Monday, 8 April 2013

Isometrics for Strength

Firstly let's briefly go over the different ways in which our muscles contract:
Concentric Contraction - Where a muscle contracts as it shortens (eg. bicep while lifting a weight during bicep curl)
Eccentric Contraction - Where a muscle contracts as it gets longer (eg. bicep while lowering a weight during bicep curl)
Isometric Contraction - Where a muscle contracts without shortening, lengthening or moving any of the bones attached to the muscle (eg. pushing against a wall or trying to lift something too heavy for you to move)

Now I'm a big fan of Isometric Contractions (static holds) as part of my training, particularly holding at the top of a pull up movement and holding the bottom of a press up movement (chest off the ground obviously).
In fact I've been holding these positions as part of my general conditioning for as long as I can remember (having a Pilates instructor as a mother is partly to blame) so when I started introducing clients to these holds I was surprised at how difficult they found them.

When I recently read an article by Superlife Nutrition co-founder Stephen Kirlew, I was pleased to see that he was all for the use of Isometric contractions:
"Your muscles make up approximately 60 -70% of your body's power" says Stephen, "the rest comes from the tendons which are often neglected when training." Tendons are tough, flexible bands of tissue that connect muscles to bones and are extremely strong. "I weigh 176lbs and can lift more than guys double my size because my power comes from a combination of muscles and tendons and a lot of these huge guys don't realise that."
Stephen is British armwrestling champion, so he knows a thing or two about pushing against an immovable force.

A massive plus point in strengthening tendons is that you gain strength without adding any bulk.
I know this is definitely something that's of interest to my female clients.

So, in keeping with trying to increase your strength without adding bulk. Here's some challenges for you to train your tendons;
- Hold at the top of a pull up, at least chin above bar. Hold until failure or 20 seconds, whichever comes first.
- Hold at the bottom of a press up, chest 1" above the ground. Hold until failure or for 60 seconds,whichever comes first.
- Perform a barbell bicep curl with your usual weight (comfortable 6 - 8 reps) and hold the bar with your forearms parallel to the floor until failure or 30 seconds, whichever comes first.

You might be surprised at how difficult these challenges are.
If they're tough, try putting them into your regular workout to strengthen out these weaknesses.

Let me know how you get on.

Full article by Stephen Kirlew:

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