Guest post provided by The Strength Continuum
Isometrics produce a muscle contraction but doesn’t actually move the joint. For example, holding a pair of dumbells with the arms flexed or sitting in the bottom of a squat.
Isometrics are common in physical therapy but often overlooked in the gym. They’re not as exciting as bench pressing, squatting, or putting in conditioning work, but they can be an important part of your program.
The Importance of Isometrics
Isometrics have many applications and reasons to incorporate them into your training program. Here is a short list of reasons why to include them in your training:
Isometrics have been researched a ton for their ability to decrease pain. They have proven effective in providing an acute decrease in pain for people dealing with patellar tendinopathy (ref), Achilles tendinopathy (ref), elbow tendinopathy (ref), and rotator cuff tendinopathy (ref).
For increasing the stability of a joint, the position that it’s in matters. If you don’t have a problem bench pressing but struggle to maintain a good position when you press overhead, then your stability work needs to be done overhead. Isometrics are a great way to spend more time in specific positions to improve the strength and stability for your specific needs.
Increased Time Under Tension
Building mechanical tension in the muscle is vital to putting on size and strength. Whether it’s a pause at the end of a rep or using specific isometric exercises, they can increase the time under tension while accumulating minimal fatigue.
When to Use Isometrics
So, we have the why, but what about how or when to apply them?
In my opinion, deciding on how to implement isometrics into a training program largely depends on the athlete’s situation.
For Pain or Injury
For anyone dealing with an injury or pain, add in isometrics as part of the warm-up.
Most any activity will get your body warm and prepare you for the upcoming workout. But consciously selecting isometric drills that target your weak links will give you an added bonus of decreasing pain and/or improving the quality of your workout.
Select a few (no more than 2 or 3) isometric drills that are specific to the injury or pain and perform them as part of a warm-up.
For Injury Prevention or Dealing with Deficiencies
For the athlete that’s not currently in pain, but has a history of injury or a problem that limits their performance, add isometrics as ‘fillers.’
Athletes in this situation will benefit greatly from targeted isometrics during the rest periods of the lift or exercise that gives them problems.
For example, we often see athletes with a history of shoulder pain with pressing overhead. They usually go to Physical Therapy to fix the issue with a treatment plan focused on improving your posterior rotator cuff strength.
Fast-forward a few months and the athlete is back to overhead pressing without a problem. But to keep the shoulders healthy, it’s beneficial to add in some banded ‘T’ step-backs between sets of overhead presses to add some extra volume and durability to the posterior cuff.
(Check out how to do this exercise here: The Strength Continuum)
For Strength and Performance
As we mentioned before, isometrics are not confined to dealing with pain or injury. For healthy athletes, isometrics can help improve performance.
Feeling weak or uncomfortable at the bottom of the squat? Adding in paused squats to your program might be the solution.
Always missing deadlifts right below the knees? Isometrics at that specific angle will improve your strength at that sticking point.
Isometrics for Health and Performance
Isometrics are not the sexiest exercises and usually considered something for rehab until you can get back to the fun stuff in the gym. But an understanding of how to incorporate them into your program will not only keep you healthy over the long haul, but can also improve your performance.
Guest post provided by The Strength Continuum
The Strength Continuum is a team comprised of a Physical Therapist and a Strength Coach, who view Strength and Conditioning and Rehabilitation on a continuum as opposed to in isolation.
Read more about them in their bios below and be sure to follow them on social media and check out their blog: The Strength Continuum
Stephanie Sfara, PT, DPT, CSCS, is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, graduating from Youngstown State University in 2018, and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the NSCA since 2017. Steph attended Armstrong State University in Savannah, Georgia where she studied Rehabilitation Sciences as her undergraduate degree. While there, she was a scholarship athlete culminating her competitive volleyball career by earning All-American recognitions her senior year in 2014. Since then, she has remained an avid weightlifter and has further developed a passion in working with other athletes and active individuals to improve their movement, performance, and health both in and out of the gym. Steph actively uses her training knowledge and athletic experiences to improve patient outcomes with optimal loading and injury prevention in the clinic.
Jordan Smuts, MS, ATC, CSCS, is a Certified Athletic Trainer and Strength Coach. He graduated from Indiana University with a Master’s of Science in Kinesiology with an emphasis in Sports Medicine in 2013 where he was also an Assistant Athletic Trainer with IU athletics. Prior to that, Jordan attended Franklin College where he graduated with a degree in Athletic Training while also playing baseball all 4 years. Since then, he has continued to have a passion for lifting and fitness which ultimately prompted a move from the clinical side of things to a career in the fitness industry. Jordan uses his personal athletic and training experiences in conjunction with knowledge of program design and exercise prescription to help his athletes better their performance both in and out of the gym.