Overcoming Isometrics: The Ultimate Neural Hack for More Effective Workouts

bodyweight training isometrics matt schifferle May 06, 2024

-written by Coach Matt Schifferle

 Isometric training is any physical discipline that involves keeping your body in the same position. So instead of counting movements or reps, like with dynamic exercise, isometric training is done for time as you hold a given position.

You may be more familiar with what is known as yielding isometrics, where you hold your body in a position against a set level of resistance. Some of the most common examples include typical core work, like planks and L-sits or handstands.

The hollow body hold is a classic yielding isometric exercise where you hold yourself in position against the pull of gravity.

Yielding isometric training can be a useful discipline; however, it causes you to relate to a source of resistance (in this case, gravity) in much the same way you would with classic dynamic exercises. As such, it can be quite difficult to avoid any subliminal neural compensation habits. Yielding isometrics are a great strength and muscle building tool, but can still fall short of being a proper neural training tool.

You may be able to hold a yielding isometric for a long time, but what’s happening to the quality of your technique to make that happen?

Overcoming isometrics is unique in the fact that you don't work against an external source of resistance like gravity or resistance bands. Instead, you apply force against an immovable object, which creates resistance directly proportional to your muscle tension. This scenario creates the perfect environment for developing optimal neuromuscular proficiency.

The Overcoming Isometrics Advantage For Training Your Neural Connection

The primary objective for most exercises is to accomplish the act of doing the exercise. Again, this is primarily due to the assumption that the mind automatically knows how to best use your muscles in order to accomplish the task at hand.

Nevertheless, the theory is that you'll get the results you want if you just do the right exercises, lift the right weight, or follow the right program. Therefore, the objective of each rep, set, and workout quickly becomes about doing the work as opposed to how well you're using your muscles. This assumption can be easy to make, but even the best workout won't produce the results you want if you lack neuromuscular proficiency.

These days, it's very fashionable to just perform the activity with as much effort as possible instead of considering technical proficiency. The idea is that anyone can achieve excellent results if they are only willing to work hard enough. Different people measure their effort in different ways. Some people strive to lift as much weight as they can, or perform as many reps as possible. Others use speed and a quick pace to jack up their heart rate and work up a good sweat.

A hard effort is essential to your success, but results are contingent upon having a decent amount of neuromuscular proficiency while you apply that effort.

If your neuromuscular proficiency is lacking, you may be doing more harm than good since a high degree of effort and intensity can reinforce dysfunctional neuromuscular habits. The harder you push, the more you reinforce your bad habits and muscle imbalances. This ingrained neural compensation is often why some people experience a jump in their results when they back off on their workout intensity and lift a bit lighter, cut back on volume, or slow down their pace.

Overcoming isometrics avoids all of this potential compensation because the objective isn't to hit some ego-driven metric or to be satisfied with merely wearing yourself out. Instead, the focus of every overcoming isometric exercise is to improve how well you can engage and use your muscles at will. This seemingly small difference in mental focus can make a very large difference in steering your strength training into more productive territory.

The Overcoming Isometrics Advantage For Training Your Neural Synergy

It's almost impossible to ignore weaknesses and neural compensation with overcoming isometrics. The exercises in this book are like a massive spotlight that shouts, "OVER HERE! HERE'S SOMETHING YOU NEED TO TAKE CARE OF!"

Not only will such weaknesses become very apparent, but you'll naturally start to address those weaknesses through practicing basic overcoming isometric exercises.

This advantage is why overcoming isometrics can be the ultimate neural assessment and diagnostic tool for muscle imbalances and improving your neural synergy.

The Overcoming Isometrics Advantage For Training Your Neural Strength

I used to believe it was impossible to build a decent amount of strength with techniques that didn't involve any movement. I reasoned that contracting a muscle was what created a movement, therefore movement = strength. I now know I was very much mistaken in this regard. If anything, the best methods for building pure strength are the ones that involve less movement, not more.

The reason for this is due to something called the force-velocity principle in physiology. The basic idea is that the more tension you put in a muscle, the slower you move. This principle is why excessive tension in a muscle can be detrimental in sports that require a lot of speed like sprinting or punching. On the other hand, high-strength activities like powerlifting use a very slow rate of speed due to the high degree of muscle tension that's required to lift such impressive amounts of weight.

So the formula is simple, if you want to challenge your strength, you'll need to use methods that don't allow you to move at a high rate of speed. The slower you have to move, the more tension you'll have in the muscle. Naturally, the slowest speed you can move at is not to move at all, which is the case with isometric training. Once you eliminate the need to move through space, you remove the limitation of how much tension you can put into a muscle. You're free to contract your muscles as hard as you possibly can, which puts you on the fast lane to conditioning your neural strength.

As a side bonus, overcoming isometrics is also a very safe and comfortable way to create that level of tension. It can take a lot of time and practice to be able to safely and effectively develop near-maximum levels of tension with large amounts of weight.

Overcoming isometrics makes it much more comfortable, and safer for even rank beginners to push their muscles as hard as possible due to the lack of movement and external load.

The Overcoming Isometrics Advantage For Neural Endurance

Movement can also be a hindrance to developing your neuromuscular endurance. Once again, this is due to the force-velocity principle.

All physical movement requires at least some degree of strength, and you can only continue to perform a motion as long as your muscles can produce enough tension to do so. Once your muscles become too fatigued, you have to stop practicing the movement. The dichotomy between strength and endurance is why it's difficult to train simultaneously for strength and endurance. The more strength you use, the less time you can perform the exercise. If you want to perform an exercise for an extended period, you'll have to back off how much tension you're using in your muscles.

Overcoming isometrics doesn't require movement, which means you'll never reach a state of muscular failure where you have to discontinue an exercise. You can now work your muscles very hard while also maintaining tension for long periods thus allowing you to work on generating maximum tension and maximum endurance at the same time.

All four of these advantages add up to make overcoming isometrics one hell of a neural training powerhouse. It's a simple and highly efficient training method that automatically adjusts to your exact level of fitness and present physical condition. It seamlessly optimizes your neural connection, synergy, strength, and stamina all at the same time. Couple those advantages to the fact that you can train overcoming isometric exercises every day, and you have a method for quickly creating a significant amount of progress.

When you look at it, overcoming isometrics may very well be the single most efficient training method in existence. Nothing else requires so little time, skill, energy, effort, or equipment while also providing such a wide range of benefits. It almost seems crazy not to do them.


This is an excerpt from Coach Matt Schifferle's ebook, Overcoming Isometrics.


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