When we talk about human movement there are three main motions that we must focus on. They are concentric, eccentric, and isometric. Concentric is the motion of the distal ends of the muscles moving closer to one another. Eccentric is the distal ends moving away from one another. Isometric is the term we use to describe no change in joint angle. In relation to a common movement like the squat, concentric is the way up, eccentric is reference to the way down. Many consider eccentrics to be “negatives”, although this isn’t always the case, it is a simple way to look at it. When it comes to the squat or other movements, most people are aware of the first two but few are aware of the third which is isometric. If one is going to be the best athlete they can be they must train all three.
What are isometrics? Isometrics means that there is no change in joint angle. So, in order to perform true isometrics, you must first find a way to prevent yourself from moving. In a squat, you can set a spotter’s arms above your bar and drive the bar into the spotter’s arms on the way up. You can do the same on the deadlift. These will prevent the bar from traveling any further and fixate the knee and hip angle. Ideally you will set the pins at your weakest portion of your deadlift and pull the bar all the way to this point and keep pulling as hard as possible into the pins. A common fault seen here is the athlete will just hold the bar at the sitter’s arms or pins. In order to truly do isometrics you must keep driving the bar into the pins and spotter. A less ideal way to train isometric will be to do pause squats or pause deadlifts. The downside to this method is it doesn’t train true isometrics as the muscles begin to experience fatigue. As the muscles fatigue your body will change positions and then you lose the effect of the isometric hold since now you are in a different position. With all this said, don’t overuse isometrics. Isometrics are all part of a big picture in strength and conditioning. Because of the stress that is put on the body the body does become sore very quickly from doing these types of movements. I typically train isometrics once a week. Properly done isometrics will make you a stronger athlete.
Now that we know how to do isometrics, I’ll explain why we do isometrics. Even though it is not the most important part of a movement or something that should be over-trained, it is imperative to still be trained and its importance cannot be overlooked. One thing that people fail to realize is that when you squat there is a split second between the eccentric portion (down) and the concentric portion (up) when there’s an isometric pause. There has to be this pause because in order for the body to reverse direction the body must first stop. This is the absolute worst position the body can be in while in a squat. The more comfortable you are isometrically, when you are stuck in this “uncomfortable” position you will have the ability to overcome and keep driving through until you complete the lift. When it comes to the Olympic lifts, the snatch and the clean and jerk, I can now use isometrics to adjust a person’s positioning to put an athlete in a more ideal position. By using these isometrics I can have the athlete put full force into the bar yet still have the athlete adjust the hips or shoulders or even make them shift the weight on their feet to get them to become aware of their positioning. As most coaches and athletes know, Olympic lifting is a sport all about positioning. It doesn’t matter how strong you are, if you are out of position you will never be able to perform at your peak levels.
Isometrics are a valuable tool in a coach’s tool box. When properly done, isometrics will help an athlete not only get stronger but also get comfortable in ideal positions. Whether it’s squats, pulls, or presses building strong isometric contraction will help you become a stronger athlete.