The ultimate isometric exercise guide

The Ultimate Isometrics Manual is a paradise for nerds, at least for this nerd. From the head of Paul Wade, author of Convict Conditioning, published by Dragon Door, this extensive 462-page book that provides the most complete overview of isometric training possible.

Isometrics is about being easily accessible yet outside of a dedicated group of practitioners, not something that gets a lot of press. It’s a shame because isometrics has wide applicability to all strength training populations, including beginners and seniors. That’s because isometric exercises force you to stay on track. By that I mean, they are not like lifting a barbell or dumbbell unless you can over- or under-load an isometric set and the overall risk of injury is much lower than with traditional exercises. Isometric training is only as effective as the exertion, and the exertion can only be felt if you are properly positioned to create the required tension. That doesn’t mean you can’t screw up an isometric exercise, but you do need to be pretty motivated to do something wrong.

What is isometric exercise?

Isometric training relies solely on creating tension with concentric contraction of the muscle against an immovable object. This object can be a device like the Isochain, it can be a door jamb, and it can be your own body. Every discussion about isometry refers without exception to the groundbreaking study by Hettinger and Müller from 1953 (muscle performance and muscle training). The German researchers found that a single daily exertion of two-thirds of a person’s maximum exertion for six seconds each for ten weeks increased strength by about five percent per week.

Melody Schoenfeld wrote on these pages that isometry works at a standstill or uses force against resistance without changing the muscle length. For example, hold a lock of biceps at a 90-degree angle for 30 seconds. Logan Christopher wrote about the legendary strong man Alexander Zass, who was a big proponent of isometric exercise and believed the secret to isometric exercise was that it stored energy rather than dissipating it and that it enabled him to resist against very strong resistance work to build his stamina. Zass had little access to weightlifting equipment in his life. He was a strong man who bent bars and broke chains. Bruce Lee was also known for his isometric work, as mentioned in Bruce Lee’s 3-Minute Workout by Shane Trotter.

Unpack the secrets of static training

In 1953, Hetting and Müller conducted pioneering research into isometric training

Let’s get the biggest criticism of this book out of the way: It’s a bit of an exaggeration to promote Isochain, an expensive isometric exercise machine that isn’t featured here and isn’t needed to enjoy this book or develop it any further. You’d think Paul Wade, the guy who’s behind no machine training, would be less inclined to push a machine, but to be honest, his publishers should have addressed that one little mistake of the book better. To put it in perspective, this e-book costs just under ten dollars and has a lot of great information and exercises that the Isochain doesn’t need. I’ll be generous and give the Isochain infomercial about 50 pages of overexposure, which leaves about 400 pages of other material.

Otherwise I stand by my nerding-out statement. I have an isometric training reference. I have enough information to make an intelligent decision about its effectiveness, and I have many examples of isometric exercise use. More importantly, there is enough information here to justify how isometric training can increase weight and reduce the risk of injury. I asked an older friend of mine, someone who is quite sedentary, to try 10 minutes a day on a series of isometric exercises that I improvised for him during the lockdown while he was working from home. Based on my sample of one, the effects of phenomenal. Whether it was the 10 minutes a day that were only part of the routine, or the actually noticeable gains in strength that he experienced, my friend was sold and actually went to the book himself.

Like everything in the fitness industry, there are cycles, fads, and fashions. Isometric exercises are not in vogue or fashionable, but they may require a refresher cycle and require modern appreciation. Paul Wade’s book may be all you need to brush up on your isometrics.

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