Isometric training

How many guys here use isometric training? What are the benefits if any?What do you think of the following link?

I think the link posted is a poor one. I am however a recent convert to ‘functional’ isometrics having had spectacular results using a modified version of the program discussed below.

By Christian Thibaudeau (see T-mag):

Tip #4: March’s Functional Isometrics

Former Olympic team member Bill March experimented with a type of training called “functional isometrics” and it improved his lifting performance at an astounding rate. Of course, data also suggests that March was one of Dr. John Ziegler’s first guinea pigs for Dianabol use. Because of this fact, functional isometric training was dismissed on the grounds that March’s gains were due to the drugs and not the training methods. That was a big mistake in my opinion!
First of all, March took only 5-10mg of Dianabol per day. That’s an extremely low dose, especially considering that using ten to twenty times that amount in conjunction with other drugs is considered a Ònormal" cycle by most bodybuilders! So, although the 5-10mg of D-bol per day probably did make a difference, it can’t alone explain the absolutely phenomenal gains made by March.
I recently tried the old March routine myself. I started the routine in March (how appropriate!) as part of my Òcomeback" to Olympic lifting training. Within two weeks, despite losing over 30 pounds of bodyweight, despite much lowered leg strength (we’re talking about a 75 pound decrease in my max back squat), and despite not having practiced the lifts for over four months, I actually cleaned more than my all time best! And the lift was easy! Oddly, my snatch didn’t improve nearly as fast (my snatch always improves faster than my clean). I reasoned that since I didn’t use functional isometrics for the snatch but did so for the clean, there was something going on!
But let’s back up a little. What are functional isometrics? Well, isometric training refers to exerting strength without movement. The most classic form of isometric training is pushing or pulling an immovable load. Since you can produce more force during an isometric action than during a concentric action it’s arguable that isometric exercises can lead to greater strength stimulation. However, there are some problems with pure isometric training:

  1. It’s impossible to quantify progress. Since you’re not moving a load, you don’t know if you’re improving, or if you’re exerting maximal effort or not. This can surely decrease progression and motivation.
  2. Isometric training is angle specific, meaning that you’ll gain strength only at the joint angles being worked. (There’s only a 15 degree carryover of strength gains.)
    Functional isometrics are a bit different: you still exert force without movement, but you’re actually lifting a load. Let me explain. You start the bar as a specific height and lift it two to three inches, then you hold the position for six to ten seconds. You keep on adding weight until you can’t lift and hold it for at least six seconds while maintaining a good lifting posture. This way you’re actually lifting weights and can quantify your progress. But the problem of joint angle specificity still applies. That’s why we want to use three pulling positions working the whole range of motion of a power clean. The three positions are:
    A) Deadlift
    Bring the bar from the floor to the knees and hold for 6-10 seconds.

B) Mid-pull
Start the bar one inch above the kneecap and lift it to mid-thigh. Hold for 6-10 seconds.

C) High pull
Start the bar at the same position as in drill B, but bring it high. In the holding position the bar should be at least two to three inches above the navel. You should be standing on your toes, shoulders fully shrugged, arms bent slightly. Hold that position for 6-10 seconds.

A key point in doing this routine is to never use straps. One of the benefits of this form of training is that you’ll be able to hold much heavier weights than you can use in the clean. This will vastly improve grip strength and will help you psychologically. (If you’re used to feeling 100 to 200 pounds more than you can clean, you’ll be much less intimidated when attempting a big power clean.)
Another important thing to remember is to take isometric positions specific to your clean technique. To reap the most benefits from this form of training, you must duplicate your cleaning mechanics as closely as possible.
This isometric routine is performed twice per week and should last between 20 to 30 minutes. After, perform four to five sets of cleans working up to a max double or a max triple.


Do you think trying something like this to improve strenght specific to jumping would be a good idea? I have known of some bball coaches who used 60-90 sec “wall sits” with their players but their must be a better protocol…maybe freestanding holding the bottom of a jumping position holding a loaded bar behind body (under hamstrings?).


If you did some functional isometrics and then followed immediately by some plyos or explosive work like jumping then you will get some nice benefits. Must always follow isometrics with dynamic work, to get the benefits.

I always think of Jay whenever this topic come up for soem reason :slight_smile:

Im intruiged.

I squat twice a week (one heavier -one speed/power), as well I work upper body 2x week and play basketball 3-4times.

CoolJ: If i wanted to experiment with isometric for jumping when would I work that in? Same day as squats? before basketball?


Be very wary of muscular fatigue using heavy or high intensity plyo’s post heavy strength training.

Do isometric exercises serve any really functional purpose for sprinters, or is it more specific to jumpers?

why must you always follow iso work with dynamic work?

I think iso work would perhaps be more useful used to improve the pwer lifts not the oly lifts. because the oly lifts are so much more dynamic it becomes harder to duplicate it in iso work, whereas in the big 3 teh ROM is not so great.

I went back and read what David wrote, and now I’m wondering not if it can apply to sprinters, but when to apply it in a program for maximal gains. Anyone?

Well you could do an iso hold in the squat with a load around say 60%, or even just bodyweight and hold it for at least 10secs. Then immediately do some low load jumpsquats. I do this quite a bit myself, I grab a 25lb bar, hold the bottom position of the jump for 12 secs and then explode into 3 jumpsquats, rest 2mins and repeat for whatever amount of sets.
Or you could do hurdle hops.

Another example would be a deadlift iso hold with the bar at knee level and then grab a lighter load and do hang power cleans.

yet another - do a drop jump stick the landing hold for 10 secs and then
explode into a series of jumps.

If you want isometrics to transition to help you athletcily you have to follow it up with a dynamic movement, since they are formed from different CNS processes, so need to be trained together.
There is a boosting effect when used this way, something to to do with tendon/muscle unit stiffening? Not sure myself.
The example people always use - it’s like pushing on a doorway sides, and then when you step back your arms want to keep pushing outwards, same principle.

Jay does his iso holds in extreme stretch positions. Research shows that isometric strength gained at the full stretch psoition transfers well into the rest of the ROM, unlike joint specifc isometrics.
Anyway as far as what I have seen Jay do, he has Adam hold the extreme stretched position of a bench press, an inch above the chest, pressure is applied to the bar as Adam is pushing as hard as he can against it, then after say 10 secs, Adam gets up and does a series of plyo pushups.

It can help anyone, it’s just a means to an end, not a specific outcome.
Just makes the following dynamic movements more powerful.
You know there is always an brief period of isometric contraction following every eccentric in any movement. So it pays to be strong here as well, since as I said, isometric, eccentric and concentrics use different neural processes.

BTW David - clear your PM box!! :slight_smile:

Re: Isometric holds in ‘extreme’ positions

Definately, increased strength is displayed through a larger range when the muscle is held in a stretched position (Thepault, 1988). My lifters do iso holds at mid shin where the hamstrings (and gleuts) are on stretch. Interestingly I’ve also found the exercise useful to improve specific ‘core’ strength.

Thanks ColJ, but still a bit confused:

It seems a method specific to jumping for basketball would be to perform the functional isometric lift holding at the bottom position of my CMJump (ie where the motion reverses and the isometric action occurs).

Now Davids post has suggested that I would want to go heavy (ie can only hold with good form for 6-10s) but your examples (save adam’s bench) propose lighter or no loads. I am on board with compounding with a dynamic movement regaurdless, probably just a series of jumps for height or 20-30%BW jump squats.

Right now I am thinking about setting a squat rack so the bar rests 6inches below where I want it to be, loading up with what as much as I can hold in the bottom position for 6-10 sec deadlift style. The idea is to see if gains made in the exercise will feel like they are crossing over to the court.

If there are any reasons this is a bad idea please let me know!



This would be a great time for CT to make a visit…

Personally, I am against iso holds in the outer (and intuitively more specific) range. My reasons are:

  1. Key muscles are not on stretch

  2. Due to the body’s mechanical advantage, huge loads would be necessary to load the system. This would obviously cause extreme CNS stress.

BTW. My solution to overloading the outer range is the use of bands.

For those who missed it on the other thread, my current ‘complex’ incorporating isometrics:

  • Clean pull @ 95-105% Clean maximum
  • Eccentric clean deadlift
  • 6s Isometric hold at knee or shin

In my experience performing heavy pulls for repetitions leads to a significant breakdown in form and also a drop in bar speed. Any cross over to the full lift therefore diminishes with each subsequent rep. I’ve often asked other coaches why they advocate high reps in pulls at loads greater than 100% but typically only singles in heavy technical lifts (it’s not only the ability to get under the bar that suffers with fatigue!) Incorporating isometrics into the lift, increases TUT (time under tension 400 stud!!) and hence decreases the number of reps required for a given training effect. THis is in addition to all the benefits discussed above by CT…

There different kinds of isometric training being talked about here. The ones I advocate are for dynamic plyo style moves - more to make the following dynamic moves more powerful.
Remeber the force velcoity curve, heavy load and light loads do different things :slight_smile:

Plyometrics IS isometric: the tendon lengthens, the muscle holds isometrically. I do not understand the benefit of performing exercises in the way you describe (see points 1&2 below).

It’s point 6 I’d like more info on, do you have a link?

More from CT:

) Isometric Action Training

I talked about this form of training briefly in a previous article (Rapid Fire) but I’d like to expand a bit on its efficacy.

Historically, it’s been believed that we can produce more strength in a maximum isometric action than in a concentric contraction. While some studies do find a slight difference, Soviet literature concludes that: “…there is not a statistically significant difference between the maximum strength, as measured in a static regime, and the maximum weight that can be lifted in the same movement.” (A.S. Medvedyev1986).

The same literature finds isometric training to be effective for other reasons, too:

• Maximum intramuscular tension is attained for only a brief period in dynamic exercises (mostly due to the fact that the resistance has velocity and acceleration components) while in isometric exercises you can sustain that maximal tension for a bit longer.

For example, instead of maintaining maximum intramuscular tension for 0.25 to 0.5 seconds in the concentric portion of a dynamic movement, you may sustain it for around three to six seconds in an isometric exercise. Strength is greatly influenced by the total time under maximal tension. So if you can add 10 to 20 seconds of maximal intramuscular tension per session, you can increase your potential strength gains.

• Isometric exercises can help you improve strength at a precise point in the range of motion of an exercise. This can prove to be very valuable to get past plateaus due to a chronic sticking point. Isometric exercises can thus have a profound effect on limit strength.

But why are they now ignored? The principal reason is that it takes six to eight weeks for an isometric training program to have significantly noticeable effects (for a relatively well-trained athlete). In our world of fast rewards, if something doesn’t work right now we assume it doesn’t work at all. Big mistake! Never sacrifice your long term gains because of a short term decision.

Another reason why isometric exercises are frowned upon is the fact that they do increase strength mostly at the specific joint angle being trained (there’s a 15 to 20 degree carryover, though). This basically means that by itself an isometric program isn’t optimal, but it doesn’t mean it’s useless!

To make the most of it you should train using at least three positions per exercise (a few inches after the start position, at the sticking point, and a few inches before the finished position). Here are a few recommendations based on the work of Y.I. Ivanov of the former Soviet Union, John Ziegler of the US, and my own personal experience:

  1. You must contract your muscles as hard as you can. To be effective, you must reach and maintain a level of maximum intramuscular tension.

  2. The duration of an action (or “set”) should be one to six seconds. Three to six seconds would be best in most cases.

  3. Use at least three positions per movement, but as much as six positions can be used for maximum results (if time and equipment permits). Choose key positions of the equivalent dynamic exercise if you want a positive transfer of the strength gains.

  4. Take sufficient rest between actions (reps) to allow for maximum tension to be produced. I personally find that you need ten times more rest than you spend contracting. For example, if you use three-second actions you rest thirty seconds; if you use six-second actions you rest sixty seconds.

  5. Isometric exercises should be used concurrently with a similar dynamic exercise (in the same workout), preferably of a high-speed nature.

  6. For optimal results, isometric training should be around 10% of the total strength training volume (calculated as the number of seconds under tension).

In the past, isometric exercises have been described as a technique that should only be used by advanced lifters. I beg to differ. One of the biggest shortcomings of low level lifters is the inability to produce maximum intramuscular tension during a concentric contraction. Isometric exercise can thus be used to learn how to produce this high level of tension as it requires a lot less motor skills. So for that reason I see isometric exercises as very beneficial for all classes of athletes.

The best way to execute an isometric exercise is to pull/push against immovable pins (in the power rack).

No link that I can think of.

This type of training is called static dynamic, also Jay does iso holds up to 3 mins sometimes :slight_smile:
One way to increase tension when using just bodyweight

Not everything needs heavy loads to work.

Some of you might find the following interesting … it’s from my upcoming book.

"Isometric training methods

Isometric methods refer to producing muscle tension without moving. So you are basically fighting a source of resistance without altering its position

We will discuss three applications of this method:

  1. Max duration isometrics (equivalent to the repetitive effort method)
  2. Max intensity isometrics (equivalent to the max effort method)
  3. Ballistic isometrics (equivalent to the dynamic effort method)

There is also mixed regimen isometrics (also known as functional isometrics) but these applications have already been discussed earlier.

You’ll notice that I mention two types of isometric exercises: overcoming-isometric and yielding-isometric. Understand that this doesn’t mean that you are combining a concentric (or eccentric) 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 thus no external movement but your intent is to move the resistance (even though that’s impossible).

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

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 and vice versa.

Max duration isometric (repetitive effort)

With max duration isometric exercises you are pushing/pulling or holding a submaximal load for as long as possible, going to muscle failure. For maximum effect we want to use sets ranging from 20 to 60 seconds in length. The effect of this type of training on muscle mass can be important as there is a very significant growth stimulus placed on all of the muscle-fibers.

  • Note: A lot of studies don’t report a lot of muscle growth from isometric training. This is only because the old German model of 6 seconds actions (or something similar) was used in the experiments. This duration of effort, albeit adequate for strength gains, is not sufficient to cause hypertrophic changes in the muscles. However when using sets lasting 20-60 seconds, the growth stimulus is important.

With this method you can use both overcoming-isometrics and yielding-isometrics (which were explained earlier). However I find that yielding isometrics (holding a weight) are much superior when it comes to max duration isometric training. In this case a load of 50 to 80% for a duration of 20 to 60 seconds is best.

As it was mentioned earlier in the text, with isometric training you will want to use at least three positions per exercise to get improvement throughout the entire range of motion.

Here are the characteristics and parameters of this method:

Perceived effort/difficulty: very high
Effect on structural elements (hypertrophy): high to very high
Effect on functional elements (strength, power): low
Load: 50-80% of the concentric maximum if using yielding-isometrics
Number of reps per set: 20-60 seconds per set
Number of sets per exercise: 2-4 per position / 3 positions per exercise
Number of exercise: 1
Rest between sets: 60-90 seconds between sets

Max intensity isometric (maximum effort)

The max intensity isometric method is related to the concentric maximum effort method. You will try to maintain a maximum isometric action for 3-6 seconds. You can once again use either overcoming-isometrics or yielding-isometric but in this case, overcoming isometrics (pushing/pulling against pins or an immovable resistance) are best and much safer.

This type of isometric training doesn’t have a significant impact on muscle mass, however it can increase muscle density and myogenic tone (also called “tonus”, or the firmness/hardness of your muscles). Its main effect is on maximum strength development, and it occurs specifically at the joint angle being trained. So once again you’ll want to use multiple positions. There is also some evidence that maximum isometric training can improve the capacity to recruit and synchronize motor-units (intramuscular coordination) even in dynamic movements.

Even though overcoming-isometrics are best for this method, you can still use yielding-isometrics. In this case you would use a load of 100 to 110% of your maximum.

Here are the characteristics and parameters of this method:

Perceived effort/difficulty: moderate
Effect on structural elements (hypertrophy): low
Effect on functional elements (strength, power): high
Load: 100-110% of the concentric maximum if using yielding-isometrics
Number of reps per set: 3-6 seconds per set
Number of sets per exercise: 3-6 per position / 3+ positions per exercise
Number of exercise: 1
Rest between sets: 30-90 seconds between sets

Ballistic isometric (dynamic effort method)

Be careful not to mix up iso-ballistic (or stato-ballistic) training with the ballistic isometric method. Iso-ballistic is a mixed regime method in which an explosive action is preceded by an isometric pause.

The ballistic isometric method refers to pushing against an immovable resistance for a very brief period of time (1-2 seconds) trying to reach peak force output as fast as possible (basically trying to go from 0 force to 100 force in 1 or 2 seconds).

You cannot use the yielding-isometric method here as it doesn’t suit the nature of the exercise. The nature being to produce maximum isometric tension is as little time as possible.

This type of exercise is especially good to develop starting-strength and is very useful for any athlete involved in a sport where explosive starts from a static position are involved.

Here are the characteristics and parameters of this method:

Perceived effort/difficulty: low
Effect on structural elements (hypertrophy): very low
Effect on functional elements (strength, power): high
Load: N/A
Number of reps per set: 1-2 seconds per set
Number of sets per exercise: 5-10 per position / 3+ positions per exercise
Number of exercise: 1
Rest between sets: 10-30 seconds between sets"

BTW, EMS training could also be classified as a form of isometric training.

BTW, the more research and experiments I conduct, the more I like isometric training. Especially mixed-regimen isometrics (the addition of various isometric pauses during a regular exercise).

Here are some protocoles that I’ve been using recently:

  1. Static hold + jump (various foot stances and depth)

  2. Static hold + jump squat (using 20% of bodyweight)

  3. Depth jump + hold (do a regular depth jump, on the second landing you hold the position for 60 seconds)

  4. Multiple holds at extreme position during a regular set (one pause at each rep, using 1-6 reps per set, the more reps I use, the shorter are the holds)

  5. All the following but for the upper body (either a plyo push up, ballistic bench or bench press depending on the drill).

Is it working? Well 4 weeks ago my max bench press was 170kg and my max squat was 220kg, on Monday I did 185/240 … obviously the 170 and 220 were lower than my all-time best and I was not training for limit strength at the time, but it’s still is an impressive improvement.

Sadly, because of a biceps injury I am not able to do snatches and clean at the moment.