In the second of a three- part focus on key training methods, Jean-Claude talks about tensing your muscles.
Isometric exercises are strength- building moves where you create tension, or contract your muscles, without the angle of the joints changing (for example when you do a plank). Famed strongman Alexander Zass credited much of his great strength to his isometric training as a prisoner during World War I. He would push on the bars and chains that held him captive and quickly saw benefits. He went on to promote this method of training through his mail-order courses. Interested?
WHY DO ISOMETRICS?
Do these movements and you’ll strengthen and stabilise your body and improve your form for more dynamic movements, burning calories along the way. If you’re weak in a certain muscle group, or recovering from an injury, they can strengthen you without the wear and tear inflicted on joints from dynamic exercises, which also means you can train more often to bring these areas up to speed. You can also easily adjust the intensity and duration of the hold to suit any level of exerciser.
WHEN TO DO THEM
Isometric holds can help new exercises reinforce positions and improve body awareness. They are also fantastic for getting over a sticking point in a certain exercise. Do you lose form or fail at one point in a certain movement? Take chin-ups for example, where there are three common sticking points: at the top, middle and bottom. Try holding yourself, with correct form, in each position for 10 seconds, during your weekly workouts, for six to eight weeks, and you’ll notice the movement becomes much more fluid and you’re able to do more reps.
You can also add isometrics into your usual dynamic movements to strengthen and reinforce the effects. Add a thirty- second hold at the top of your bent-over row for example, pulling your shoulder blades together, or pause at the bottom of your squat for the count of three. This helps reinforce technique, ensures you use the correct muscles and, in turn, helps to improve your posture.
HOW TO TRAIN
You have to think about actively squeezing all of the muscles involved in keeping you in the position for it to work properly. So in a tall plank, for example (one of the best isometrics as it uses multiple muscle groups and strengthens your core) you should be squeezing your thighs and glutes, pulling your shoulder blades together and engaging your abdominals.
Three Top Isometrics Exercises:
Grip a chin-up bar tightly in an overhand position, with your hands just wider than shoulder width. Keep your abs engaged – think about ‘tucking your ribs in’. Squeeze your glutes too, and hold that position for as long as you can. Start with 4 x 15-second holds and work up to a minute and a half.
Half kneel on the floor, one leg bent out in front of you, so that you have a 90° angle at both knees. Engage your glutes and abs,by tucking your bottom under, before pushing into both feet, so that your back knee is an inch or so from the floor. Hold this for 15-30 seconds, before returning to the start position. Repeat four to six times.
Start at the top of a push-up position, arms and legs fully extended, palms under your shoulders and forearms vertical. Squeeze your abs, glutes and thighs and hold that position for as long as you can, keeping your torso parallel to the floor. Start with 4 x 15-second holds and work up to two minutes.