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Iso Programs for All Part 7
Last month I presented two sample programs that gave priority to isotonic-isometric exercises and used free-weight movements as adjuncts to the rack work. There was a routine for Olympic weightlifters and another for competitive powerlifters. Those programs are most effectively used off-season, during breaks from important competitions, although several York lifters used them in-season and tested out at the meets. Typically, you do them for six to eight weeks, then shift the emphasis back to more freeweight work, putting isos in a supplemental role. The two programs I outline this month are for athletes who’re involved in a competitive sport and are somewhat advanced in strength training and for those who train primarily for strength fitness. The former group includes athletes who participate in football, wrestling, rugby, lacrosse and the throwing events in track plus all those strongman and -woman events that have become so popular. Of course, any athlete can benefit from an iso program. Swimmers at Indiana University, runners from Villanova and rowers from the Vesper Boat Club in Philadelphia were among the first to show significant strength improvement while using the new system of strength training in the early ’60s. The latter group consists of younger and older weight trainers who want to maintain a high level of strength or improve some particular lift but have no intention of entering any competition. They just like the idea of being strong.
Isotonic-Isometric Program for Strength Athletes
This is a five-days-a-week routine, but you can modify it to fit your schedule. You do the iso work in the rack on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and use the free weights on Tuesday and Thursday.
Three incline-press positions, the steeper the better: start, eye level and finish. If you don’t have an incline bench, substitute overhead presses for the same three positions. Three pulling positions using a clean grip: start, just below the knees and high top pull. The final position is where you finish your pull for a power clean, right at the bottom of your breastbone, and climb high on your toes before locking into the top pins. Three back-squat positions: deep bottom (try to set yourself lower than you go when you squat), midpoint and three-quarters of the way up. Calf raises.
Power cleans: five sets of five.
staying flatfooted. Two front-squat positions: deep bottom and middle. Three back-squat positions: ultradeep. you can do almost-straight-legged deadliftsa. Bench presses: five sets of five. eye level and four inches under lockout. Inclines: five sets of five Front squats: two sets of five followed by three sets of three. do standing presses. Calf raises. Let’s say you’re able to handle 325 for five on the bench press. Good mornings: four sets of 10. and make sure that your final sets aren’t so light that you can use sloppy form and still make all the reps. alternating clean and snatch grips every other week: five sets of five. just above the knees and at the bellybutton. you can do either benches or overheads at this workout. Lifting slightly lighter weights will enable you to pay closer attention to your technique. work up to 300 or 305 at most. middle and finish. Since you’re building pure strength with the iso workouts. Which brings up the question: How heavy is moderate? Some people use percentages. Should you have an aversion to good mornings. but that won’t aid your cause. If you can’t do front squats. stiff-legged deadlifts-instead. so I always did good mornings and worked them hard. While giving the isos precedence. Calf raises. which should be your main purpose. but you have to do them with intensity. midpoint and three-quarters of the way up. substitute those same two positions for back squats. Attempt to perform each rep perfectly. The only one you need to push to limit is the good mornings—and that’s to ensure that your lower back stays proportionately as strong as the other parts of your back. Again. if you don’t do front squats. but I prefer just taking a bit off the top end. If you substituted overheads for inclines on Monday. On all the other exercises use moderate poundages. If you did inclines on Monday. Wednesday Three bench press positions: start.k. Friday Three pulling positions using a clean grip: midshin. Three press positions: start. I felt my lumbars were lagging behind a bit. your objective on the free-weight days is to hone your form on the selected exercises.a. My rule of thumb is to select a weight for my final set that I could use for one or two more reps if I . do back squats: five sets of five. Thursday High pulls. right at the knees and a shrug. Three pulling positions using a snatch or wider grip: slightly below the starting point. Whenever I did several weeks of concentrated isos. Back squats: five sets of five. It’s easy to lose concentration and hurry through your routine because you know you can handle the weights easily enough.
do three bench press positions at every iso session and see if that makes a difference. you find on your test day that your bench press hasn’t gone up at all. Isotonic-Isometric Program for General Strength Fitness This one is set up the same way as the previous routine: five days a week. You can delete some and add others to suit your individual interests. In some cases the weight you use at the various positions may not be as much as it could be. Keep in mind that almost any exercise that can be done with free weights can be duplicated in the power rack. When you resume your isos the following week. but now I want to outline a program for those who are primarily interested in strength fitness. Tuesday Back squats: five sets of five Good mornings or almost-straight-legged deadlifts: four sets of 10. For example. So instead of doing inclines and overhead presses in the rack that next week. Every three or four weeks skip the Friday iso session and test out on the big three on Saturday: power clean. but the lighter weight will make it much easier to concentrate on the small form points. and that works just as well. Two curl positions: middle and finish.wanted to. I believe inclines are more beneficial for athletes than flat-bench presses. It should. you must give preference to the lifts that made the least improvement. sometimes you don’t make progress on a particular exercise simply because you’re not working it frequently enough. Three is sufficient. two doing free-weight exercises. Monday Three pulling positions using a clean grip: start. It may take some imagination. Calf raises. that hold has to make your body shudder. . Isos always seem to boost one or two lifts more than others. In that case you lock the bar into the top pins and hold it for a 12-count without an all-out effort. Also. but you can give them priority by moving them to the front of the workout and making sure that you’re working to absolute max on your isometric holds. The test day is helpful in that it lets you handle some heavier weights. Now. I’m using a few different exercises in this program. I’ll comment more on weight selection for the isos later on. You’ll still have to put in plenty of effort. middle and just below lockout. but I’ve seen athletes do good mornings and even leg curls using isometrics. squat and bench press. which means you can check out whether your form is improving and you have gained strength on the various movements. Three positions on the bench press: start. Some trainees like to do inclines rather than flat-bench presses. Two back-squat positions: deep bottom and just below parallel. I don’t mean that you should do more positions for the weakest bodyparts. three days doing isos. Remember that the goal is always to find your weak points and make them stronger. In fact. For those to be effective. just below the knees and top high pull.
That’s how the original program was designed and how Louis Riecke and Bill March trained with great success in the early ’60s. As for whether you should do isos often or seldom. Two squat positions: ultradeep bottom and a tad above parallel. but I’ll state it again: These programs are models. you may want to stick with isos throughout the week and go heavy on all the lifts on Satuarday. middle and finish. If you can do front squats. back. Only do three positions for the major muscle groups: shoulder girdle. Note your weaker lifts and lean on them hard when you go back to the isos. For back squats stay with five sets of five. If you work those three positions diligently. In fact. Three pressing positions: start. I’ve mentioned this before. doing additional positions won’t make them stronger. skip the Friday workout every so often. then totaled out on the three Olympic lifts—press. middle and finish. I know it’s a cliché. and I try to avoid using them. You might also see if your curling strength has improved. Advanced strength athletes can get away with working three or four more positions for the smaller groups. Three curl positions: start. Calf raises. Calf raises. right at parallel and three-quarters of the way up. such . Perhaps you’d rather use free weights three times a week and work in the rack only twice. there are some rules that should be adhered to if you want to make progress. They’re not cast in stone. Whatever floats your boat. eye level and just short of lockout. come in on Saturday and go to limit on the primary exercises. Thursday Alternate incline presses with overhead presses: two sets of five and then three sets of three. Three incline-press position: start. middle and finish. squats and pulls in the rack during the week. snatch and clean and jerk—on Saturday. it’s counterproductive to do extra work for any bodypart. but in this case it gets the point across. Bench presses: five sets of five. Use the routines as listed or modify them to fit what you’re trying to accomplish. midthigh and finish. Three pushdown positions: start. Three back-squat positions: deep bottom. and hips and legs. As with the other program. Wednesday Three bent-over-row positions: start. For example. Shrugs: five sets of five Friday Three pulling positions: below starting position. do five sets of three. eye level and just short of lockout. high on your toes. They did overhead presses.
unload. they can go directly to the work set.as calves. grab a light weight and work the muscles of the first group you plan to hit in the rack. Two training mates are even better to help you with unloading and reloading and moving the pins and bar to the next position. Do hyperextensions. inclines or overhead presses. There they can tap the top pins once or twice prior to the isometric contraction or lock in on the first rep. Here’s a variation that I’ve found helps athletes learn how to put forth greater effort on the money reps. At the second position for that bodypart they can either follow the same procedure and do two warmup sets or. You don’t have to follow the exact order of the positions as I listed them in the sample routines. Be sure to warm up well before going to the rack. While that seems logical. make sure those bodyparts are adequately prepared for the stress ahead. That’s partly because . move the bar to the next position. They do three reps on the first and second sets. On the work set they can go right to the iso hold on the first rep or tap the pins once or twice before locking it into an isometric contraction for a count of eight to 12. Next. such as a set of power cleans before you pull. On the first position of a series at the start of the workout they do three sets rather than just one: the first with a light weight. they respond much more favorably to any form of exercise. That saves time and energy and will enable you to complete the workout much faster. do something for your abs and lumbars. but the majority of trainees are better off sticking with nine positions total—and never more than 12. if they’re confident that they know what they’re trying to accomplish. do the iso. they can stop and make the necessary adjustments before locking into the isometric hold. and that’s even more the case with isotonic-isometrics because the sets are so concentrated and short in duration. A little trick to aid in that process is to place a bench or chair next to the ends of the bar and stack the weights on it. it really helps to have a training partner when you do isos. You may want to give your weakest position priority and move it up front. move through the iso workout with purpose. On the subject of workout time. free-hand squats before you squat or dumbbell front and lateral raises before you do benches. Warm muscles are also less prone to injury. The preparatory tap or taps give lifters a feel for the work weight and make sure their mechanics are correct. When you thoroughly warm up muscle groups. which flush blood into your lower back in a hurry. Finally. set up for your first position. the more proficient you’ll become. Doing extra sets at each position does make the workout longer. with your second weakest second and strongest third. it’s well worth it. crunches or leg raises for the abs. reload and quickly perform the isotonic-isometric exercise—and on to the next until you’ve completed your session. After you finish warming up. Do situps. but when you’re in the learning stage. You’ll discover that you don’t need them and that you achieve greater results when you move through the positions quickly. Obviously. some trainees find that they can exert the most effort at the third position for a certain bodypart. before you move on to the second and third series of positions. If everything isn’t right. the second with a moderate poundage and the third as a heavy work set. No breaks at all. Along the same line of common sense. Get your core body temperature up by doing calisthenics or riding an exercise bike for five to 10 minutes. tapping the top pins each time but not holding the bar against them for a count. In that regard. the more you practice the system. biceps and triceps.
Keep in mind that if you’re not positioning your body exactly as you do when you perform an exercise with free weights. Now lock into that extreme contraction for a count of eight to 12. I’ve trained on some on which the holes were set six inches apart. I was still able to lean into the isometric contractions for the required count. but by standing on boards or plates. hips. In the beginning you’ll work . focus on the muscle groups you’re working and visualize them growing stronger as the count progresses. Fix the bar against the top pins deliberately. Push your feet down into the floor. Speaking of pins. their mechanics are not correct—usually they’re leaning too far backward or forward. glutes. you’ll find this unique system of strength work to be extremely productive. the easier the isotonic portion of the movement will be. I’ve found that those in the process of learn isotonic-isometric technique benefit more by doing the longer count. Rather. and stay in that state of tightness until you reach your goal of eight to 12 seconds. Not all power racks have holes closer together. Over the course of four or five seconds you should increase the tension until you’re pushing or pulling to the absolute max. the closer you can set them to one another. don’t jam it against the top pins. Certainly not ideal. When they do that. you’re not going to gain any strength from doing isos on it. Weighty Matters Whether you decide to use just a few isotonic-isometric positions as supplements to your regular routine or want to give the rack work priority for six to eight weeks. You’d never get it to move by jamming against it. If all the positions are about equal. In that case do the weakest position last. The Zen of strength training. and then start applying tension to the bar. shoulders and arms almost to the point of cramping. it’s still a good idea to switch the order around regularly. A common error many beginners make is to use the railings of the rack to help control and balance the bar when they lock into the isometric hold. Editor’s note: Bill Starr was a strength and conditioning coach at Johns Hopkins University from 1989 to 2000. back. however. When moving the bar isotonically upward. and I agree if the athlete is experienced in this system of training. He’s the author of The Strongest Shall Survive and Defying Gravity. Think in terms of how you’d go about pushing a car. So learn to fix the bar in the middle of the pins. The same idea applies to the isotonic-isometric contraction. And the best way to achieve that is to start from a solid base. Some trainees believe that a five-to-six-second contraction is sufficient to build strength. away from the railings. While you’re in the middle of that surreal experience. I can’t overstress that point: The only way to contract your muscles maximally and hold them in that state of extreme tension for the desired count is to keep your body rigid throughout the iso hold. and make sure your body mechanics are correct before commencing the isometric hold. consciously contract your legs. you’d set it in motion by applying pressure and increasing it steadily until the car began to move.they’re more warmed up and partly because they’re getting in the groove after the two previous sets. make sure your body position is correct.
This data will be extremely valuable in the long run.through lots of trial and error until you learn your strong and weak positions. replace the bar on the lower pins and add weight. you need to increase the resistance. Years later you can look at your training journal and use the information again—maybe not for yourself but for someone you’re coaching. . Record the hole positions. which tilt upward and save you the trouble of finding a high chinning bar. Most of us decompressed in that manner after every heavy workout. Inversion boots are great and available again. as are inversion beds. use less weight. When I first dangled upside down. That will be better than not doing anything at all to decompress your spine. At the York Barbell Club the lifters decompressed their backs by hanging upside down from a chinning bar with their feet fastened to the bar with straps. but it got the job done. and if you can easily handle a certain poundage for 12 seconds and you know you could hold it even longer. After an iso session find a way to decompress your back. and it really helped prepare us for our next session. Keep in mind that hold time is more important than the amount of weight used in the isotonic-isometric system. when the weight you select is clearly too light. strap onto a chinning bar and coax your back muscles to relax as you hang. Let’s say you start into a work set and instantly realize that the weight is too heavy for you to hold for the minimum count. and then add weight. Stop. Should you barely hold a contraction for eight seconds. squats and pulls all put a tremendous amount of stress on your spine. You also want to remember to write down what you do at each iso session. note them as well. and it’s very beneficial to your health and long-term progress to relieve at least some of that strain. Overhead work. take off some plates. If you use warmup sets. Likewise. So if you’re unable to hold the iso contraction for a minimum of eight seconds. the amount of weight handled and how long you held the contraction. my fingers would be six inches from the floor. Five minutes later I could touch the concrete. It wasn’t comfortable by any means. and do it again. stay with that same weight until you can hold it for 12. In the event that it’s not possible for you to hang upside down.