Holding the body completely still in a slightly challenging position will make any move REALLY hard! I have been adding isometric holds to my workouts, classes, and my clients workouts lately… and boy do they work, if you do them right!
Almost every muscle in the body will be activated… from the toes all the way to the head! Isometrics require you to recruit your abs and glutes like no other!
The middle of the body, aka the “core”, connects your upper and lower half… if the core is weak, pretty much all movements, and isometric holds, will be compromised because the body will look for strength in stronger or more dominant muscles to make up for the weak core.
The plank is the easiest to notice a weak core with because, well, it focuses on the core! Any break in the kinetic chain (head hanging low, shoulders retracted, torso drooping) compromises the move. Since the core is weak, the body is looking for other ways to maintain the plank.
The human head can weigh up to 11 lbs. It is easier to just let the head hang low than have to hold that extra weight up! When the shoulders pull back and the body seems to rest on the shoulder blades, the upper body is doing most of the work, not the core. And when someone’s back is arched, it is a clear indication that they are not using their abs. If the abs were tight, that would straighten the spine and eliminate any back arching or drooping.
It is better to hold a perfect plank for 5 seconds than a crappy one for 1 minute!
I will focus on 6 basic exercises that work great for isometrics, but isometric training does not have to be limited to these:
lunges (advanced: Bulgarian lunge)
deadlift or single leg deadlifts
push ups (beginner: planks)
hollow body crunches
pull ups (beginner: straight body hang from the bar).
You might not notice your core as much in exercises like the squat or lunge…. but try holding it in the down phase and see if your abs “turn on” (aka activate). Once your legs start to fatigue, you will either break the kinetic chain and move your body to readjust or you will start recruiting other stabilizer muscles!
3 Ways to add isometrics to your workout
1. To Fix Imbalances: Isometric Circuits
Isometric circuits are a great way to work on muscle weaknesses.
If your glutes are weak and not being activated in a squat, work on isometric holds.
If your form starts to break during pushups, work on holding the down phase of the push up.
Can’t quite get up to the bar in a pull up? Jump up and hold your chin over the bar and stay there!
Complete 2-3 circuits of each exercise.
Hold for 10 seconds-15 seconds-20 seconds, work up to 10 seconds-20 seconds-30 seconds.
You can rest for as long as needed in between holds. If you are unsure how long to rest, a simple approach is to rest as long as you worked, so hold for 10 seconds, rest for 10, hold for 15 seconds, rest for 15, etc… As you become stronger, reduce your rest intervals.
Below is a video of a 10-15-20 second hold in a push up position with minimal rest between holds.
2. For Strength: 2 options
Just when you think you can’t do any more… do a little more! There are two ways to approach this one and they are both great!
a) Move and Hold – This is a great way to strengthen the stabilizer muscles in the abs and back because you already fatigued the legs during squats and lunges or the arms during push ups and pull ups.
Complete a set of 8-16 reps (depending on your fitness level) of squats, lunges, deadlifts, push ups, hollow body crunches, and/or pull ups.
Immediately follow the set with an isometric hold in the hardest part of the exercise for as long as you can.
Beginner – 10-16 reps with no weight (for challenging exercises like pull ups, you can do 3 sets of 3 or 5 sets of 2 to get close to 10 reps – do the isometric hold after each 2-3 reps)
Intermediate – 12-16 reps with a weight that really starts to feel heavy by the last couple reps
Advanced – 8-12 reps of a heavy weight that is very challenging on the last couple reps
b) Hold and Move – Really blast your strength through the roof with this one.
Hold an exercise in contraction for 30 seconds, then immediately follow with 10-15 quick reps.
For Power: Pause and Push
Power will increase strength and athletic performance. Muscles need to be strong and fast in order to be POWERFUL.
Force = Mass x Acceleration.
Do each exercise, hold it in max contraction for about 8-15 seconds, and then “power” up quickly.
In the below video, I will show squats and lunges with a quick power up as well as a jump up, and deadlifts and single leg deadlifts with a quick return up (almost resembles a KB swing, minus the swing!)
Below is a video of hollow body holds and crunches
This one is tough to do for pull ups because your muscles will fatigue pretty good in the dead hang hold making it tough to pull up, let alone pull up fast! You can either add a resistance band below your feet to help spring you up to the bar or put your feet on the ground and jump up to give yourself some assistance and power!
Do you use isometrics in your workouts?
Do you train for power?
What workouts are you loving right now?