Weight training can become quite disheartening when you begin to plateau in strength and muscle gain progression. There are a number of different techniques you can use to alter your approach to both your nutrition and training in order to break through these plateaus and iso-tension is one method you should definitely considering carrying out.
By definition, the word ‘iso’ means to be equal and ‘tension’ means to apply force and as a result, stretch. By combining them to create the term ‘iso-tension’ we’re relating to putting a muscle under tension while keeping it in the same place. For example, the plank is a fantastic exercise which demonstrates iso-tension of the abdominal and core muscles.
As with every form of physical activity, practice triggers improvement. If we hypothetically create a situation in which a person planks for as long as they can 5 times per week, over a month period the subject would most likely be able to hold the static position for longer due to progressively forcing their muscles to adapt to the stress of the plank.
The Benefits Of Iso-Tension Involve:
1) Improving stabilisation
2) Improving muscle strength
3) Lowering blood pressure
4) Improving mind-to-muscle connection
5) Pushing past plateaus through further contraction after sets
Although the plank is an exercise which practically demonstrates iso-tension, this technique can be used for every other resistance training exercise, either by tensing the muscle you’re working at the end of your set for 6-10 seconds within your resting period of by simply holding a movement at the bottom of the eccentric part of the contraction.
For example, if you’re performing a cable chest fly, at the bottom of the eccentric part of the movement between each repetition you can pause the movement and hold still to boost tension in that area. Or after your set, stand up and tense your chest by performing the movement just without the cables and hold the position for spurts of 6-10 seconds within your rest period between sets.
For those who compete or are looking to compete, flexing/posing are also a form of iso-tension. By adopting stances while tensing your muscles you’re triggering a mind-to-muscle connection and teaching your body to display your muscles in a certain position. If you’re planning on hitting the stage at some point then you’d definitely benefit from holding some poses which involve the muscles you’re working between sets!
Time under tension is one of the main key methods of building muscle alongside progressive overload and your nutrition and is definitely worthwhile incorporating one way or another. By using iso-tension techniques your muscles will recruit more glycogen through your blood than they would if you stayed stagnant throughout the duration of all of your resting periods and make your muscles fuller while training due to the added stress to keep the muscle under tension. Not only this, but iso-tension can also help to build muscle due to increasing time under tension and keeping the muscle active.
Arnold Schwarzenegger was a huge advocate of iso-tension and one method he in particularly enjoyed using was called ‘flushing’. This involves dropping the weight down after a set and simply holding a contraction at multiple points of the movement.
For example: If you were to perform an upright row after your set take a lighter bar and hold it 75% of the way through the concentric part of the movement for 10 seconds. After your next set, do the same but at a different point in the movement, EG 50% of the way through, 25% of the way through. Arnold believed that shocking the muscles from different angles using this technique was very beneficial as it forced the muscle to stay ‘working’ for a prolonged period of time.
If you’re looking for new ways to make your training more intense and break through plateaus then you should definitely incorporate some iso-tension methods into your training! Improving your mind-to-muscle connection will also encourage you to perform exercises with more care and hopefully minimise your risk of injury.