Why You Need to Think About Isometrics


Pain and injuries are weird. Sometimes an athlete can move perfectly in all planes of motion demonstrating a harmonious blend of strength, flexibility and correct firing patterns, and still experience pain.

How does this happen?

Let’s look at a few things with regards to injuries:

  • Injuries are often a cumulative process.
  • Each athlete’s response to an exercise is going to be different.
  • Causes of insidious injury are much more hypothetical.
  • Injury and adaptation are both the result of stress. No stress, no progress, no injury.

Regardless of the exercise we are performing, we for the most part are training the same way on a daily basis, moving our joints through a full range of motion over and over again.

What about training our joints NOT to move?

What I’m talking about is isometric exercises. I’m sure if we were to look at just about any gym’s programming, the list of isometric exercises utilized are limited to three to seven different variations of planking.

How many exercises have you programmed for your members this week, month or even year that involved isometric exercises? Just like it seems like a no brainer that you wouldn’t program Snatches seven days a week, how often are you varying the different types of contractions — isometric, concentric and eccentric?

We should be programming a blend of all three to help eliminate these preventable over-training injuries.

Why Isometrics?

  • Most importantly, they are safe. Of the three types of contractions, isometrics are the only ones that don’t cause the release of inflammatory mediators.
  • They train stiffness.
  • They build body awareness.

Where do we start?

This month, let’s apply this concept to pull-ups. If we look at pull-ups, whether strict or kipping, we always seem to be running after intensity and volume alone. We are always going for more reps or more weights, viewing anything outside of that as a regression.

How many of us are using isometrics to build strength around a specific position in the arms, upper back and core? I know all of us have a weak spot in the pull-up position, whether it is at the top, mid point or bottom of the movement.

Isometric training is not only a fantastic way to train around pain if any athlete is experiencing pain with pull-ups, but it is equally as effective way to prevent those pull-up injuries from happening in the first place.

The above boxes are to serve as a programing cheat sheet. You can combine any grip variation from the first column with any variation from the second column. For example you can do pronated, 90/90 hang, as just one example.

These different variations can be performed for strength or in a WOD. With all these different isometric positions, you want to maintain a strong hollow body position.

Dr. Wes Hendricks graduated from the University of Western States with a doctorate in chiropractic and a bachelor’s degree in human biology. He owns and operates Rebuild Health and Performance in Charleston, South Carolina. Visit drwesleyhendricks.com or follow him on Instagram @drweshendricks.