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Balanced Health and Fitness

Combining Weight Lifting with Isometrics

I’ve found a way to really supercharge my weight workouts that I think you’re going to really love.  If you’ve been lifting weights for some time and seem to have hit a plateau, this will help you get back on track building and shaping muscle.

The Problem with Lifting Weights

Here’s the main problem with traditional weight lifting…

The main problem with traditional weight lifting is that during most of the range of motion, the weight is being carried upward by momentum, not by your muscles. Most of us were taught to lift the weights in a smooth, controlled motion.  However, once the weight begins to move, most of your muscles take a back seat and are no longer working as hard as they were when you were first trying to get the weight to move from a static position.

Watch most people at the gym and you’ll see what I mean.  When most people do a chest press, for example, they’ll push the weight up as far as they can and essentially lock their arms to hold the weight there for a second or two before bringing the weight back down to the starting position.  Once you get the weight moving, pushing it the rest of the way up actually requires less force with momentum making up the difference.  When you bring the weight down, gravity is doing most of the work and your muscles are simply guiding it down in a controlled manner.

So basically, your muscles are actually working (or “loaded”) for only a short period and not during the entire technique, like many people think.  That’s why most of us tend to reach a plateau where you just don’t seem to build any more muscle even though you might be lifting regularly.

How to Really Build Muscle

We all know that to really build muscle, you have to keep the muscle “loaded,” or under a constant strain, throughout the entire range of motion, not just at the beginning.  Unfortunately, most weight training routines are performed way too quickly pretty much guaranteeing this doesn’t happen.

The solution I found is to combine Isometrics with my weight routines.  Isometrics are static strength-building techniques where a muscle is required to hold a weight load for a period of time without moving.  Here’s a great video that shows how isometrics work:

How Isometric Training Works – This video explains how isometric exercises are able to build muscle and strength so effectively in so little time.

The “Power-64″ Workout

So here’s what I call my “Power-64″ Workout (yes folks, you heard it here first!) that combines Isometrics with traditional weight training techniques.  Ready?  Here it is:

First, take the length of an exercise’s full range of motion and divide it into 4 parts or stops.  For example, if you can lift a barbell off your chest and fully extend it for about 2 feet, then your 4 stops are going to be about 6″ apart.  Do NOT get too hung up on exact measurements.  Just observe how much distance a single rep covers and divide it into 4 parts by eyeballing it.

Second, lift your weight to the first stop and hold it there for a count of 8 before proceeding to the next stop where you’ll do the same thing.  So during a full rep, you’ll press to each of the 4 stops and hold for a count of 8 at each stop, and then you’ll lower the weights the same way – lower to each stop and hold there for an 8 count before lowering to the next stop.

That’s it!  You’ve got a total of 8 intermediate stops and you’ll hold the weight for a count of 8 at each stop.  8 times 8 equals 64.  Power-64.  Get it?

OK, maybe an example would help.  Let’s take a basic chest press.

In the diagram, I’ve noted the approximate location of the 4 stops between the rest position ( 0) and full extension.  From the starting position (0), press the bar to position 1 (note that this is also position 8 on the way down) and hold for a count of 8.  Next, press to position 2 and hold for an 8 count before pressing to position 3 and holding for another 8.  Finally, press to position 4 and hold for an 8 count.

Now begin the concentric phase by noting that you’re already at position 5 so you’ll hold for another 8 counts.  Yes, that means that you’ll hold the same position (4 and 5) at the top of the exercise for a total of 16 counts.

Next, lower the bar to position 6 and hold for 8.  Then lower to position 2 and hold for 8 before lowering to position 8 and holding for a final 8.  Take the bar back to the position 0.  That’s 1 complete rep.  Try to work up to a set of 10 reps.

Holding the bar at each stop for an 8 count means that 1 rep should take you around 64 seconds to complete.  Your arm and chest muscles should be vibrating at this point.  Because performing 1 rep this way is roughly equivalent to performing 1 SET of chest presses the traditional way.  You’ll be shocked how exhausted your muscles will feel – which means you’ll also be shocked at how much muscle your body will build in response!

Helpful Hints

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  • You can apply this technique to all weight lifting exercises. Once you get the idea behind this, it’s really easy to apply it to any other type of exercise.  Whether you’re exercising arms or legs, simply divide the full range of motion into 4 stops.  Then start your exercise and pause at each stop for an 8 count (remember that positions 4 and 5 are the same).  The same applies to bodyweight exercises like push-ups, sit-ups, or pull-ups.
  • Hold the top of the technique (positions 4 and 5) for a total of 16 counts (8 for position 4 and 8 for position 5). If this is too difficult, then combine the two positions into one 8 count and work up from there.
  • Use light weights to begin with. I know all you guys (and some gals) can bench-press several hundred pounds — but not this way.  Reduce the amount of weights you normally train with by at least half and work up from there.  Remember, lifting weights this way will work your muscles 2 to 3 times harder so start out easy.
  • Shoot for one set of 10 reps. I know it doesn’t sound like much but I guarantee that it will take everything you’ve got to complete 1 set.  If you need to rest between reps, take no more than 1 minute.

Try this for a couple of weeks and let me know what you think by leaving a comment.  I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the results.

The Balanced Health Guy
Certified Fitness Nutrition Coach and
Personal Fitness Trainer (NESTA)

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  1. No comments? Come on, this is some of my best stuff! Seriously, try incorporating this technique into your weight lifting routine and let me know how it works for you.


  2. Thanks for the great advice onbuilding your muscle

  3. I’ve completed one round of P90X and it includes some type of isometrics which I feel is very effective. I’m now weight lifting in an effort to add some muscle mass and plan to incorporate isometrics to my workout for the next two months before I start another round of P90X. I’ll keep posting to let everyone know how it goes.

    • I agree with you John. I thought I was in decent shape but one session of P90X had me huffing-and-puffing like a couch potato. It’s not only the amount of weight you lift that counts, it’s also how long you lift it.


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