THE ‘EQUIPMENT-FREE’ METHOD OF MAINTAINING STRENGTH DURING ISOLATION
Technically not ‘equipment-free’. We’re using a towel, but I hope for your sake that you have one of those at home.
Overcoming isometrics can be used to develop maximal strength, especially when it comes to breaking through sticking points (think bottom of the bench press).
So what are overcoming isometrics?
First let’s describe an isometric: Isometrics are a type of muscle contraction where the muscle is under tension but there is no change in joint angle. You can see them in some of the exercises we post i.e. an isometric push-up - where you pause for a few seconds in the bottom position before returning to the top.
Overcoming isometrics are a little bit different. This involves putting maximum effort into trying to shift an immovable object. In doing so, you put every bit of energy and effort you have into moving something that isn’t going to budge. This enhances the number of muscle fibres recruited and can improve your maximal strength.
In order to hit the max strength end of the force-velocity curve (we’ve spoken about this in the past, look up force-velocity on our website if you’re interested) you need a large neural stimulus through heavy loads. The problem with training during this isolation is the lack of neural stimulus (basically brain activation) available. This stimulus is required to get stronger. Max strength training in a gym requires you to complete under 5 reps at a high percentage of your 1RM on the big lifts (bench, squat, dead, chin, row etc).
We can’t do that without equipment at home. So the solution is using overcoming isometrics with a towel. And we’re going to do the 7 basic human movement patterns:
Push (horizontal and vertical)
Pull (horizontal and vertical)
Let’s start with the pushing movements.
Push-up: Simply grab a partner, start on the floor and push up into their hands while they pin you down. You want a bend in your elbows similar to the angle seen in the video.
Wall push: this is our overhead pushing variation. Come up against a wall or door-way. Have your hands just outside shoulder width and take a split stance as seen in the video. Drive your feet into the ground and your hands into the wall as hard as possible.
Next the upper body pulls.
Towel row: this ones a little tricky to set up. You’ll need a pole/tree/fence paling or something that’s not going to move. Wrap your towel around it and place your feet against something heavy or immovable. Assume a squat position and lean back so you’re pulling slightly downward as well. Yank that thing with your arms and pull your shoulder blades together.
Partner-resisted chin-ups: Throw a towel around a tree or bar that you have around the house that isn’t going to move. The aim for this one is to hold yourself at 90 degrees at your shoulder and elbow joints. Have someone pull down on you while you pull-up as hard as you can.
Time for the lower body.
Towel squat: remember that the squat is more of a knee-dominant movement than the hinge pattern seen below. For this reason you want to torso to be more upright and your knees bent in line with your toes just like you would if you were doing a goblet squat. Hold the towel with each hand and stand on it. Then drive your feet through the floor trying to rip the towel in half.
Towel deadlift: this is our hinge pattern. Similar to the squat, stand on the towel but this time you want minimal knee bend (just enough so your shin remains vertical). Drive your hips back (like you would on an RDL), grab the towel around knee-height, breathe, brace and pull.
Split squat: this ones for our single leg strength. Take a half kneeling position with the towel underneath your front foot. Grab the towel in each hand and drive your front foot into the floor. You want to come up a few inches as seen in the video, so grab the towel at a similar level to me. Continue driving your foot into the floor and try to rip the towel from your hands.
For all of these exercises you ONLY want to do 1 set of LESS THAN 15 seconds. Make sure it’s AFTER you’ve done a thorough warm up.
These exercises will FRY your nervous system if you do it properly so take it easy when beginning. Start with 5-10 seconds then build up. I was cooked after filming these.
During these exercises you’ll tend to hold your breath. Try and continue breathing throughout the time frame but maintain tension – this does take some practice and skill.
I wouldn’t do all of these in the same session. Spread them out over the week just as you would your max lifts with a barbell.