Isometric Exercise For Joint Strength And Stability
Most bodybuilders and strength athletes understand the benefits of concentric and eccentric muscle contraction in their training but so many neglect isometrics. Isometric exercise is a powerful way to strengthen and stabilize weak joints.
There is a science behind why isometrics (a muscular contraction in which the length of the muscle does not change) can be a substantial tool in your training bag to improve the strength, mobility and stability of your joints. When you train using only concentric and eccentric muscle contractions without out pausing at the end range of a movement (exercise) when the desired muscle is fully contracted, your joints don’t get strong and stable at the end range of motion. This leads to instability, weakness and potential injury.
When you are performing an exercise your central nervous system (your brain) is constantly sending and receiving communications from your muscles. There are receptors in and around your muscles that are telling you when to contract or relax a muscle. You have to train your central nervous system to be strong at the end range of motion and a smart way of doing that is with isometric contractions.
Whenever you are performing a concentric contraction and the desired muscle is shortening, especially towards the end range of the contraction, the muscle spindles (receptors) starts to lose their signal. The intrafusal fibers of the muscle spindles can’t send a good signal to keep contracting. This is partly due to the fact that it does not have enough time to recognize the position and strengthen it. It has never held that contracted position before; it may have only briefly experienced it from quick concentric contractions.
What you have to do is pause (hold for 5 to 10 seconds) and perform a isometric contraction at the end range of the contraction when the muscle is fully shortened. This will give your central nervous system more time to recognize the position of weakness and strengthen the end range of motion. This will result in a strong and stable joint. You can look at it like this, you are rewiring the position and making sure there is good communication between the fully contracted position and your brain.
Let’s go over a practical example and how to apply this technique. Let’s say you are a strength athlete who is working on the bench press but having trouble (pain) with one of your shoulders. One of my first thoughts might be, the barbell bench press does not fully contract the pectorals because your hands are fixed on the bar and can’t come together to allow the pec to fully contract. This athlete may have amazing concentric and eccentric strength in the barbell bench press but might be weak and unstable when they horizontally adduct and internally rotate the arm to fully contract their pec. Therefore, maybe strengthening the end range of a pec contraction could help strengthen and stabilize the shoulder joint, getting rid of their pain.
I would have this individual stand up, straighten out their arm, internally rotate their shoulder and bring it across the body (horizontally adduct with internal rotation) and press it against an immovable object for about 5 to 10 seconds at about 50% effort. I would have them do this five or six times and they can ramp up the intensity as long as there’s no pain. This end range isometric contraction can really help strengthen and stabilize the joint hopefully getting rid of the shoulder pain and improving their bench press.
This end range isometric technique can be used on any muscle in the body. The only downside is that you do have to have an understanding of muscular anatomy. For example, with the pectorals you would have to know that to fully contract your chest you would have to horizontally adduct the arm and internally rotate the shoulder. It can be a little tricky if you don’t know the origin, insertion and function of individual muscles. I recommend buying a basic anatomy book; it will help.
The thought process for end range isometrics came from my studies in Muscle Activation Techniques.
If you have any questions, please feel free to drop me an email.
Best – Mike Cola
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This is the strategy I teach my personal training clients to have a 20-something body, regardless of their age.
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