Adaptations from Isometric Contractions
If you have been following along with this series on specific adaptations to various stimuli, then by now you know that each muscle along with all of its systems is capable of three contraction types: concentric, eccentric, and isometric. Once we realize the adaptations needed for each contraction type, this helps us to specify the contraction type to yield more adaptations specific to our athlete’s progress. This episode is the conclusion to muscular contractions with a focus on isometric contractions.
- Description of the Isometric Contraction
- Specificities of the Isometric Contraction to Yield Specific Adaptations
- Examples of Isometric Focused Movements
Description of the Isometric Contraction:
Based on our previous muscular contraction types articles, you would know that there are three types of contractions possible for any particular muscle of the body. We covered the concentric contraction and the eccentric contraction in our previous articles. Lastly, we have the isometric contraction which is one where the length of a muscle doesn’t change. For example, for humans to maintain an upright posture, the spinal extensors maintain long term isometric contractions.
Specificities of the Isometric Contraction to Yield Specific Adaptations
Isometric contractions are another method under-utilized in the strength training rooms around the world. Isometrics are great for strengthening the muscles, tendons, and overall collagen related connective tissue at the specific angle of the joint. The best benefit is that isometric contractions come with very little muscle damage allowing athletes to fully recover in six hours or less. The key to the magnitude of the adaptations experienced is length. If isometric contractions are used at lengthened muscle states, the tendons and overall connective tissue properties are enhanced due to the resistance of stretched experienced at the end range of motion. Of course maximal motor unit recruitment is experienced due to the abundance of time without cross-bridge detachments. Remember, most of these adaptations are relevant to the angle of the joint. Therefore, if you want to strengthen the quads as they cross the knees, you will want to pause a squat at below parallel or better yet, squat into pins at full depth to recruit maximal motor units.
Examples of Isometric Only or Isometric Focused Exercises:
Isometric contractions have been used throughout the history of strength training, but is still the most underutilized method. It’s my theory that isometrics aren’t utilized as much because they aren’t flashy. You can’t post an isometric contraction exercise on Instagram and expect thousands of likes, but you can expect results. I am in the business of results, so here are some ideas for you:
- Pulls or Squats into Pins– I recommend picking a height that is focused on the joint angles where the athlete is losing position or velocity.
- Presses into Pins– once again pick the height that puts the focus on the joint angle that needs strengthening. You can also pick various joint angles to strengthen joint angles all throughout the range of motion.
- Wall Sits– these are great for rehabilitation. I suggest performing these at fully lengthened positions to maximize the adaptations focused on the tendons.
- Paused Movements– an example of these might be paused deadlifts at the knee. These are great for strengthening positions that are otherwise troublesome for the athlete. These aren’t as good for maximal force production, but there is still joint specific hypertrophy and strengthening.
If you read the article or watched the video from the episode on barbell velocity, you will know that the contraction is only part of the story. Isometrics are a bit harder to measure without force plates, but there are still ways to use GymAware to measure improvements. The main way is with the bar path element of the GymAware RS or the GymAware FLEX to monitor improvements in position. You can also use the cloud to measure changes in force production and the rate of peak force to see if the isometrics are serving a purpose. When a strength coach understands the speed of contractions along with the various adaptations from the different muscular contractions, most any adaptation is possible. One thing is for sure, you will have an added ability to ensure proper adaptations for individual athletes.
This concludes the different contraction types and the specific adaptations that come with each type. I hope this provides some clarity to help target your specific athlete’s needs and adaptations depending on the type of contraction you are hoping to achieve.
As always, if you have any questions, email me at Travis@GymAware.com.
- Baar K. Minimizing Injury and Maximizing Return to Play: Lessons from Engineered Ligaments. Sports Med. 2017 Mar;47(Suppl 1):5-11. doi: 10.1007/s40279-017-0719-x. PMID: 28332110; PMCID: PMC5371618.
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Being a World Champion in powerlifting, Travis competed at a world-class level in Olympic weightlifting and has coached professional Olympic weightlifters alongside Don McCauley and Glenn Pendlay at Team MDUSA. Now Travis coaches the most successful weightlifting team in the USA.