I would like to preface this blog by saying that I am a huge fan of isometrics and I personally have been using them for close to 10 years. I will discuss some of the advantages of isometrics and explain how and why all of my athletes perform isometrics. An isometric exercise is an exercise in which the muscle length and/or joint angle does not change during contraction. Isometrics have been around since the 1950’s. There has been more scientific research done on isometrics than both concentric and eccentric contractions. One study performed in the 1960’s found that one small isometric workout performed once a week for 10 weeks increased strength by 5% and the athlete was able to maintain the strength developed during those 10 weeks for over one month.
Isometrics are an extremely effective way to develop strength at a particular joint-angle. The strength developed radiates 15% above or below where the force is applied. One way Baystate athletes utilize isometrics is during the pull. For example, I will have my weightlifters perform three 10-second isometric holds (no straps). The first hold is 2” off the ground, the second hold is directly below the knee, and the final hold is right at the power position. Biomechanically, these are three of the weakest positions in the strength curve and we are able to strengthen those positions through isometrics. Due to the muscles remaining the same length, very little inflammation and soreness is associated with isometrics. Isometrics also allow me to have a closer look at my athlete’s technique. Typically, a snatch or a clean occurs in 3 seconds or less. However, isometrics allows a coach to see if an athlete’s technique is holding up, or if we need to adjust something. Additionally, isometrics can improve muscular endurance and stability. One way our team uses isometrics to improve both muscular qualities, is to hold the barbell at the top of a squat once the lifter completes their ascent. In the past, some lifters have held each rep for as long as 15 seconds at the top.
Overall, isometrics are one of the most effective training methods to gain strength at a certain joint angle. At Baystate Barbell, athletes perform isometrics, or “static contractions”, 3-5 times per week. Our isometrics range from 2-10 seconds depending on the exercise, as well as the lifter. We utilize isometrics during pulls, squats, snatches, and cleans and jerks. Isometrics allow us to train to a maximal effort more frequently. The lifter is able to exert a maximal effort on the barbell while not coming close to 100%. For example, I may have one of my lifters perform a front squat 1rm with an 8 sec pause in the bottom. The lift will require a maximal effort but the lifter will be lucky to hit 90% of their 1rm front squat. The training adaptation associated with isometrics also happens very quickly. The lifter sees gains in strength in about 6-8 weeks. Due to this, the Baystate Barbell isometric training cycle usually begins approximately 8 weeks out from a competition. Lastly, isometrics will not add muscle mass. If a particular lifter needs to stay in a certain weight class and cannot afford to gain weight, we may perform an abundance of isometrics close to competition.