If you’ve ever dedicated your time to lifting weights, chasing personal lifting records, or just trying to be the yolked guy at the gym, then you’ve inevitably hit some plateaus in your training. It happens to everybody. Months go by and no matter what you do, you can’t seem to get any stronger or bigger. You try some new exercises that you saw on Youtube, you add more volume and even start changing up your pre-workout drink. Still, nothing improves.
Want my secret weapon for finally blasting through those plateaus?
Good ol’ isometrics, my friends!
What are isometrics? An isometric contraction is a form of exercise in which the joint angle and muscle length do not change during the contraction. You can learn more in this blog we did a few weeks ago.
Today, I’ll share some ideas on how to use isometrics to squeeze out just a little more volume at the end of an exercise, blast through certain parts of your big lifts and prime your nervous system to lift some big weight.
MORE WORK, LESS VOLUME
A lot of people think that adding more sets to each exercise is the only way to break through a training plateau, get stronger or build muscle.
Instead of adding even more volume than you’re probably doing, try performing some isometric holds at the end of your last working set to squeeze out just a little more intensity. Holding at the top of the contraction will give your body some extra stimulus without causing too much stress and damage that comes with more working sets.
I love doing these for pulling exercises. Let’s say your doing dumbbell rows and you’re on the last set. Instead of just dropping the dumbbell, hold the top portion of the row for 10 seconds to squeeze out some more volume in your training. Or, when you’re on the last set of pull-ups and you know you can’t get any more full reps, simply hold on for dear life at the top of the movement with the bar in front of your chest for 10 seconds.
I’m not going to lie. They’re not always fun but you can do them for pretty much any exercise and see awesome results.
Anyone who’s ever spent considerable time performing the big 3 lifts (squat, deadlift, and bench), knows there are certain parts of each lift that can be very troublesome. Take the bench for instance. How many times have you been stuck with the bar about 2-3 inches above your chest? Or with the deadlift, it’s that spot just below your knees. And in the squat, it’s just below parallel. With isometrics, we can blast through these specific points because you’re training at the sticking point, basically, turning your weakness into a strength. All it takes is a little creativity in your setup and boom, your now blasting through those sticky spots.
Let’s take a look at how this works with the bench. Set your bench inside a power rack and have the bar set up so that it’s sitting 2-3 inches off your chest. With more weight on the bar than your one rep max, take your bench setup and begin to press that bar as hard as you can for 5-6 seconds. Take a break for about 2-4 minutes and then get back under that bar with about 80% of your 1 rep max and work on moving that bar as fast as humanly possible through that point where the isometric was performed. After the isometric contraction, the bar will now feel like a tooth pick and you’ll be on your way to blasting through all of your sticking points. Perform this sequence between 3-5 times for the best benefit.
PRIME YOUR NERVOUS SYSTEM
My good friend Chris Chamberlin (instagram @savageprotocols), introduced me to this next concept. He calls it priming the nervous system for what you’re about to do. His actual words were, “Turning your sh.. on before you lift heavy things”. The first time I tried this technique was during deadlifts. We used a mobility stick, placed it about mid-shin height under safety racks, and pulled like hell for 5 seconds. 60 seconds later I pulled my deadlift with lightning speed. I wish I could tell you in more detail why it works but trust me this concept is worth exploring in your own training.
My best guess is that you’re putting yourself in an environment that is similar to the exercise you’re about to perform without fatiguing yourself too much. You’re developing comfort and stability in an uncomfortable place. When you get done with the isometric, you feel like you just got electrocuted (in a good way), and you’re now ready to do something physical.
Another variation of this concept we’ve used is sitting in the bottom of the squat pressing a mobility stick up into the rig or ceiling to try to create maximal tension throughout your core and legs. The great thing is that you can let your creativity run wild with how you can apply this concept.
If you’re stuck in a rut with your training, try some of these ideas out and let me know how it goes. And remember guys, be strong (isometrically), be mobile!
ABOUT COACH MATT PIPPIN
Matt is a Strength and Mobility Coach with over 15 years experience in his field and has coached over a thousand professional, collegiate and everyday athletes with the goal to help them move, feel and perform at their highest level. He's incredibly passionate about bringing simple and effective online mobility training programs to everyone who wants to take control of their self care and make lasting change. CLICK HERE to learn more.
NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist
Level 3: Fascial Stretch Specialist
Level 1: Institute of Motion Health Coach
Certified FRC Mobility Specialist (FRCms)
Level 1 Kinstretch Instructor
Weck Method Qualified