When it comes to building muscle, time under tension (TUT) is king, or at least a big part of the royal court. Historically speaking, many bodybuilding greats have used isometric training to help build their imposing physiques, sometimes doing sets lasting upwards of three minutes. The trouble is, most of us neither have the time nor the patience to hold an isometric lateral raise all damn day. Fortunately, there's a way to reap these same muscle-building benefits with iso holds lasting a third of the time. I call it the dynamic-static compound set.
The framework for the dynamic-static compound set is simple:
- A1. Dynamic Exercise 8-12 reps
- A2. Static Hold to failure
Begin with a 12 RM of any decent dynamic exercise to pre-fatigue the muscles and immediately follow it up with a static hold to failure of an exercise that works the same muscles. Rest 90 seconds. Then repeat twice more, shooting for at least 8 reps on subsequent sets. Three rounds will be plenty if you're legitimately pushing each hold to failure.
Below I lay out six of the most lethal dynamic-static compound sets by muscle group. For each set, I give a couple of options for the dynamic exercise, as well as both an advanced and basic version of the isometric hold. Be sure to choose your isometric variation wisely. If you're only able to hold the advanced version for five seconds, regress to the basic one.
Note: Reps and holds are abbreviated in the accompanying videos for demonstration purposes.
- A. Leg Press or Squat 8-12 reps
- B. Parallel Bulgarian Split Squat (advanced) or Parallel Prisoner Squat (basic) to failure
Technique tips: On the squat holds, keep your chest up to ensure a gnarly quad burn.
- A. Romanian Deadlift or Good Morning 8-12 reps
- B. Single-Leg Glute Bridge on Foam Roller (advanced) or Bilateral Glute Bridge on Foam Roller (basic) to failure
Technique tips: On the glute bridge, push hard into the ground with your arms to engage your abs, and squeeze your glutes like you're holding a quarter between your cheeks. The mind-muscle connection is key here. You can half-ass a bridge for two pointless minutes or you can squeeze every muscle in your body for thirty excruciating seconds.
- A. Bench Press or Dip 8-12 reps
- B. Parallel Push-Up (advanced) or Bottom of Push-Up (basic) to failure
Technique tips: On the push-up hold, tuck your elbows into your sides for a front delt and triceps emphasis, or flare your elbows to target the pecs.
- A. Seated Cable Row or Lat Pulldown 8-12 reps
- B. Parallel Bent-Arm Hang (advanced) or Top of Chin-Up (basic) to failure
Technique tips: On the bent-arm hang, squeeze your elbows into your sides and keep your shoulder blades down and back to light up your back in addition to your biceps. You'll know you're doing it right if your entire body is shaking by the end.
- A. Shoulder Press or Incline Bench 8-12 reps
- B. Parallel Handstand Push-Up Against Wall (advanced) or Handstand Against Wall (basic) to failure
Technique tips: On the handstands, maintain a neutral spine and neck by squeezing your glutes and looking directly behind you (instead of at the floor). For the advanced version, keep your head just off the floor. If the thought of going inverted while facing the wall makes you panic, simply face away from the wall and walk your feet up until you're as close to vertical as comfortable.
- A. Weighted Swiss Ball Crunch or Kettlebell Swin 8-12 reps
- B. Long-Lever Plank (advanced) or Traditional Plank (basic) to failure
Technique tips: To perform the long-lever plank, position your arms about six inches farther out in front of you than you would for a traditional plank, and narrow the gap between the arms slightly. Pull your elbows in and down (as if to crunch) to engage the lats and abs. Also squeeze your glutes and quads. Your abs should be burning so violently that it's difficult to breathe./p>
If you're a real sadist, you may enjoy expanding the compound set to a tri-set in one of two ways. After the dynamic exercise, hold the advanced version of the static to failure, then transition to the basic version and go to failure once again:
- A. Dynamic Exercise 8-12 reps
- B. Advanced Static Hold to failure
- C. Basic Static Hold to failure