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Isometric Training For Strength

Break through your sticking points and maximize gains with isometric training.

What do a bodybuilding pose, a strongman crucifix hold and an MMA Thai clinch have in common? They all produce an immense amount of force without causing a change in muscle length. By incorporating isometrics into your training, it’s possible to harness this power to blast through your sticking points quickly and easily.

When you’re lifting a weight, your ability to produce force can change, depending on where the barbell is in your range of motion. Sticking points happen because of decreases in force production, so what we’re looking for here is a localized strengthening effect that gives you that force where you need it most — at the sticking point itself.

How It Works

The idea is to pull or push a barbell as hard as you can against the pins in a power rack for five to six seconds. Performing isometrics this way will strengthen the range of motion within 15 degrees of the joint angle you’re training, directly targeting your sticking points.

By pushing as hard as possible against a static force in a weak region, you’re overloading that region while training your central nervous system (CNS) to be aggressive. With most lifts, you’re producing maximal force against the barbell for about a third of a second. With isometrics, you’ll be producing maximal force for five seconds — and research has shown that 15 percent more force can be produced isometrically.

That’s 15 percent more force, 15 times longer.

How It’s Done

Begin by lifting a barbell to the pins in a power rack (make sure it’s bolted to the floor), set at the region you want to specifically target. Produce maximal force against the pins for five seconds. This works best when you’re using a rack with two sets of pins — one that the weighted bar rests on and the second set that you push against. (If you only have one pair of pins, be sure to use an empty bar when benching and squatting.) Don’t start at the point where the isometric contraction will take place — there needs to be some dynamic movement pre- and post-contraction. You want to visualize ripping the bolts from the floor and pushing the rack through the roof.

Next, wait two to five minutes, then perform a set with 60 to 80 percent of your one-rep max for one to three reps moving the bar as quickly as possible. You’ll feel more explosive than ever before because of something called the post-activation potentiation (PAP) effect. As legendary Soviet strength-training coach Yuri Verkhoshansky explained, “It’s like lifting a half can of water when you think it’s full.” Maximal eccentrics elicit this PAP effect, so when you apply more force to your weakest points, then more force on the lift you’re training, it’s an advantageous situation all around.

I’ve seen the best results, both for myself and with clients, using isometrics with the overhead press, squat, bench press and deadlift. Figure out where your sticking points are, set the pins in the power rack accordingly and push for all you’re worth. Finally, limit your isometric work to six to eight weeks at a time, then take a week or two off. This is a very intense method that you don’t want to use too often, or for too long.