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Isometric Training 101: The Missing Link for Lifting Strong

Do your gains a favor

If you've never focused on isometrics, it's time to do your muscle gains a favor. These critical muscle fiber activations may be small, but they sure are mighty. If you're looking to increase your pain threshold when working out, improve your fluid range of motion when lifting, and cut out your weak points - isometrics may just be your missing link.

Chances are you've had plenty of opportunities to give isometric exercises a try, like when you hurry past your weak point mid-lift, or rush through planks and opt for burpees instead...

But by pausing to concentrate on these tiny muscle flexes that don't come with a lot of visible movement, you can tap into a powerhouse of strength, muscle mass and flexibility you've been missing.

Here's a crash course for zooming in on these micro-contractions... Get ready to meet your new secret weapon for lifting stronger, improving your form and getting a rockin' core:


What is Isometric Training Exactly?

By definition, isometric training is a form of strength training with a focus on isometric contractions - a type of micro-flex where you squeeze a particular muscle group to activate it, while your joints remains static. They don't look like much from the outside, and a lot of us even actively avoid isometrics because they tend to shine a light on our weaker points!

These short, intense bursts of "still" muscle engagement not only make your workouts more intense... They also strengthen your deep stabilizing muscles and give your legs, glutes, hips, core, upper back & arms a pump like no other. 

GOOD TO KNOW:  Contrary to popular belief, these zoomed-in muscle flexes pack a serious punch, and you should be careful not to overdo it. Holding isometric flexes for a long time is not actually necessary - if you're activating all the right muscles, you should start to shake after about 15 seconds! To get the most bang for your buck, aim to stimulate your target muscles for 10-30 seconds, then take a rest and repeat. 

To give you a reference point of where isometrics kick in, think about the tough middle portions of many workout moves. (The spot where you feel a wobble, like when the bar is by your knees mid-deadlift. There it is, you know the one...)

Why Isometrics Are a Big Deal

While the isometric component of exercise is often hurried over, it's just as important as your high-impact movements, rendering measurable results.

Isometric squeezes have the unique ability to activate nearly all your available motor units, as well as target that mid-range motion that tends to be a weak link for us. 

By tapping into the isometric component, you'll enable increased balance, better core strength and posture, as well as prevent potential injury and muscle strain during your workouts. 

So, How Do You Implement Isometric Training? 

There's a ton of muscles groups you can supercharge with isometric exercises, and they're easy to add to your regular workout routine. With both weighted and bodyweight resistance options that range from beginner to expert level, you'll discover muscles you never knew you had...

Here's some tips to keep in mind:

  • Maintain Your Form - Injuries are uncommon with isometrics, but you'll get better results and target areas more effectively when you focus on positioning. Don't be afraid to experiment with placing your body in different angles before engaging the tension.

  • Don't Hold Your Breath - Resist the natural urge to hold your breath when you tense up. Keep much-needed oxygen flowing to your muscles so you level up your performance and get all the benefits.

  • Engage the Squeeze! As you won't be counting on any movement to fatigue your muscles, you've got to tense up hard to feel the burn - flex as hard as you can to get there!

Get the ball rolling with these simple but hard-hitting isometric moves you can start utilizing in your strength training regime:

💪 Isometric Bench Press

For your upper body, it doesn’t get much better than the good ol' bench press. Ramp it up a notch by holding the barbell 3-5 inches from your chest for 10-30 seconds before completing the movement. 

💪 high Plank

An all-around crowd pleaser for targeting your abs and core, a holding plank is by default an isometric exercise. The one-minute mark is a common benchmark, but don’t be afraid to start with less and build yourself up (especially if you're prone to back pain). 

💪 Wall Sit

Another inherently isometric move, this "holding squat" of sorts is great for the glutes and lower body. Hold for between 20 seconds and a minute, rest for 30 seconds, and repeat.

While these are some of the most popular moves in isometric training, you can add an isometric component to virtually any exercise.

By simply resisting the urge to rush through the movement - and rather forcing yourself to fully engage your muscles to remain steady for a beat between the movement - you’ve tapped into the benefits of isometric training. 

Thanks for reading, stay strong warrior.

Maggie Johnson | MME Wellness Contributor

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