The popularity of isometric swings back and forth. This is mainly because it’s not an exciting type of training — it doesn’t compare to Olympic lifting, plyometrics. Trainees tend to gravitate to dynamic training such as conventional weight lifting or ballistic type lifts.
However, isometric training can offer an excellent training stimulus and provide an even better training/coaching aid. The benefits of isometric contractions go far beyond rehabilitation or prehab type exercises. It has been well established that progressive isometric resistance training can lead to increases in maximal contractile torque.
An isometric contraction is a neuromuscular contraction without movement. A prime example of an isometric exercise is a plank. However, there are far better isometric exercises than planks.
Isometric training can be used as a means of teaching/ learning movements. For example, a deadlift is a challenging movement to learn, especially the movement’s starting position. To overcome this learning curve, using an isometric mid-thigh pull can be a great starting point to understand the movement and learn how to position yourself at the beginning of the movement. Then from here, you can progress onto a standard deadlift. Not only will you be learning how to get into the position of the deadlift, you then are increasing your strength and peak power while performing the isometric mid-thigh pull.
Using isometric training as a coaching/teaching aid, you can use it to increase your strength at specific points within the movement.
For example, suppose you struggle with the bench press at the endpoint of the range of motion. In that case, you could utilise an isometric bench press hold (pushing the bar into the safety bars) to increase your strength at this endpoint.
Following on from using isometric training to increase your strength at specific parts of the movement. It can also be utilised as a way of breaking training plateaus. If you feel you are stuck at a particular weight, such as 100kg for a squat, you could employ isometrics to overcome this plateau. For example, you could reduce the weight to 90kg and then perform a 3–5 second hold at the bottom of the squat and gradually increase the weight. Within a few weeks, you would have broken the plateau if performed correctly.
The benefits are well reported in the literature:
- Improved tendon and joint health
- Minimal muscle soreness
- Increased neural drive and efficiency
- Increased work capacity
- Can aid in training recovery
- Strength through sticking points
- Strength in ranges of motion particular to your sport
Have a play around with isometrics in your training and see how they can significantly impact your training and help you break any training plateaus.