Hi, Z-Health community. Dr. Cobb back with you.
Today I want to talk about isometric exercise. It’s a useful… incredibly useful tool, actually, that a lot of people either don’t think about anymore in strength training, or they’ve forgotten that it even exists.
Now, isometric exercises were very popular many years ago with kind of the old time strong men. They all used them, and like I said, they’ve kind of gone out of favor in a lot of different areas, and I don’t know why, because they’re incredibly powerful and they’re incredibly useful.
A couple different reasons I want to talk about this.
A lot of people that come to Z-Health come to use because of pain. Isometrics are an incredible tool to help people move into areas that used to be painful safely. So to give you an example, let’s say I had a hard time with an overhead press. I had shoulder pain, etc., and I learned some Z-Health stuff and I did some neck mobilizations or foot mobilizations or something, and now all of a sudden I can do that same motion basically pain free without any load, but now when I start training, even using the lightest dumbbell to press up or kettlebell or whatever, I have a nagging sensation of a little bit of pain. Isometrics are a fantastic tool to eliminate that, because isometrics, by definition, are strength exercises where no movement is occurring.
So for instance, if I was thinking about, “Oh, I’m going to work on my overhead press,” I could easily stand in a doorway or, for instance, stand here in my rack, take my arm up overhead, and now simply push up. Now right now I’m exercising hard, I’m actually pushing very, very hard, but because there’s no motion going on it allows my brain to coordinate the activity a little bit more safely. There’s other research that we’ve looked at that shows that it doesn’t cause as much brain activation as something like this.
Now, one that’s useful is that if your brain doesn’t have to think quite so hard about the exercise, it’s probably a little bit safer. There’s less stuff to organize. So as I said, isometrics are a great tool to use for building strength in areas where you may have lost range of motion due to pain.
How do you use them? Pretty simple. Whenever we do isometrics, we want to think about three positions. So in this particular idea, if I’m working on my press overhead, I would want to do an isometric in the bottom position, and isometric in the middle position, and an isometric in the top position. Now, how do I do that? Well, I could use a luggage strap. I could use a rope. I could use basically anything I could think of that would allow me to get into this position and press up hard without having any motion occur. Again, any exercise you want to work on to build safety and strength, think about three positions: the bottom, the middle, and the top.
How long do you hold an isometric? There’s been a lot of research around this as well. If you’re really pressing super hard, you’re probably only going to be able to press really hard for maybe six seconds, and that’s traditionally what we were taught about isometric exercises.
Personally, based on a lot of other information that’s out there, I like my athletes to work on 20 to 30 second isometrics in each one of these positions. So 30 seconds, 30 more, 30 more. Now you’ve reached 90 seconds of work, which is usually entirely sufficient and will not only make you stronger, but also to start developing some changes in the muscle itself. So if you want to be working on getting a little bit bigger or creating more definition in the muscle, also useful for that.
As I said, pretty simple ideas. Isometrics are exercises where you’re not moving, but you are creating force. Because of the way they work in the body, they’re kind of a low-threat introduction to creating force in areas that maybe you haven’t been visiting, so they’re a great rehabilitation tool. As I said, the way you’re going to apply it, think bottom, middle, top; 30 seconds, 30 seconds, 30 seconds.
Try it this week.
Try it with your push-ups.
Try it with your pull-ups.
Try it with any exercise you can think of, and see how it makes you feel.
A lot of people were amazed because they’re able to do a lot of work with isometrics and wake up the next day, not sore, and understand soreness is not required to show that you’ve actually done something good for yourself.
There you have it.
Isometrics, fantastic tool.
Please consider using it this week.
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