Friday, February 1, 2019

Increase Strength and Performance with Isometric Exercise

Are you bored with your current workout? Looking to challenge your body in a new way? Want some ideas for workout programs for the New Year?

If you’re like most people, you’ve dabbled with the usual types of exercises involving some free weights, machines, and bodyweight. There are so many ways to exercise and yet it’s easy to get caught up in the hype of everyone doing the same workouts. One little discussed method of working out that has been shown to produce incredible strength and performance gains is isometric exercise.

What is Isometric Exercise?

When performing an exercise, there are three sections or phases of the movement:

·      The lifting portion of the exercise.
·      Example: when you lift the dumbbell up towards your shoulder during a bicep curl.

·      The pausing portion of the exercise.
·      Example: when you reach the shoulder and stop during a bicep curl.

·      The lowering portion of the exercise.
·      Example: when you lower the weight from the shoulder to the starting position during a bicep curl.

As the name implies, an isometric exercise focuses only on the isometricportion. In other words, you’re not lifting anything and you’re not lowering anything. You get into an isometric position and you stay there for a prescribed amount of time. 

The best example of an isometric exercise is a plank. During a plank, you get into a push-up position with your forearms on the floor. Once you stabilize your core, you don’t move. You hold the plank position as long as you can.

Although your muscles aren’t moving up and down, the amount of twitching that is occurring within your muscle fibers is intense! You’re not moving but you’re doing a lot! Think about it: How long can you hold a plank for with perfect form? See what I mean?

Benefits of Isometric Exercise

Increases Strength

·      A popular study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology demonstrated that both men and women can effectively see increased strength from an isometric workout program. While subjects showed an increase in lean tissue mass, the real surprise was the significant boost in strength.

Leaner and Fitter Body

·      Isometric training can also enhance the conditioning of your body composition, improving your total body aesthetics. In other words, you’re going to be able to achieve that lean and sexy physique you’ve been chasing. Isometric promotes weight loss and lean muscle gains, both of which are needed to achieve that lean and fit body composition.

Activates Greatest Number of Fibers

·      Your muscles are made up of three types of muscle fibers: Type 1, Type 2a, and Type 2b. However, for the purpose of keeping it simple, we will generalize and focus on the fibers as either slow-twitch or fast-twitch. Slow-twitch muscle fibers can be looked at as being able to go the extra mile and some. They do not fatigue easily to the demands of exercise. Fast twitch muscle fibers, on the other hand, produce incredible force output but burn out rather quickly. Different types of exercise and training will activate either the fast or slow twitch fibers. Isometric training activates both, which is ideal for seeing incredible fitness gains with an emphasis in performance.

Supports Bone Health

·      Bone health, especially for older adults, is important for ensuring that you can reach your fitness goals but also so that you can maintain a high quality of living. Studies show that isometric exercise is effective at promoting the density and overall health of bones. Those suffering from osteoporosis, for example, saw a dramatic improvement in bone health when using a safe and effective isometric exercise program.

Low Impact Means Low Risk

·      Continuing with the point above, isometric training is a low impact form of exercise. This means that it does not apply a great amount of direct force on to sensitive joints and connective tissue. While plyometric training, also known as jump training, can be extremely effective at activating both types of muscle fibers, increasing bone density, and skyrocketing performance, it’s also very high impact. Your knees, ankles, elbows, and deltoids are taking a lot of stress, which will significantly increase your risk for strains, tears, and injuries. Isometric exercise, on the other hand, produces similar results with none of the risk. This makes isometric exercise ideal for anyone who is recovering from an injury or going through rehabilitation.
Best Isometric Exercises
Ready to start incorporating some isometric exercises into your current workout program? Maybe you want to switch over to only isometric exercises or maybe you need a safe way to start getting back into shape. Here are the best isometric exercises that I personally use within my own workout routine.

·      Focus on keeping the hips stabilized to keep the core muscles engaged. Once your hips drop towards the ground, the exercise is over.

·      Same idea as above: Stabilize the hips to properly engage the core.

·      Perform a standard chin-up but hold at the top of the movement (the isometric portion) for 5 seconds. After the 5-second hold, lower yourself to the starting position.

·      Keep the chest up and the core tight as you walk around with the kettlebells in the isometric position.

Isometric Workout


·      10 minutes of cardiovascular exercise
·      5 minutes of total body stretching
·      Examples: Stepper, bicycle, or rope skipping


Isometric Workout:

·     Chin-up with Hold: 5 sets of 5 (hold for 5 seconds at the top of the chin-up)
·      Racked Kettlebell Carries: 5 sets of 60 seconds
·      Plank: 5 sets of 60 seconds 
·      Side-Plank: 5 sets of 60 seconds (switch sides at 30 seconds)


·      5 minutes of cardiovascular exercise, such as a light jog or rope skipping
·     10 minutes of total body stretching


Have you tried isometric exercises before? What were your results? Do you have favorite isometric exercises? Tell me about it in the comments below!


1. Lavie CJ, Milani RV, Marks P, de Gruiter H. Exercise and the Heart: Risks, Benefits, and Recommendations for Providing Exercise Prescriptions. The Ochsner Journal. 2001;3(4):207-213.

2. Davies J, Parker DF, Rutherford OM, Jones DA. Changes in strength and cross sectional area of the elbow flexors as a result of isometric strength training. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1988;57(6):667-70.

3. Swezey RL, Swezey A, Adams J. Isometric progressive resistive exercise for osteoporosis. Journal of Rheumatology 2000:27(5), pp1260-64.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Metabolic Workouts for Performance and a Lean Physique

What is Metabolic Conditioning?

If you’ve ever sat down in a sales-style meeting at a commercial gym, you know only too well how trainers may enjoy throwing around the term metabolic conditioning. If asked to explain what it is, you may hear how it is a fast and fun workout that is going to have you sweating. 

Sure, metabolic conditioning workouts are fast and fun and you’ll definitely be sweating your butt off but there’s a lot more going on here.

Metabolic conditioning is an umbrella term that can be used to describe a specific style of workouts. These workouts are going to have the following things in common:

·      Fast pace – Performed as quickly and safely as possible
·      Limited breaks
·      Intensity will be high
·      Bodyweight, dumbbells, and barbells can be used
·      Improves the efficiency of energy systems throughout the body

There are several examples of metabolic conditioning that you may be familiar with and you might even be using some of these techniques:

Circuit Training

·      Primarily focused on using weights, circuit training is an established set of exercises that you move through one after another with little to no rest in between. Weight tends to be lighter and the intensity is high.

Super Sets

·      A lifting technique commonly used in weight lifting, a super set is when you perform one exercise and immediately follow it up with another exercise. The secondary exercise can be of the same or opposing muscle group. After the second exercise, you take a break. Weight can be light or heavy depending on the goals.


·      Another lifting technique that is used in advanced weight training, a tri-set is similar to a super set in that it involves performing one exercise after another. The difference is that there is a third exercise added. No breaks are taken until after the third exercise. The exercises can be focused on the same or opposing muscle group. Weight can be light or heavy depending on the goals and fitness ability.

Giant Sets

·      Continuing with the same idea as the super set and tri-set, giant sets add a fourth or even fifth exercise, depending on the type of workout and fitness goals. These exercises are performed one after another and a rest break can be had at the conclusion of the giant set.

High Intensity Interval Training

·      A bodyweight-focused method of exercise, high intensity interval training is an extremely effective way to increase all energy systems while achieving your fitness goals. Let’s talk more about this form of metabolic conditioning.

What is High Intensity Interval Training?

More commonly known as H.I.I.T., you may be familiar with high intensity interval training as it has been featured in a number of magazines, websites, and home-workout videos.

The best H.I.I.T. workouts involve 3 to 8 exercises. Typically, you will choose one for each major muscle group. You may even select one or two total body exercises that bring you to complete fatigue. Burpees would be a great example of a total body exercise that completely fatigues the body.

More often than not, the exercises are bodyweight-based and breaks are not taken until you complete one set of each exercise.

What are the Benefits of H.I.I.T.?

Increased Performance & Endurance

·      One of the most widely known benefits of H.I.I.T. is its ability to dramatically increase your endurance and overall performance in a relatively short period of time. A study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport demonstrated that high intensity interval training showed superior results on endurance, athletic performance, and neurocardiac activity when compared to a moderate intensity endurance workout program. (1)

Enhanced Fat Loss
·      As the superior option for endurance, does this mean that the benefits of H.I.I.T. extend into fat burning and overall weight loss? You bet! H.I.I.T. workouts have been shown to be an effective way to increase fat burning in the body. It does this in two ways: First, H.I.I.T. workouts will burn more calories during a workout due to the higher intensity level that pushes your target heart rate near maximum. Secondly, the fat burning benefits of H.I.I.T. continue long after your workout is over as your excess post oxygen consumption levels will be through the roof. EPOC levels refer to the amount of energy the body must burn into order to restore oxygen levels to normal. More work means more calories burned while you are sitting at home and relaxing. (2)

Muscle Building

·      If H.I.I.T. is great for burning fat, does that mean it’s not going to be useful for building muscle? Quite the opposite. While you aren’t going to get as huge as Ronnie Coleman or Phil Heath, H.I.I.T. workouts have been shown to increase lean tissue mass. One study published in the Journal of Obesity discussed how the leg muscles of subjects was significantly larger after a H.I.I.T. workout program. (3)

Cardiovascular Health

·      What if you’re not an athlete or a muscle-bound fitness enthusiast – Can H.I.I.T. workouts still be of value to you? Of course! H.I.I.T. has been shown to dramatically improve cardiovascular health while decreasing your risk for cardiovascular issues and diseases such as high blood pressure. (1-3)

Traditional Cardio vs. High Intensity Interval Training

What do you think of when you hear the word cardio? If you’re like most, you envision walking on a treadmill or cycling on a stationary bicycle for up to an hour. Does a longer workout mean a betterworkout? Not when you compare it to high intensity interval training.

Traditional cardio can’t stand up to the benefits of H.I.I.T. workouts. Sure, moderate intensity cardio workouts are beneficial. No one is debating that; however, when you want next level benefits, H.I.I.T. workouts can’t be beat.

Studies show that H.I.I.T. will produce greater benefits, especially in the areas of endurance and performance, when compared to traditional cardio workouts. (1-3)

While this may not be a health and fitness benefit, it will sure feel great when you get better results in a fraction of the time. H.I.I.T. workouts only take 20 minutes on average compared to an hour on the treadmill or an hour and a half of weight lifting. Burn fat, build muscle, and save yourself some time.

Best H.I.I.T. Workouts

Ready to get started with metabolic conditioning? Below, you’ll find a three-day H.I.I.T. workout that will help you build muscle and burn more fat. On each day, complete the first exercise on the list then immediately move to the next one. Do not stop or take breaks until you have completed the entire list. Once you have completed the workout, take a break between 2 to 3 minutes. Looking for a challenge? Complete the list a second time!

H.I.I.T. Workout: Day One (e.g., Monday)

10 sets of:
·      5 Pull Ups
·      5 Squats
·      5 Push Ups

H.I.I.T. Workout: Day Two (e.g., Wednesday)

10 sets of:
·      5 Dumbbell Walking Lunges
·      5 Push Up to Plank Row
·      5 Dumbbell Push Press

H.I.I.T. Workout: Day Three (e.g., Friday)

10 sets of:
·      5 Cross Crawls
·      5 Air Squats
·      5 Spiderman Pushups

Tips for Maximizing Metabolic Conditioning Benefits

If you want to build muscle, I highly recommend supplementing with creatine. Creatine has been shown to increase protein synthesis, support lean muscle growth, and protect muscle from catabolism, also known as protein breakdown.

If weight loss is your goal, I would recommend trying one or both of the following: intermittent fasting and the Ketogenic Diet.

Intermittent fasting is a method of meal timing that has been shown in several studies to dramatically increase fat burning along with enhancing cardiovascular and cognitive health.

The Ketogenic Diet focuses on healthy high-fat options so that your body enters a state of ketosis. Once you reach ketosis, your body will focus on utilizing stored body fat as fuel. Aside from dramatically increasing fat loss, the ketogenic diet has been shown to benefit cognitive functioning.

Considerations for Special Populations


·      H.I.I.T. workouts can be very effective for older people as they take less time to complete and produce superior results to lengthy cardio workouts. I’d suggest starting with very basic bodyweight exercises that don’t require putting yourself in a difficult position. For example, push-ups are great but I’d start with chair push-ups before advancing to floor-based push-ups.


·      H.I.I.T. can help those going through physical rehabilitation to return to peak fitness levels in a relatively short amount of time. Depending on the reason you’re doing rehab, I’d recommend starting out slow and doing very basic exercises such as the bodyweight squat. Make sure you have someone closely monitoring your performance. You can even ask your rehabilitation specialist about the workouts I’ve detailed above to see if they are appropriate for you at this time.


Are you currently using metabolic conditioning to achieve your fitness goals? If so, what benefits have you noticed? What are your favorite high intensity interval training exercises? Let me know in the comments below!


1. Perkins SE, Jelinek HF, Al-Aubaidy HA, de Jong B. Immediate and long term effects of endurance and high intensity interval exercise on linear and nonlinear heart rate variability. J Sci Med Sport. 2017 Mar;20(3):312-316. doi: 10.1016/j.jsams.2016.08.009. Epub 2016 Aug 16.

2. Perry CG, Heigenhauser GJ, Bonen A, Spriet LL. High-intensity aerobic interval training increases fat and carbohydrate metabolic capacities in human skeletal muscle. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2008 Dec;33(6):1112-23.

3. Boutcher SH. High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise and Fat Loss. Journal of Obesity. 2011;2011:868305. doi:10.1155/2011/868305.