Increase Your Strength Levels and Home Workout Intensity by Adding in Isometric Holds!

If you are struggling with adding intensity to your home-workouts, consider adding in isometric holds that precede each of your strength moves. This method will pre-exhaust the working muscles, which will subsequently increase your strength levels (due to the added muscle fiber recruitment) and the overall intensity of your workouts.

A downfall of bodyweight workouts is, the natural tendency to make them harder is to perform them “faster.” While this concept can be great for increasing your heart rate, it more than likely just leads to form breakdown- which makes you miss out on increasing your strength levels. The quicker you go through most strength moves, the less you’ll pay attention to the details of the exercise. Therefore, consider adding in isometric holds, which will allow you to increase the intensity of your workout, without sacrificing the integrity of the strength movement.

What is an Isometric Hold?

An isometric hold is when there is no positive or negative to the movement. You are holding a position for a pre-determined amount of time. The key to maximizing the benefits of an isometric move however, is to focus on developing a great “mind muscle connection.” During an isometric hold, you should be extremely aware of what muscles you are working, and maintaining peak contraction of them the entire set- when you lose the ability to contract or “Flex” the muscle you should be working, that is when your set should be done.

For example, if you are holding a Wall Sit, don’t just go through the motion of loosely holding the position. Instead, focus on squeezing your glutes and quads during the entire set. This will greatly increase the intensity of the isometric hold, which will then increase the difficulty of your body weight strength move to follow. From a scientific perspective, this concept of muscle activation will also force you to recruit more muscle fibers during your subsequent strength move- ultimately resulting in greater strength gains!

The ISO Home Workout

You will notice this workout is different than every other Home Workout I’ve put out the last few weeks. There is an explicit focus on increasing strength in this workout, so accordingly this will not be done in a timed, circuit fashion. Each of the exercises are broken up into tri-sets (3 exercises in a row), with corrective mobility as the third exercise in each set. Rather than prescribe exact reps or times for many of these, I put a range. Find where you fit within that range, as it covers everyone from basic to advanced. Pay close attention to your form, and if the isometric holds get particularly ugly, stop the set. Remember, this is about muscle activation- not a contest to see who can hold the position the longest. Quality over quantity is KEY when training isometrically.

(As usual, some of the following moves might not be right for everyone, so if you need a regression, e-mail me, or comment on the blog below and I’ll offer you some suggestions!)

Parameters:

  • 15 Total Exercises (Perform in recommended tri-sets)
  • Work: Perform the sets, reps and timed holds as individually prescribed
  • Rest Time: 30-90 seconds between sets- NONE between exercises
  • Number of Sets- 4 (per tri-set- complete all 4 sets of each tri-set BEFORE moving on)

* (BE SURE to complete a warm up prior to jumping into this workout. For some bodyweight warm-up options, click here!)

Exercises

1. Split Lunge ISO Hold (Hold only one side per set- next set do the opposite) – 4 x 10-30 seconds

Assume your standard split lunge position, and drop to the point where your back knee is hovering just above the ground. Hold that low position, and think about driving your front heel “through the floor.”

1a. Split Lunge (FULL ROM- Same side you just ISO held for)- 4 x 10-20 reps

With your chest up and back straight, perform full reps in your Split Lunge position. The back knee should get as close to the ground as you can, and your front knee should remain soft at the top of the ROM. Keeping the front knee “soft” will allow the tension to remain on the front quad and glute.

1b. Pigeon Stretch– 4 x 30 s. each side

Pull your knee to your chest and slide your foot through to the opposite side. Focus on nice big breathing during this stretch and really try to “sink” into the glute that’s being stretched (in this video that would be be my left glute)

2. Split Stance Wall Push– 4 x 10 – 30 seconds (switch lead leg each set)

Get against a sturdy wall (or if you’re outside a tree would work too!) and assume a split stance position, and simply push as hard as you can. As you’re pushing, think about flexing your chest, shoulders and abs as hard as you can- almost to the point you’re shaking. (Next set, switch your lead foot in your split stance position)

2a. Push-Up w/ Lateral Crawl– 4 x 3-10 e. side

This move might take a few reps to get coordinated with, so TAKE YOUR TIME! First, hit a standard push-up- ideally with your elbows tucked at about 45 degrees. Once you’re in the top of your push-up position, crossover your outside hand IN FRONT of your inside hand and simultaneously step with your inside foot (so your feet never cross!). The key here is as you step, make sure you maintain proper Push-Up Position. The natural tendency will be for your butt to fly up in the air, to relieve some tension from your upper body. Fight to keep your hips down the entire time! For your tempo, focus on performing an explosive push-up, and strive to make the “handwalk” steady and smooth.

2b. T-Spine Extension– 4 x 30 s. each side

Put your hand behind your head then bring your elbow down to your opposite elbow- tap them- then open up as high as you can without “wrenching” your back to gain extra ROM. Think about “opening your shoulder blade” more so than opening your elbow- the goal here is to loosen your thoracic spine, so the elbow is just along for the ride. Also, be sure to follow your elbow with your eyes at the top of the move, which will allow for a less-restricted ROM.

3. Wall Sit– 4 x 30 – 60 seconds

Assume a 90 degree squat position on a sturdy wall and simply hold. As you’re holding this position be sure to focus on driving your heels through the ground, as well as flexing your glutes, quads and abs.

3a. Body Weight Squat (Full ROM)– 4 x 10 – 25 reps

3b. Bird Dog– 4 x 10 e. side (2 s. holds)

4. Single Leg Glute Bridge Hold (Hold only one side per set- next set do the opposite)- 4 x 10 – 30 seconds

Assume a single leg glute bridge position, making sure your foot is about 6 inches from your butt. Next, slightly raise the toes of the working leg off the ground, to full emphasize “driving through the heel.” Then, without arching your lower back, drive the hips up as high as you can, and simply hold that position. Maintaining the mind-muscle connection of driving through your heel the entire set.

4a. BW Single Arm Single Leg RDL’s– (FULL ROM- Same side you just ISO held for- If your left leg was on the ground for your single leg glute bridge, then your left leg stays on the ground for your single leg RDL)- 4 x 10 – 20 reps

Take your time with this move, and ideally get in front of a mirror to provide a visual form check. The key here is your Back position. Notice my back remains relatively flat throughout the ROM, with my shoulder blade retracted in place. My back leg works like a pendulum and is actually what drops my hand down- as opposed to thinking about “reaching” towards my opposite foot. Once you start “reaching,” as opposed to letting your back leg drop you, you will lose your proper back position. To aid in this cue, put a towel under your arm, which will force you to keep the shoulder blades retracted. Finally, don’t be obsessed with touching your toe, or your shin or anything like that. Just drop your hand until you feel like you can’t keep your back straight anymore. This ROM will improve as your hamstring flexibility and strength improve. (To make this move more challenging don’t let your foot touch at the top either- this will keep tension on your glutes and hamstrings.)

4. 1/2 Kneeling Adductor Stretch– 4 x 30 s. each side

5. RKC Plank– 4 x 20-30 s.

5a. Reverse Crunch– 4 x 30 s.

5b. Dead Bug– 4 x 30 s. (SLOW Reps)

Get your knees bent at 90 degrees and your arms up straight. Before you move either side, make sure your lower back is firmly in contact with the ground. Then SLOWLY, extend your opposite arm with your opposite leg, and bring them both back to your center position (breathing out as you pull back to center) before you move to the next side. Take your time with this move, it’s low-intensity core work, with an extremely high level of body coordination.

Final Thoughts

As your home workout routine starts to feel stale, it is imperative to add in methods such as isometric holds to not only spice up the workout, but also give your muscles an added stimulus. Avoid the usual pitfall of merely performing your body weight workout “quicker.” You’ll actually wind up getting less out of that method long-term, than if you employ a pre-exhaustive tactic such as isometric holds- where you’ll get stronger.

Also keep in mind, that implementing the concept of isometric holds as a pre-exhaustive measure, is a valuable tool to possess for when gyms re-open. This is a method that will serve you extremely well in the weight room as well!

Stay safe, healthy and tuned for more workouts to come!

Yours in Fitness and Health,

TC

Your Final Reward Will Be Heartache and Tears, If You’ve Cheated the Guy in the Glass. 

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