Implementing Extreme Isometrics
By: Rob Assise
I have written about my personal experience with extreme isometrics in the past (here and here). I also conducted a webinar where I discussed the numerous whys behind the method as well as what I feel are the best ways to teach the extreme isometric lunge, push-up, scap hang, and standing glute-hamstring. The teaching piece is the result of a huge amount of conversation with my mentor and colleagues, hours of research, and quite a bit of trial and error. What I have yet to do is create a resource which addresses how I program them for the athletes I work with. This article will lay out some possibilities, but as mentioned in the linked resources above, having personal experience will help you decipher your way through the programming and make better decisions for the athletes you work with. According to my mentor in extreme isometrics, who prefers to be anonymous, “There are things that could be measured on the extreme isos that have yet to be measured. Who knows if that ever gets researched? Regardless, there is a synergy that comes from the things that you can’t measure, and that synergy HAS to be experienced. There is no way around that.” I also want to emphasize the importance of holding a high standard of position, action, and intent within the exercises. This can certainly be a challenge, especially if you are working with large groups, but it is necessary in order for the stimulus to create the largest bang for buck. The linked webinar goes into extreme (pun intended) detail on teaching progressions of the four exercises mentioned. I truly hate self-promotion, but not at the expense of failing to provide people with a resource which will save them time and make their implementation more effective.
Before we dive into programming:
Extreme isometrics are really “extreme slows” which technically means “extremely slow eccentric.” In using the lunge as an example, an athlete would typically pull into an extreme position, but as the duration of the exercise continues, he or she would be pulling into an even more extreme position. During that time, numerous muscles would be lengthening. In reality, isometric is a poor name as there is movement happening within this style. However, I will call them extreme isos or just isos in this article.
One should note that the range of movement can vary based on the coach’s intent. In the example above, the athlete could pull into an extreme position in 10 seconds, and then have a very small amount of movement from that point forward. Another option would be to take 5 minutes to pull into the extreme position. Both examples are “extreme slows,” the range of motion during the extreme slow portion is what makes them different.
Within my coaching circle, this style of isometrics was brought to our attention by Jay Schroeder. It is essential to state that this is just a phase of the entire program. According to my mentor, energy absorption (altitude drops), energy redirection (rebounds), and rebounds at high volume are the other pieces. There will be reference to these types of exercises throughout the programming. Links to videos of most of the exercises can be found here.
Part of the aura of mystery concerning extreme isometrics is the five minute duration. I do not know if anyone has ever been given a clear answer from Schroeder other than the best physiological response occurs from what happens between three and five minutes. After my own personal experience, and implementing isometrics with athletes, what I have found is that the five minute duration will challenge everyone. If it does not, then they are simply not “pulling into position” hard enough. More on that later.
For exercises given a duration, the intent is to accrue that amount of work in the position. For example, if I was performing an extreme isometric with a target of five minutes of work, and I failed after three minutes, I would stop the clock, take a couple belly breaths, and then get back into position and start the clock back up. I would repeat this process until five minutes of work was complete.
The programs presented will go from general to specific, but I will be more specific about the general program. Not all exercises are extreme isometrics. I will provide additional insights regarding the exercises as needed.
Programming articles are a challenge as everyone has their own situation. The intent of this article is to provide some ingredients, but you will have to choose how to cook based on your situation. I am going to emphasize again that I feel my programming choices for the athletes I coach have been greatly enhanced by having experienced the items being discussed. I know this because I dabbled in their programming prior to having personal experience, and it was hot garbage.
I have heard Dr. Tommy John state that the beauty of long duration isometrics is they hit the sweet spot every time. External alterations to items such as load, volume, and intensity found in other forms of exercise are taken care of internally with extreme isos. The exercises meet you where you are, and like all exercise, the key is showing up. I feel the following program has the right amount of stress to yield noticeable results while keeping it sustainable. I joke that this is a program which can benefit anyone with a heartbeat.
The cross crawl superman is a huge bang for buck exercise. It is a space friendly way to get repetitions of the cross crawl patterning that the brain craves while reinforcing the proper sequencing for hip extension (glute, hamstring, contralateral QL). Furthermore, with emphasizing the chin on the ground, time is spent with the neck in an extended position. I think we all agree technology has caused us to spend too much time in neck flexion! The time duration of five minutes is initially a huge challenge for most people, but I think the importance of teaching the body to execute proper hip extension while under fatigue cannot be overstated.
The extreme iso lunge is the granddaddy of them all, and in my opinion, the best (and true) version of it includes the action of pulling into position. The action of trying to move the front foot backwards (and/or down into the ground) to engage the front hamstring and pushing through the ball of the big toe of the rear leg has numerous benefits:
Gives the athlete two specific tasks to focus upon. It is a cognitive challenge to be dialed into this. I’ve spent hours in the position and have yet to be perfect. Just because the “movement” is not complicated does not make it simple. I have really come to appreciate the enhanced awareness of my body that this exercise has given me (now 40 years old). I know that awareness is something which is lacking in the high school males I coach!
Engages more tissue. When more tissue is engaged, there is a greater hormonal response post-exercise.
By consciously contracting the agonist, the antagonist will experience greater lengthening. For the lunge, think of the quadriceps and hamstrings of the front leg, and the hip flexors and glutes of the rear leg.
Simply put, in my opinion, performing the lunge as a yielding isometric (just hanging out until failure) is a B minus exercise. There has to be intent in contracting the opposite of what you think you should be contracting. My go-to phrase for extreme isometrics is, “If you aren’t pulling, you are fooling!”