I was recently asked about the hardest workouts I’ve accomplished.
Normally, my workouts are as tough as I can endure.
Many of us associate a tough workout with an increasing amount of weight that pushes us near or past our breaking point.
But as athletes, we’re cognizant that ability in the weight room may not necessarily translate to athletic performance.
Consistently reaching for heavier weights can also accelerate wear and tear on the body, and sometimes even cause injury.
Now that I’m older, I try alternative exercises like isometrics and static holds to stress my body instead of moving heavier weights.
Simply put, Isometric exercises engage the muscle without movement, i.e. holding the body in a fixed position like a plank.
What is a static hold?
A static hold is a great example of an isometric exercise that I use to pre-exhaust certain body parts before my training session.
Pre-exhaust principles allow you to train with lighter loads as your muscles are already fatigued.
This can potentially increase muscle recruitment and stimulate muscle growth without extra loading on your exercises.
This is particularly useful if you are ever rehabbing from an injury but still want to engage in resistance training.
Even if you’re an advanced lifter who is predominantly focused on strength training, it can be beneficial to incorporate pre-exhaustion into your routines.
Static holds can be split into two major types, yielding and overcoming.
Yielding static holds
A yielding hold is when you fight gravity or the lowering of the muscle. In the following post, I demonstrate this by maintaining a half squat position with an exercise ball against the wall.
Well past the minute mark and you’ll see that I’m already struggling. This position forces my muscles (glutes, hamstrings) into mechanical tension at specifically difficult angles.
You can vary the difficulty of the workout by either maximizing the total time under tension or doing angle-joint specific movements.
Or you could both, like me.
Oh, just make sure you don’t overcommit the duration as I did.
Overcoming static hold
An overcoming hold is when you try to lift an immovable amount of weight by keeping constant tension throughout.
Although there does not appear to be any net movement of the weight, your muscles remain contracted.
Just remember to perform the hold with strict form for as long as possible.
These static holds can induce metabolic stress, hypoxia and the associated anabolic signalling pathways and which are essential for muscle growth.
For safety reasons, these exercises are best performed using cable machines.
Doing an overcoming static hold on a deadlift can be dangerous, especially when your initial form is compromised due to the extreme weight.
Benefits of static holds
We know static holds can elicit a muscular hypertrophy response.
But just how do they compare to general concentric gym motions?
During static holds, we can incrementally increase our effort and tension without the risk of incurring injury.
While concentric gym movements may place our muscles under a heavier load, muscle fiber recruitment and activation may be limited to that fixed output.
This is why slow eccentric movements are highly favored by strength and conditioning coaches.
Variability in tension
A normal gym motion involves the repetitive lowering of weight and the subsequent force activation of pushing/lifting it back up.
This change of direction introduces variability in tension, which when compared to the equivalent isometric hold makes it less than ideal for achieving the desired hypertrophy for effective muscle growth.
Improved strength and stabilization
Because static holds recruit core muscles across your body, it helps to train and develop your stabilization, flexibility and range of motion.
They also warm up the joints and help prime them for full activation. This multi-joint activation keeps other muscles or body parts from overcompensating during the actual lift.
Not to mention, this can help prevent muscle inflammation and injury.
If you can, do your exercises near a mirror or with a partner who can help observe your form and posture.
Obviously, you can set a timer on your phone to maximize tension.
If you’re a beginner, then start out with shorter holds of 5-10s and gradually increase it over time.
Maintaining the integrity of the lift is important. Keep strict form throughout or as long as you can.
For intermediate or advanced lifters, a static hold of between 30-60 seconds works as a great pre-exhaustion routine.
Depending on the exact exercise, you can attempt between 70-80% of the weight you normally use.
Try them out and let me know down in the comments what worked for you!