I've always been a big believer in using isometrics to enhance training. Sadly, much like jumps, this method is misused by most and as a result few actually get good results.
I now prefer power holds which are different than regular isometrics. The latter are more externally focused: you're trying to push an immovable resistance or hold a barbell in place. Power holds are more about loading specific body positions to have an overall effect on the body.
Types of Power Holds
There are three main types of power holds, or more specifically, three training adaptation types to stimulate:
1. Positional Awareness Via Enhanced Feedback
The goal here is to assume a certain position you want to master (e.g. overhead squat position) under a "light" load. The load itself should not be challenging or tiring; it's simply to enhance the feel of the position: with the muscles and structure being under load, you'll better be able to find out which muscle is doing the job, then make small adjustments to make the position stronger and ingrain that pattern.
Power holds also serve as a diagnostic tool to find out if you have weak spots or lack range of motion. Sets of 9-12 seconds should be used with a very light weight -- just enough to get a better feel for the position. You shouldn't feel fatigued at the end of a set.
This is a great method to stagger between sets of lifting movements. Example: doing an overhead squat hold between sets of snatch-grip push press behind the neck. Remember that finding out the proper power position for your body to be in and drilling that position is very important for maximal performance and lifting longevity.
2. Building Strength and Size
To accomplish that goal, you need to put the body under a challenging load: 80-100% of your capacity. With rings it means assuming a position close-to or at the limit of what you can hold solidly, with perfect body position, for 3-6 seconds.
With free-weights it means using a weight that is 80-100% of the maximum you can hold for 3-6 seconds in the required position. Remember that with power holds perfect body position should always be prioritized over increasing resistance. To make these types of holds work, you need to focus on whole body tension (mostly with rings) or select exercises that put most of the body under load (mostly with barbells).
3. Improving Structural Integrity
Muscles improve at a faster rate than tendons. And when the tendons' strength is much lower than the muscle's, it leads to either stagnation (you can't gain strength anymore) or injuries. So if your goal is to become as strong, powerful, and muscular as you can be, you must develop your tendons as much as your muscles.
With power holds, this is done for much longer sets under a moderate load. For maximum effect, a total of 2-3 minutes per position should be the goal. You don't have to do it all at once; you can take short pauses during the "set," but these pauses shouldn't be longer than about 10 seconds, and try to take less and less over time. I prefer to use free-weights for this one because even the easier ring positions will be too hard for most to complete the duration of the set.
What Exercises Do I Perform?
In the next few installments I'll be describing more exercise options for each goal. Obviously, the basic ring holds are great for goals one and two.
I'll briefly discuss my own favorite barbell power hold. I feel that this simple exercise has the power to build whole body strength, awareness, and stability like nothing else.
This exercise is the overhead support. You'll need a power rack with adjustable safety pins. You set the pins at a height where you would only have to press about 4" (when standing) to complete an overhead lift.
For that position, you get under the bar and hold it with arms extended and elbows locked (so you get under the bar by being in about a 1/8 squat position). From that position you lift the bar off the pins by extending your legs and hold the top position for the duration required by the method you select.
IMPORTANT: It's not just about holding the bar overhead; it's about perfect positioning. You must:
1) have the bar aligned slightly behind your head, about in line with the "back end" of your rear delts
2) your humerus needs to be slightly externally rotated
3) shoulder blades squeezed together
4) flare your lats and contract them hard. Imagine that the lats are the pillars that hold the weight
5) whole body is tensed, mid-section and legs especially
This movement will build whole body strength and "solidity" like nothing else. It can be done with a snatch or jerk grip. I personally like to do 6 sets of 3-6 seconds, then one set of 2 minutes for tendon strengthening. -- Christian Thibaudeau
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