Gain strength without using a muscle

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

Isometric training is by far one of the most forgotten methodologies in today’s world of human movement. Isometrics involve creating tension in a muscle without actually moving or changing the length of the muscle being contracted. Think about a plank, probably one of the most underrated core exercises known to man and a great example of an isometric movement.

Athletes that train with this method the most I would assume, are gymnasts. There are two types of isometrics, passive and active. Passive contractions involve holds and stances, whereas active isometrics involve you having to exert force in order to fatigue your muscles. Gymnasts are known for their incredible active strength on the rings, moving between rings and static positions requires incredible joint, ligament and muscle strength. A perfect example of the power of this approach to exercise. Needless to say their ownership of some of the most incredible physiques in sport.

Now there is an ongoing debate amongst lifters, gym goers and fit folk surrounding the “burn” of isometrics vs weight training and what is more effective when it comes to “fat burn” and “toning”.

We know that lifting weights emphasizes muscle strength, muscle size and improved movement and a result of this is increased caloric expenditure and increased post oxygen consumption resulting in increased fat burn.  

Weight training builds incredible strength throughout the body. When movements are performed correctly. Correct technique means better muscle recruitment. The more muscle recruited, for instance, with the squat, we are using our glutes, abs, quads, back, hamstrings but only when technique is good. Incorrect technique in the squat may just recruit the quads meaning the knees are being set up for injury. The more muscle recruitment of the larger muscles the bigger the muscle growth result, the higher the rate of fat burn, and often more than isometrics has been commonly shown to do.

Performing big exercises incorrectly and displaying bad technique will not result in the same responses, whereas isometric exercises leave less room for incorrect technique, recruiting of large muscle groups and resulting in increased fat burn.

Could isometric contractions and training be better than weight training on account of this? On both counts, unfortunately not. Find a gymnast who has done isometric training for years and can hold an an easy ‘iron cross’. On the contrary, find a powerlifter who can squat 350kgs and upward, but may have trouble holding a plank for 10 minutes.

Those looking to increase strength and burn fat should be incorporating both methodologies into their training. Rather than taking sides, a combination of the both should be considered for all the benefits not just the fat burn.

Weight training recruits big muscles, transfers power though joints and increases caloric burn. Isometrics train stability whilst giving benefits to movements. Adopting them both means getting the best of both worlds. Having your cake and eating it. Except don’t eat the cake and blunt the burn.

Isometrics are an extremely effective tool for improving overall strength and performance and are a great addition to a fat loss program when done in conjunction with exercises that involve power output and resistance.

Weight training (more specifically, powerlifting) isometrics and an intelligent approach to nutrition has been my own personal answer to maintaining a year round body fat percentage of 12% and enabled me to be 365 strong.

These 3 methods will allow you to reach a whole new level physically over a shorter period of time. I have done it for me, and the hundreds of ladies under my watch. However, understand that correct programming of these exercises are a key component, with the correct application they can make your training more effective than ever!

New to strength training? Download the Squat Manual

Learn the technique, training and tips for mastering the squat movement.

Lil Kimble

Lil Kimble

Owner of OTG ATHLETIC, Precision Nutrition Certified and ISSA Certified Strength & Conditioning Coach. Lil is driven by her pursuit to empower men and women both mentally and physically through strength training.

Read this next