Above the legendary Alexander Zass
Isometric exercise or isometrics are a type of strength training in which the joint angle and muscle length do not change during contraction (compared to concentric or eccentric contractions, called dynamic/isotonic movements). The term "isometric" combines the Greek words "Isos" (equal) and "metria" (measuring). Isometrics are done in static positions, rather than being dynamic through a range of motion. If the reader is not well acquainted then they maybe familiar with The Plank which is one is one of the most popular isometric exercise. Although I was well aware of the use of isometric exercise by many martial artists and strongman I had never employed as a mainstay of my training until being introduced to that by my friend and old time Strong Man Martin Arjoon. It was suggested to me that I can try various isometric exercises in combination with other exercises as part of my overall strength training program. This I was advised would assist me in both my arm wrestling, steel bending, and general overall health. I have indeed seen improvements in all of the above areas. Isometrics was one of the main ways that legendary strongman and enigma Alexander Zass attained his strength, mainly by use of pulling or pushing against chains or when as a prisoner of war pulling at the steel bars of his cell, and finally making his escape. I would not recommend isometrics as the only form of exercise but personally it has improved my strength quickly with low injury risk and little cost. I still use dumbbells, training bands and other forms of exercise, but I would also highly advise adding isometrics to anyone's training routine. It can actually be done without the need for chains or other tools by just simply pushing and pulling at immovable objects. One of the main and probably only problem with isometrics is unless you are in possession of some kind of measuring device it is harder to chart progress compared to progressive overload where small changes in the weights say from 2.5 to 5kg can be seen. With isometrics it is a lot harder to see a quantitative improvements rather improvement is seen in qualitative to quantitative forms. This can in a rewarding way catch the exponent by surprise in such feats as bending a nail or metal bar which before was not possible (usually just at the time when he is not sure if he/she is progressing). Indeed an isometrics practitioners can be unaware of their own strength, until suddenly they shock themselves or others by performing some feat of strength they were not able to achieve before hand
How to get isometric resistance.
Resistance in isometric exercises typically involves contractions of the muscle using:
The body's own structure and ground. For example when pushing against the ground a press up action can be used but rather than the normal idea of a press up which is to push the ground off the body the goal here is to push your hand into the ground while holding the press up position. So the exponent is visualizing not pushing his body away from the floor but pushing the floor away from the body while holding in mid press up positions. If you wish to see this visually then you can check the video below.
Structural items (e.g., pushing against a fence) or as in the case of famous Indian strongman and undefeated wrestler the Great Gama who would push against a large tree on a daily basis. Pushing against a wall can also be used with equal effectiveness which could be especially useful if ever a person was unfortunate enough to be confined to a single room with now way to exercise other than the ground and the floor as in the case of Alexander Zass or who used the bars and walls of his cell to become phenomenally strong only later getting the idea of using chains when the guards fearful of his strength decided to chain him up.
Chains and Ropes
The use of Chains or ropes. It was Alexander Zass who populated the use of metal chains to practice isometric exercises and I personally feel that metal chains have been very useful in my training. Not only useful in building much greater strength but also in stress release and mental strength. When using the metal chain the exponent is literally imagining he/she is trying to break that chain. Although this is impossible for almost anyone to do so against a thick metal chain (maybe Alexander Zass and a few others excluded) it is the visualized goal. I would suggest in investing in padded gloves or fat gripz when using the chain as this will not only allow for protection of the hand but for greater pressure to be applied. Various chain exercises are shown above either by me or by old pictures of Alexander Zass. Or go to my YouTube channel to get a better idea.
Above picture of myself Doug Link using fat grips and chain.
In the modern day.
It is interesting to note that although Isometric exercises are thousands of years old often being used in certain branches of yoga or oriental martial artists has seen a decline in popularity in these areas. However, in western countries isometrics are often used even if unknowingly by physical culture enthusiasts; in fact body builders often use isometrics to build certain muscle groups . For example, during a set of dumbbell curls , a subject can hold their position in order to "squeeze" the bicep muscle to purposely work and isolate that muscle group. When body builders are in competition they also have to pose or show off certain muscle groups; this is usually done by contracting and holding that group at maximum tension in order to best show off its development to the judges. In fact to anyone who has tried body building they will tell you how exhausting it is to do posing routines. I'm certainly no body builder but I still do enjoy from time to time practicing posing routines as it is harder work that the unacquainted may realize. However some do not consider the way that body builders use isometrics as true isometrics but rather call it dynamic self-resistance. I would however consider that as a form of isometrics so therefore have included it here. Isometrics is often considered as a more of a compound (whole body work out) than isolation exercise (isolated muscle groups), but it can actually be used as both. When a body builder is contracting his muscle and holding it in a certain position it is also a form of isometrics used in isolation rather than the more traditional isometrics of using the mind to fire all the muscles necessary to achieve a certain task. Pressure-plate-type equipment that has a digital display of maximal force (this is a good way to help those who need some kind or quantitative rather than qualitative assessment of their improvement).
Comparison with dynamic exercises
Dynamic versus isometric. Often is thought that dynamic strength training is totally different to isometric however there is some major overlap into isometric exercise when using dynamic (isotonic) exercise. Every time a lift is performed especially with free weights other so called balancing muscles have to be employed to stabilize the body. Therefore the often heard maxim that Isometric training maximally increases strength over all joint angles the exercises whereas as dynamic exercises increase strength throughout the full range of motion, but with less risk of injury than weight training (no weights) is not totally accurate. As when a subject performs any sort of dynamic resistance training, many other muscle groups work isometrically. For example, the muscles of the core in a squat, the hamstrings in a stiff leg deadlift, the lats or upper back in a wide grip chin-up, and the muscles of the forearms in a dumbbell or barbell biceps curl all employ forms of isometric exercise on peripheral muscle groups.
A good common ground between Isometric and Isotonic exercise is found with the training band that allows constant resistance through an Isotonic exercise.