If you don’t know who Alexander Zass is then you, my friend, are in for a ride.
Alexander Zass was a Russian strongman who is known to have extraordinary strength and has some amazing feats of strength under his belt, from carrying an injured horse in wartime to suspending a piano from his teeth.
However, what really made this strongman famous was the fact that despite being captured four times as the prisoner of war, he managed to escape each time. The most popular escape, involved him breaking his chains and bending the bars in which he was held. Sounds impressive, right?
Zass wasn’t your regular powerlifter; he built his extraordinary strength using isometric exercises. According to Zass, the key to building up this kind of strength is to focus on your hands and wrist. Powerful tendons is what separates a strongman from a normal person.
While the legend was a living proof of what isometric workouts can do you for, there are a lot of misconceptions around this style of workout.
Nowadays, isometric workouts are generally used in strength and muscle recovery after an injury or almost exclusively by Pilates trainers. However, the applications can be much more diverse. From power lifters to climbers to wrestlers, doing the right isometric exercises can help you break plateaus and hit the next level of fitness.
No single style of workout is the ultimate solution and each comes with it’s own sets of benefits and drawbacks. However, if you’re not integrating isometric exercises in your workout routine, then you are missing out on a lot of benefits that come with it.
What are isometric Exercises?
At a macro level, there are three ways in which a muscle can be put under tension. Contractions, relaxation and exerting or resisting force without any actual movement. Isometric exercises are static exercises in which there is no or little movement involved.
Imagine, holding a dumbbell at a 90% angle from your body or holding a push up position half-way down for an extended period of time. One of the most common isometric exercises that you’re probably already familiar with is the plank.
Now while all isometric workouts will help you develop strength, there are two ways you can go about it and one way is more effective than the other.
1. Active Workouts : These are the workouts in which you are exerting force either against a counter force or an immovable object. The intensity levels are generally high in these type of workouts.
2. Passive : Holding a position or resisting a force are passive isometric workouts.
Isometric Workouts Vs Conventional Strength Training : Which one is better?
I figured that you might be wondering the same and here’s the short answer.
It isn’t really a fair comparison since both styles of training will help you accomplish different abilities and just focusing on one style of workout is rather limiting your ability when you can create a more versatile workout routine and get the best of both worlds.
You can train using the conventional weight lifting methods to strengthen your core muscles and use the isometrics to strengthen your tendons.
As a quick example, consider Bud Jeffries, the man who squat 1000 lbs useing isometric workouts to regain his strength while recovering from an old running injury and he’s back doing 600lb Zercher squats.
Top 5 UpperBody Isometric Workouts
Isometric-Explosive Push Up
Get in the standard push-up plan position. Slowly lower your body till your chest is 2 inches from the ground. Hold for a few seconds and then prepare to push back up. While pushing yourself back, extend your hands as far as possible and you should be quick while doing this.
Side Dumbbell Isometric Hold
Bigger delts, anyone?
Stand with your feet lined with your shoulders. Hold two dumbbells. Slowly, bring the dumbbells up and hold the position for 30-45 seconds. Make sure you can feel your delts being fully engaged.
Isometric Pull up
Hold the bar wide with your palms facing away from your body. Start the pull up as you’d normally do, once you reach the peak hold the position for 20-30 seconds and then slowly get back to the starting position.
To make it more intense, consider adding weights. You can either wear a weight belt or hold a dumbbell between your legs.
Isometric Chest Squeeze
Bend your arms at 90 degrees and put your palms together. Now push your palms against each other as you contract your chest.
Start with a lower intensity and increase with time. Hold for 45-60 seconds and then release the tension.
Isometric Overhead Shoulder Press
You can either sit or stand, as your starting position. Hold the dumbbells at a 90-degree angle, press one dumbbell at a time while maintaining the original position for the other dumbbell.
If the workout gets too intense, you can engage your glutes and core to assist with the press.
5 Lower Body Isometric Workouts
Hold a chair position with your back against the wall. This exercise will workout your quads, core, calves and back. You can even engage your shoulders by holding your hands out parallel to the ground while performing the exercise.
Straight Leg hold
You might want to sit down for this one (pun intended).
Anyway, sit down on a comfortable chair and extend your legs (one at a time) until it’s parallel to the ground. Hold for 30-60 seconds and the repeat with the other leg.
Isometric Hamstring Curl
This one work’s best if you’ve got a set of resistance bands with you.
Attach one end of the resistance band to a wall or a door and the other end to your feet.
Next, sit down on a chair and curl your feet as back as you can. Hold the position for 30-60 seconds and then repeat with the other leg.
Start with doing the normal lunge, as soon as you hit the lowest point where your thighs are parallel to the ground, hold for 30-60 seconds and then repeat with the other leg.
Start with a normal squat and Hold the squat position for 30-60 seconds. To intensify the exercise, you can either hold a dumbbell in your hands or do a pistol squat (one-legged) instead of the regular one.
5 Core Isometric Workouts
Hold the plank position for as long as possible. Ideally, 90-180 seconds.
This workout can be a little hard if you aren’t used to working your abs out. However, start with small duration and increase as you improve your core strength.
To do the banana, lie down on your back, extend your arms near your head and keep your feet close together. Now push your lower back into the ground and lift your hands and feet to create a banana-like shape.
If the hold is too intense, you can bend your knees a little or lift your legs a little higher to maintain the hold.
Hold the position for as long as you can, take a 30-45 second break and repeat.
Dip Hold w/ legs raised
Hold the dip bars and lift your body. Push your chest out and make sure you’re not shrugging your shoulders. Now, to intensify the hold, pull your legs up till they are parallel to the ground, hold for 3-5 seconds and then go back to the starting position.
Glute Bridge Hold
A key mistake when training your core is to not focus on your glutes. Apart from being a major muscle group, your glutes helps you to run faster, lift heavier and utilize your core at peak levels. Fortunately, The Glute bridge hold is one of the best isometric exercises to strengthen this major muscle group.
To do the Glute bridge hold, lie down on your back with your feet flat on the ground. Make sure your feet are hips-width apart. Bring your feet in just so they can barely touch your hands.
Hold your hands at a 90-degree angle to the ground and lift your hips up using your feet, upper-back and arms to exert the required force.
Squeeze your abs & glutes and hold for 30-60 seconds. Make sure that you are engaging your core and your glutes, if you feel pain or discomfort in any other part of the body, do not continue with the hold.
Lie on your left-side with your knees straight. Bend your arm at a 90-degree angle to your body and use it to lift and hold your upper body. Lift your hips as high as you can, hold for 30-45 seconds then repeat with the other side.