Types of isometric work

Dumbbell Routines and Exercises

Dumbbell Exercises and Lifting Routines

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You'll notice that I will mention three main types of isometric exercises: overcoming-isometric, yielding-isometric and functional isometrics. Understand that in the first two cases this doesn't mean that you are combining a concentric/overcoming or eccentric/yielding action along with the isometric action. The actual external outcome of the exercise is the same; there is no movement at all. However, the intent during the exercise changes.

Overcoming-isometric: You are pushing or pulling against an immovable resistance. There is no external movement, but your intent is to move the resistance (even though it's impossible).

Here you can see the three training positions for the squat in the overcoming-isometric method.

Isometric BodybuildingCoach Thibaudeau

Overcoming-isometrics can also be done against a manual resistance. In the example illustrated to the left coach Thibaudeau is putting bodybuilder Sebastien Cossette through a set of overcoming-isometric lateral raise.

Yielding-isometric: You are holding a weight and your objective is to prevent it from moving down. So once again, there is no external movement. However, your intent is no longer to move the resistance, but to stop its movement.

Below you can see three types of yielding-isometrics: a) holding a barbell, b) supporting your bodyweight plus a dumbbell and c) supporting your body weight.

It is important to understand that both techniques will not have the same effect. For one thing, the neural patterns used in both cases will be different. Overcoming-isometrics may have a bigger impact on concentric strength than yielding-isometrics.

Normally we use overcoming-isometrics for short sets (5-10 seconds) in order to produce a lot of force and stimulate the HTMUs as much as possible.

Yielding-isometrics are utilised mostly for longer sets (20-30 seconds) and have a greater effect on size and strength-endurance than strength.

A third type of isometric work can be added: functional isometrics. These are not 100% isometric in its purest sense since there is some movement involved, but for the most part it is considered an isometric method. Of all the three major methods this one is probably the most effective to stimulate strength gains. It's also much easier to measure progress in this method that with regular overcoming-isometrics, which makes it more motivating.

Functional-isometrics combine a very short range of motion concentric (lifting) action with a maximum overcoming isometric action. It requires the use of a power rack and two sets of safety pins. The bar is set between the two sets of pins (it sits on the first/bottom set of pins in the starting position) and is loaded with a heavy weight. There is 2-4" between both sets of safety pins. The exercise consists of lifting the bar off of the first set and drive it into the second set of pins. Once the bar hits the second set, you push (or pull depending on the movement) against the pins for 5-10 seconds. The differences between this type of training and the regular overcoming-isometrics are that ...

a) There is some concentric/lifting movement involved, even though the range of motion is fairly short.

b) You add weight to the exercise. With regular overcoming isos you simply push/pull an empty bar against the pins while in the functional variation you use a loaded barbell. You keep adding weight to the bar until you reach a load that you cannot hold for 5 seconds against the second set of pins. This makes the exercise more motivating and progress easier to measure.

Below is an illustration of how to set up the rack for some functional isometric work (example for the bench press).

Types Safety Pins

Second set of safety pins

First set of safety pi

Power rack

Bar resting on the 1st set of pins

Second set of safety pins

First set of safety pi pins

Bench placed in the middle of the power rack

Bar resting on the 1st set of pins

Combo isometric methods

The preceding three isometric methods can be considered "pure iso methods" in that only the isometric action is emphasized. However it is also possible to combine isometric, concentric and eccentric actions in the same exercise/set. These are known as "combo methods".

Combo method 1: Single contrast - yielding

In this method you include one isometric pause during the performance of the eccentric phase of a regular lifting movement. For example in the bench press you would lower the bar down to 2-3" from the chest, hold it there for 3-5 seconds, then lower it down to the chest and lift it back up to the starting position.

Combo method 2: Single contrast - overcoming

In this method you also include a single isometric action, but this time during the lifting phase. And you execute this pause not by simply holding the weight in place, but rather by having a partner push on the bar to stop it. When he does so, you push as hard as you can against this added source of resistance for 3-5 seconds, after which he releases the bar and let you complete the lifting movement.

Combo method 3: Multiple contrast - yielding

This is similar to the first method, however instead of stopping only once during the eccentric portion of the movement you stop 2-5 times (at different positions) for 3-5 seconds.

Combo method 4: Max fatigue contrast

In this method you perform a regular lifting set to muscle failure. When you reach that point you hold the weight for as long as you can. Depending on the type of movement you will hold the weight either at the fully contracted position or at the mid-range point.

Position of the pause depending on the exercise type

Peak contraction (end of concentric phase)

Mid-range point (middle portion of the

range of motion)

Lat pulldown and variations

Bench press and variations

Seated rowing and variations

Dumbbell press and variations

Barbell rowing and variations

Shoulder press and variations

Dumbbell rowing and variations

Squat and variations

Upright rowing and variations

Leg press

Shrugs and variations

Hack squat

Leg extension

Biceps work with barbells

Leg curl

Biceps work with dumbbells

Calf raises and variations

Triceps work with barbells

Lateral raises and variations

Triceps work with dumbbells

Back extension

Deadlift and variations

Triceps work at pulley station

Biceps work at pulley station

Cable cross-over

Pec Deck machine

Flies at pulley station

Combo method 5: Potentiation contrast

This isn't really a combo method as the isometric and concentric exercises are separated by 2-3 minutes. However since it makes use of both types of actions I still decided to include it in the combo section. In this method the isometric exercise is used to potentiate the regular lifting exercises. To do so your perform a maximum overcoming-isometric (or functional isometric) action lasting 5-10 seconds, rest for 2-3 minutes, then perform a set of regular lifting. You can either use the isometric action at the sticking point, to potentiate this specific portion of the movement so that it will become a less problematic area or perform the isometric action at the strongest point of the range of motion to have a maximal potentiation effect on the whole movement. Below is illustrated this type of training applied to the bench press.

2-3 minutes rest

As we saw earlier, the type of exercises in which potentiating isometrics have the greatest effect are either heavy or explosive lifts. The more a movement relies on the HTMUs, the more benefits there will be from using potentiating isometrics.

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