While isometric training has been around for hundreds of years, we’re now able to quantify the benefits of isometrics and its usefulness in strength-building. Sports science is proving what physical therapists and weight lifters have always known: isometric training is necessary for anyone seeking to max their gains.
From a practical standpoint, isometrics is low-impact and needs little to no equipment, so it’s the perfect adjunct to dynamic strength-training. Trainers and coaches especially love it because most athletes and fitness experts already have an established routine or goal in mind–and isometrics gives them that extra push to get them the most gains possible.
But even down to the physiological level, the benefits of isometric training make it absolutely essential for building strength.
Isometric Training, Defined
There are three types of muscle contraction: concentric, eccentric and isometric. Concentric contraction involves generating force through the shortening of muscles, as in the upward motion of a bicep curl. Eccentric contraction occurs when muscles lengthen, as in the downward movement of a bicep curl. Isometric training, however, occurs when the muscle is contracted without movement–like when people press their hands together as hard as possible.
Traditionally, concentric and eccentric contractions are used in dynamic strength training and traditional weight lifting. Now, experts in physical therapy and bodybuilding are starting to understand that isometrics is the missing link to effective, powerful gains.
Isometrics for Neuromuscular Improvement
Isometric training has benefits beyond strengthening muscles: it can also change how our muscles react to our brain’s signals. We know that neural factors, not just muscle fiber size, plays a role in strength. But, research has shown that isometric training can change our neural drive, making neuromuscular action stronger and more efficient than ever. The specific mechanism that allows isometric training to increase the power of our muscle contractions is not yet well-known, but the countless studies showing the effects of isometric strength training on our neuromuscular performance don’t lie.
Muscle exhaustion, or working a specific muscle group until failure, has long been known as the ultimate way to max out your yields.
Studies have shown that isometric training will activate up to 95.2% of an entire muscle group, while eccentric and concentric contractions only activate 88.3% and 89.7% of the muscle group, respectively. That means that after a tough dynamic workout, some bodybuilders push their muscles to the limit with isometric training. That way, they can rest assured that they’ve targeted every single muscle fiber for that muscle group and achieved the maximum potential growth stimulus.
Burst Through Your Workout Plateau
Isometric training can help weightlifters when dynamic training fails. Especially when it comes to weightlifters’ sticking points: the position where the muscles lose effectiveness and can no longer push forward. Fitness experts who’ve been bested by an especially tough set use isometric training to get them past that sticking point. Essentially, they train the muscles at the specific position and angle that they’re struggling to complete the motion. After some strength training and maximal activation, they can eventually finish the movement.
Strength At All Angles
The biggest myth about isometric training? That it only strengthens muscles at one specific position or joint angle. But research shows otherwise; one study from the European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology found that strength gains from isometric training at one position still results in strength gains at other angles. Essentially, isometric strength training helps with overall strength, not just at one position.
Of course, there’s a mountain of evidence pointing to isometric strength training as an effective adjunct to traditional dynamic weight training. But it’s also incredibly convenient and simple enough to perform at almost any location.
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