SESSION NOTES: Relative Stamina (825)
In ten minutes accumulate as much time as possible in the following two static holds, swapping movements each time a set is broken. Scale so movements are similar difficulty. Ring push-up support hold (with turn-out), chin over bar hold.
Isometric training is a style of exercise that involves holding a static position (as opposed to concentric training, where the muscle goes through a ‘shortening contraction’ or eccentric training, where the muscle goes through a ‘lengthening contraction’.
There are a range of benefits of isometric training that are unique to this style of muscle contraction type.
This session contains an even balance of ‘pull’ and ‘push’ based exercises, with a heavy requirement to stabilise and brace the muscles involved in flexing the trunk.
The push movements and the pull movements alternate, which means there is some degree of recovery between movements of a similar type to maximise volume.
Health and Body Composition Benefits:
This session is a form of resistance training that provides a stimulus with lighter loads and higher volume (time under tension) than an absolute strength or power based session. While the high levels of fatigue in this session makes it less effective to increase strength and power, it will improve your stamina – the ability of your muscles to resist fatigue.
As this session requires you to go close to failure, you will achieve a very high level of motor unit activation. Motor units are the motor neurons (nerves) and the muscle fibres they ‘switch on’. When we contact a muscle, we are in fact only contracting a small number of muscle fibres. We can’t turn a muscle fibre ‘half on’, it’s either ‘on’ or ‘off’. When you stop a set before failure, you are failing to maximise the number of fibres you’re activating. By going close to failure in the sets in this session, we are maximising the number of motor units we’re activating, which means we’re able to get a lot of effect from a relatively small amount of work (albeit at a higher intensity).
As a result of this style of session, you will experience changes in blood chemistry, including favourable effects on cholesterol, blood glucose, triglyceride and lipid levels.
In terms of body composition, isometric movements are an important part of an exercise program for increasing lean muscle. Muscle is a metabolically active tissue, so increasing it will maximise how much energy your body burns at rest. This makes it an effective session to reach healthy levels of body fat, both visceral fat (around the organs) and subcutaneous fat (under your skin). After this session, your body will go through a prolonged state of ‘EPOC’ (excess post- exercise oxygen consumption), meaning you’ll continue burning energy long after you finish training – further aiding healthy body composition.
Isometric training has been shown to have the most powerful effect on reducing systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure, and mean arterial pressure.
The session will improve body control and awareness due to the ability to make slight adjustments to body shape to achieve an optimal position. This will have positive effects on postural awareness and control.
In terms of benefits to the joints, the static holds will improve joint stability which can reduce pain, and the lack of movement means that this is an effective training type for people who need to strengthen joints but for whom movement aggravates joint pain. Isometric work is not only effective as a way to exercise to avoid pain, but has also been shown to reduce pain levels.
The high amount of time under tension in this session trains the ability of your muscles to resist fatigue – increasing their stamina. This comes from improvements in the efficiency of slow twitch (fatigue resistant) muscle fibres.
As a further result of the sustained contractions, this session will increase the mitochondrial density in your muscle cells, allowing them to more efficiently convert energy into fuel. This means you can sustain higher levels of muscle contraction before fatigue or failure.
The higher volumes will also increase capillary density in your muscles, allowing for efficient delivery of oxygen and fuel, and removal of waste products (further adding to the fatigue resistance).
Due to the progressive fatigue from isometric training, you will experience a very high level of recruitment of motor units (motor neuron plus muscle fibre), leading to a very high percentage of total muscle fibres trained.
The exercises in this session also target what is often a weaker part of the movement. Even though the holds are static, this ‘weak point training’ can improve the overall strength of the full movement by strengthening the weakest part. The research points to increases in strength up to 15 degrees on each side of the training angle.
The static holds will improve joint stability to increase the ability to efficiently move loads.
The focus for this session should be to accumulate as much time in a static hold as possible, that is, minimising the amount of time spent resting. Alternating between the exercises will assist with this (as there is minimal overlap between the two exercises).
There is no requirement to go to failure, or to do big unbroken sets. A better strategy is to do many smaller sets, with short rests and fast transitions.
How it Should Feel:
You should feel like it is difficult to maintain each static hold, but you shouldn’t go to failure. ‘Shaking’ during the movements is common – it’s caused by a depletion of the chemical messengers that carry the signals between nerves and muscle cells. Because all motor units don’t fire at once, shaking can occur.
Towards the end of the session it should become very difficult (but just achievable) to maintain the same length of holds.
It’s important in this session that both exercises are of similar difficulty. This means you should be able to hold each for a similar amount of time.
Increase of decrease the difficulty of one exercise to even them out.
You ideally want to scale so you can complete 10-20 second holds of each movement for each set.
People often underestimate the difficulty of static holds, and therefore ‘under scale’. Ensure you set a level of difficulty that allows you to maintain holds of at least ten seconds for the entire session.
Other mistakes include trying to hold the first few sets too long (resulting in premature fatigue), and resting too long between rounds (you should be resting a maximum of ten seconds on each transition).