hybrid of two powerful training methods:

  • Partial range of motion reps
  • Overcoming isometric contractions

Let’s take a closer look at each of these training methods

The Science Of Partial Range Of Motion Reps

Partial range of motion repetitions are a powerful tool for building maximal strength. They have been used by powerlifters and other strength athletes for many decades for one simple reason: they work! Partial reps work for many reasons: 

  • They down-regulate the golgi tendon organ
  • They overload your central nervous system
  • They build connective tissue strength
  • They increase your confidence with heavy weights

Let’s take a closer look at each of these mechanism.

Partial reps mechanism #1: they down regulate the golgi tendon organ

The first reason partial reps are so effective for building strength is they down regulate the golgi tendon organ. The golgi tendon is located in every muscle in your body. It’s primary job is to figure out if you are about to do something that might result in an injury.

If your golgi tendon senses that you are about to do something stupid that might result in an injury then it will prevent your muscles from contracting as hard as possible. In other words the golgi tendon will actually prevent your muscles from producing maximal force.

This is in many ways a good thing! After all the last thing you want is to suffer an injury in the gym.

The problem with the golgi tendon is that it tends to be a little too sensitive. Sometimes it shuts down your muscles even when you are not at risk of an injury.

Partial reps work because they actually down regulate the golgi tendon organ. Here is Christian Thibadeau talking about this concept in more depth:

When you lift extremely heavy weights through a partial range of motion you teach your golgi tendon that the heavy weights are actually very safe to lift. Over time this allows you to display your true strength potential more easily.

Partial reps mechanism #2: They overload your central nervous system

Partial reps usually allow you to lift very heavy weights. This may even involve lifting weights that are heavier than your 1-rep max! Lifting in this manner literally forces your body to recruit additional motor units that would normally be impossible to recruit.

Over time your body actually learns to recruit these motor units during full range of motion sets. This is especially true during an isometronics workout because you are finishing the workout with a full range of motion set. 

Partial reps mechanism #3: They build connective tissue strength

It is extremely difficult to strengthen your connective tissue such as your tendons, ligaments and bones.

One of the reasons for this is just the fact that there is a very limited blood supply traveling to your connective tissue. Blood contains all of the nutrients necessary for your tissues to grow bigger and stronger. If your connective tissue is not getting enough blood supply then it will never get stronger.

Partial reps are a blessing because they actually stimulate adaptations within your connective tissue. The same micro tears that occur in your muscles actually occur in your tendons and ligaments with partial reps.

This leads to an increased blood flow to these supporting structures so that they can become stronger. 

Partial reps mechanism #4: They increase your confidence with heavy weights

Anyone who has every performed partial reps on an exercise such as the bench press already knows this: partial reps increase your confidence with heavy weights!

One of the most challenging things about performing a 1-rep max on an exercise is feeling confident with the heavy weight in your hands or on your back. It can feel like it is going to crush you!

If you perform partial reps with a weight that is above your 1-rep max then it is going to be much easier psychologically to perform a 1-rep max in the future. 

For example here is James Strickland performing some bench press rack lockouts to increase his confidence with heavy weights:

He went on to barely miss a 700 pound bench press at the end of his training cycle. Talk about impressive!

The Science Of Overcoming Isometric Contractions

The isometric contractions are probably the single most important part of an isometronics set. You are going to press (or pull) the barbell into a set of safety pins as hard as you can for 6-8 seconds. You are literally trying to break the safety pins in half!

The research is very clear on the benefits of overcoming isometric contractions. They recruit more muscle fibers than any other training method. In fact overcoming isometric contractions have been shown to recruit up to 15% more muscle fibers than either concentric OR eccentric contractions!

Your muscles actually enter a state of “tetany” where they start contracting non-stop. If you perform it correctly your muscles will start to shake as if you had a bad case of Parkinson’s disease!

There is one major downside to isometric contractions: research shows that they primarily help at the exact joint angles that you are training. In other words if you perform a bench press isometric contraction 4 inches above your chest then that is the exact spot you will strengthen.

Functional isometrics workouts are great because you are performing isometric contractions at three separate points in the movement. This helps to make sure that you are strengthening the entire exercise rather than one specific point in it.

Part 3: Which Exercises Can I Perform Isometronics On?

One of the great things about isometronics is they can be performed on just about any barbell exercise. Here are some of the best exercises to use:

  • Bench press
  • Incline bench press
  • Overhead Press
  • Front squat
  • Back Squat
  • Deadlift
  • Barbell Curls

Here is an example of an incline bench press isometronics set:

Here is an example of a back squat isometronics set:

And here is an example of a deadlift isometronics set:

Yes, isometronics can even be performed on exercises such as barbell curls. The Olympic gold medalist Adam Nelson has used barbell curl functional isometrics throughout his career to boost the strength of his elbow flexors.

I wouldn’t recommend you perform this in a hardcore powerlifting gym though. If a powerlifter sees you performing 10 sets of curls in the squat rack then he will get angrier than Goku right after he watched Krillin explode!

If you are going to perform isometronics with squats then you have to be very careful. This training method can put a lot of pressure on your knees.

If you have a history of knee problems then you are probably better off sticking with isometronics on exercises such as bench presses, overhead presses and deadlifts.

Part 4: Sample Bench Press Isometronics Training Programs

Let’s take a look at some sample bench press isometronics workouts. This first routine uses isometronics as the primary training method for the workout. Check it out:

Bench Press Isometronics Workout

  • A1: Bench press bottom position isometronics (competition grip), 3 x 6**, 1/0/X/1, 120 seconds rest
  • A2: Narrow neutral grip pull ups, 3 x 3, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Bench press middle position isometronics (competition grip), 3 x 6**, 1/0/X/1, 120 seconds rest
  • B2: Narrow neutral grip pull ups, 3 x 3, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: Bench press top position isometronics (competition grip), 3 x 6**, 1/0/X/1, 120 seconds rest
  • C2: Narrow neutral grip pull ups, 3 x 3, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • D1: Bench press (competition grip), 1 x 6, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • D2: Narrow neutral grip pull ups, 1 x 3, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • E1: Decline ez-bar extension with chains (to forehead), 3 x 6-8, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • E2: T-bar row, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest

**Performed as an isometronics set. Perform 6 partial range of motion reps. On your 6th rep press against the top pins as hard as you can for 6-8 seconds. Try to break the pins in half! Then lower the weight and attempt 1 more partial range of motion rep.

Here are the training videos for this workout: exercise A1-D1, exercise A2-D2, exercise E1, exercise E2.

If you train in a particularly busy gym then you do not have to perform the sets of pull ups in between your sets of bench presses. If you are able to squeeze them in then they will actually improve the overall effectiveness of your workout.

Antagonistic supersets have been shown to increase your motor unit recruitment in the primary muscle groups and to decrease the rate at which you fatigue during a workout. 

The world-class strength coach Josh Bryant sometimes uses isometronics to improve the bench pressing strength of his powerlifting clients. He has found a rather unique way to incorporate isometronics into a more traditional bench press workout. He uses them as one of the big supplementary bench press exercises.

Here is a sample workout that he had Jonathon Irizarry perform in 2020 to build a 500+ bench press. Check it out:

Josh Bryant Functional Isometrics Bench Press Workout

  • A1: Bench press (competition grip), 1 x 2, 1/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Speed bench press (competition grip), 6 x 3, 1/1/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B2: 30 degree incline chest supported DB row, 6 x 6, 1/0/X/1, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: Bench press full-range functional isometrics (competition grip)**, 2 x 5, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • C2: Bench press with bands (competition grip), 2 x 1, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • D1: V-bar dips (forward leaning torso), 2 x 15, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • E1: DB floor fly, 3 x 8-12, 1/1/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • F1: Unilateral cable pushdown (underhand grip), 3 x 8-12, 1/0/X/1, 60 seconds rest

**Performed as an isometronics set. Perform 6 partial range of motion reps with the safety pins set 2 inches below lockout. On your 6th rep press against the top pins as hard as you can for 6-8 seconds. Try to break the pins in half! After the isometric contraction you are done.

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise B1, exercise B2, exercise C1, exercise C2, exercise D1, exercise E1, exercise F1.

Josh actually had Jonathon performing a more full range of motion isometronics set for this workout. He set the safety pins to 1-2 inches below lockout and had him press from his chest to the lockout position.

Jonathon still gets the benefits of the all-out overcoming isometric contraction but misses out on the benefits of partial range of motion reps. This is a great option if you want to use isometronics as more of a supplementary exercise.

Part 5: Sample Squat Isometronics Training Program

Now let’s take a look at a some squat isometronics workouts. Here is a sample front squat routine that you may want to try. Check it out:

Squat Functional Isometrics Workout

  • A1: Front squat bottom position functional isometrics (medium stance / heels flat), 3 x 6**, 1/0/X/1, 120 seconds rest
  • A2: Bilateral lying leg curl (Poliquin method / feet neutral)****, 3 x 3, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Front squat middle position functional isometrics (medium stance / heels flat), 3 x 6**, 1/0/X/1, 120 seconds rest
  • B2: Bilateral lying leg curl (Poliquin method / feet neutral)****, 3 x 3, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: Front squat top position functional isometrics (medium stance / heels flat), 3 x 6**, 1/0/X/1, 120 seconds rest
  • C2: Bilateral lying leg curl (Poliquin method / feet neutral)****, 3 x 3, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • D1: Front squat (medium stance / heels flat), 1 x 6, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • D2: Bilateral lying leg curl (Poliquin method / feet neutral)****, 1 x 3, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • E1: Front foot elevated DB split squat, 3 x 6-8, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • E2: 90 degree back extension (barbell on back), 3 x 6-8, 2/0/X/2, 60 seconds rest

**Performed as an isometronics set. Perform 6 partial range of motion reps. On your 6th rep press against the top pins as hard as you can for 6-8 seconds. Try to break the pins in half! Then lower the weight and attempt 1 more partial range of motion rep.

****Dorsiflex your ankles (point your toes towards your shins) on the concentric range and plantarflex your ankles (point your toes away from your shins) on the eccentric range.

Here are the training videos: exercise A1-D1, exercise A2-D2, exercise E1, exercise E2.

As I mentioned earlier I am a little more hesitant to recommend isometronics for increasing squatting strength. They can be a little tougher on your knees if you are not careful.

Don’t get me wrong, if you have perfect knee health then they can be an awesome option for boosting your squatting strength. Just make sure that your joints are healthy before you attempt this workout.

Part 6: Sample Deadlift Isometronics Training Program

Finally here is a sample deadlift isometronics workout that you may want to try. Check it out:

Deadlift Isometronics Workout

  • A1: Conventional deadlift bottom position isometronics, 3 x 6**, 1/0/X/1, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Conventional deadlift middle position isometronics, 3 x 6**, 1/0/X/1, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: Conventional deadlift top position isometronics, 3 x 6**, 1/0/X/1, 120 seconds rest
  • D1: Conventional deadlift, 1 x 6, 2/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • E1: Leg press, 3 x 8-10, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • F1: Machine chest supported row, 3 x 8-10, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • G1: Standing barbell shrug, 3 x 8-10, 1/0/X/2, 120 seconds rest

**Performed as an isometronics set. Perform 6 partial range of motion reps. On your 6th rep press against the top pins as hard as you can for 6-8 seconds. Try to break the pins in half! Then lower the weight and attempt 1 more partial range of motion rep.

Here are the training videos: exercise A1-D1, exercise E1, exercise F1, exercise G1.

I really want to spend some time talking about this specific workout. A lot of times you will see advanced powerlifters rounding their upper back and sometimes even their lower back during heavy sets of deadlifts.

The famous Russian powerlifter Konstantin Konstantinovs certainly comes to mind in this regard.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this. If it increases your performance on the powerlifting platform then more power to you. However, you do NOT want to do this during a deadlift functional isometrics workout!

It is very, very important to keep both your lower and your upper back arched during this exercise. This is critical for protecting your lower back.

Yes, you may need to decrease the amount of weight that you can use during your sets. Don’t worry, your strength will shoot through the roof when you return to more traditional deadlifts from the floor with your back slightly rounded.

Functional isometrics is about building strength, not necessarily displaying it. Check your ego at the door and keep your back arched throughout the movement for this exercise. You will get much better strength gains that way and your lower back will thank you for it!

Part 7: How To Incorporate Isometronics Into Your Long-Term Programming

Let’s finish this comprehensive guide by talking about training periodization. After all, there is nothing worse than learning about an awesome new training method but not knowing how to incorporate it into your long-term programming.

The first thing you should know is that functional isometrics are very hard on your central nervous system. They are so hard that you should only perform them every other workout. I recommend you alternate back and forth between a functional isometrics workout and a 5 sets of 5 workout.

For example:

  • Workout #1: Functional Isometrics
  • Workout #2: 5 x 5
  • Workout #3: Functional Isometrics
  • Workout #4: 5 x 5
  • Workout #5: Functional Isometrics
  • Workout #6: 5 x 5

Make sure that you are using the same exercises for both workouts. For example if you used the bench press for your functional isometrics workout then you would also use it for your 5 x 5 workout.

By performing the 5 x 5 method every other workout you will prevent overtraining and allow your central nervous system to recover from the intense demands of the isometric sets. Even if you only perform functional isometrics every other workout you still may find that you are borderline overtraining after 6 workouts.

I recommend you perform a “deload” by reducing your number of sets by 60% in your 5th and 6th workouts. For example:

  • Workout #1: Functional Isometrics (all 10 sets)
  • Workout #2: 5 x 5
  • Workout #3: Functional Isometrics (all 10 sets)
  • Workout #4: 5 x 5
  • Workout #5: Functional Isometrics (4 sets)
  • Workout #6: 2 x 5

This volume reduction will give your body a chance to more fully recover from the workouts. When you switch to a different type of routine on workout #7 you will feel refreshed and ready to attack the weights. 

As a general rule of thumb I recommend you use isometronics as a lower-rep strength-building phase of training. Here is how you might organize a 12-week peaking cycle for the bench press using isometronics for 3 of those weeks:

  • Weeks 1-3: 10/8/6 wave loading
  • Weeks 4-6: Functional Isometrics
  • Weeks 7-9: 7/5/3 wave loading
  • Weeks 10-12: Cluster sets

Alternating higher-rep accumulation phases and lower-rep intensification phases in this manner is an awesome way to train. Many of my online coaching clients are blown away by how well this system works.

Here are some resources if you want to learn about the other training methods listed above:

As you can see I am very creative when it comes to naming my articles XD

Conclusion

Isometronics

Isometronics is an extremely underrated way to train. It was actually invented in the 1950s by world-class Olympic weightlifters to improve their overhead pressing strength.

Keep in mind that the strict overhead press was still an official Olympic lift during this time period. The strict overhead lift lost its status as an official Olympic lift in 1972 and sense then both the overhead press and isometronics have fallen out of fashion.

I challenge you to resurrect this training method from the dead. I think you will be surprised at how quickly your strength shoots up on a properly designed isometronics workout.

If you want more help designing training routines to boost maximal strength then check out my online coaching page. If there is one thing I love it is throwing around heavy weights in the gym. I am confident I can help you lift weights you never dreamed possible.

“Your body can stand almost anything. It’s your mind that you have to convince.”

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck in your strength training journey!

Dr. Mike Jansen, PT, DPT

Thanks for checking out my site! My name is Dr. Mike Jansen and I'm the founder of Revolutionary Program Design. If you want to reach your size and strength goals faster then you've come to the right place. My goal is to make RPD the #1 strength training resource available anywhere in the world. So grab a seat, kick back and relax. There's never been a better time to lift weights or to learn the art and science of strength training program design.

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