This is the Readers Questions Sections, where each issue I'll highlight a new question and provide you with a detailed answer.....Feel free to contact me with your questions here - contact me
This week I'll be answering Dylan's Questions on the Nature of Isometrics and Endurance, On Isometrics "only strengthening at the angle where the force is applied", Why do people (athletes included) still persist with conventional weight training?, and a brief discussion On the Eastern Mind and Martial Arts.
Hi again Mr O'Brien,
Glad to hear you're recovering well, I'd just like to know how Isometric training affects muscular endurance?
I'm also confused about some stuff I've read which tries to dismiss Isometrics because it "only strengthens at the angle where the force is applied". Please help as I've already seen and FELT the difference with just a few basic Isometric holds but I just need that statement clearing up.
Ok just two more things...Why do people (athletes included) still persist with conventional weight training?
I'm starting to realise there more to us Humans than I realised and also that the Chinese, Japanee etc have hit upon things that us in the "West" have only just (Last 30 years or so, maybe less) realised the true potential of. Since you're a qualified in Acupunture, I'd like to know waht you think I could gain from studying Meditation and the Martial Arts?
Sorry about the "21 questions" I just can't help being through..believe me it drives my family nuts! So just be happy you ain't living with me!..lol!
Thanks again, and sorry to keep pestering you...
Good to hear from you again and thank you for your kind comments. Let's take a look at your questions.
Muscles are composed of different fibers. Some are used in endurance, others speed. You neck has lots of endurance fibers. You're triceps has much less, and more fast twitch fibers. And these quantities are predetermined at birth. However you do have intermediate fibers which can switch back and forth, depending on training methods.
Endurance is based on energy pathways ie your tolerance to certain stimulus and whether you can burn more energy using ATP or lactic acid. That is developed through practice and conditioning of the event - and your nervous system - not your muscles. They don't make that decision. They just contract and relax, that's it.
With that said the stronger your muscles get and the more fuel they can carry, the longer you are able to sustain yourself and your muscular effort in which case you have improved endurance. You can also vary your hold times and test you're endurance with isometrics.
Keep in mind that all endurance is the increases uptake of energy over a longer period of time and a more efficient manner of using it. Isometrics increase both of these aspects.
On Isometrics "only strengthening at the angle where the force is applied"
The concern about Isometrics simply increasing strength at the point it's trained is a common one. And it doesn't make any sense what so ever if looked at logically and with an understanding of anatomy and physiology. Let me explain.
There is no single study produced that actually shows Range of Motion has ANY impact on strength or size development, and I doubt there ever will be. You see the way a muscle works is it contracts or it doesn't. That's it. It's on or off. It adjusts the amount of strength used through a phenomenon called the GIC (Gradual Increments of Contraction). This is a misleading name as it implies partial contraction of a muscle, which isn't the case.
The way a muscle work is that is composed of several bundles of muscle fibers which are connected to one nerve each. To lift a pencil 4 nerves are say activated and the WHOLE muscle contacts under the impulse of those 4 bundles contracting and low and behold we can lift a pencil. To lift 100lbs nearly all 150 say nerves would be activated and all the attached muscle bundles would contract thus giving you more power. It has NOTHING to do with the position of the arm - just the tension being applied to it.
Intensity is the SOLE dictator of whether you get stronger or weaker, bigger or smaller. And isometrics is by far the most intense muscular exertion possible, and thus produces the best results in the shortest time.
Why do people (athletes included) still persist with conventional weight training?
I really don't know. I can't give you facts or statistics on this as I am not most people and can't speak for them. However, I can tell you what I feel may possibly be the reason. It's five fold in nature.
First, conventional training hasn't actually been a round that long. Most people prior to the early 1900s became strong an fit through sports, gymnastics or body weight calisthenics or isometrics. And with great results. I discuss this history in detail in my ebook 7 Seconds to Build A Perfect Body. Unfortunately you can't market equipment and supplements and magazines and gym memberships etc if everyone knows how to do simple exercises to produce incredible results with no equipment and no time. As such a concerted effort was made to introduce equipment into exercise and lose the concept of physical culture.
As for isometrics specifically it was thrown out by the rash actions of Bob Hoffman who coached American Olympic athletes with great success using isometrics. Unfortunately he also used lots of steroids to help them recover quicker form the intense workouts - and isometrics was claimed then on to only work with steroids, which is physiologically ridiculous.
Second, the sad truth is most fitness professionals, gym instructors, magazine writers etc don't have a clue about exercise physiology, medicine, bio mechanics or much in the way of anatomy. They are all taught the very same things. The same full range exercises etc. And most don't question their teachers.
Third, most people are emotionally invested in their training habits. My brother, father, that huge guy in the locker room does this and he's huge and really strong - why should I do any different? Gyms aren't the place to get fit or healthy in my opinion.
Fourth - because weight training produces results. There's no denying that. You will get bigger and stronger lifting weights. Simple as. And it's visual you can see arm's moving, see more weight being added, feel more weight in your muscles. Isometrics doesn't have that by and large and as such require more mental discipline, and few have that.
Fifth - and personally this is the toughest one for me to accept - some people just don't have the mental fortitude to apply themselves maximally. It's tough. Really it is - to push yourself every workout to beat the one before, to contract harder than before, to be better than before. That's asking a lot of a person.
It's much easier to go into a gym tune out and walk on a treadmill for an hour and lift weights for 15 minutes and call it a workout, than to push yourself harder than you ever have before for 2 minutes and give everything you have to it.
On the Eastern Mind and Martial Arts.
Check out my NEW Martial Arts Section:
It's a common misconception that the East is the authority on the unification, exploration of the mind body spirit blend. Sure, India, China and Japan all have concepts of energy as both physical and non physical manifestation. They both ebody concepts such as Prana, Qi, and Ki. These sound deep, mystical and esoteric. And they are and for some individuals are incredibly compelling. But let's not elevate such things and concepts at the expense of the West.
Western thought produced Aristotle, Plato and Socrates (Influenced by Eastern thought), gave us concepts such as concepts of the Forms, Universal Law and the Logos. Descartes attempted a proof for god in the Cogito, Rousseau and Hobbs classified modern society construct. That's not to mention Islam philosophy and thinkers from whence came geometry and cryptology and some of the "Wests" greatest claims of science.
Now granted with an honors degree in Philosophy among others I perhaps see things a little differently and while it is not my place to suggest any one philosophical outlook, doctrine of faith, religion or otherwise I will simply say this - having studied history, the development of man's thinking and the major and minor philosophies that shape out perception of the world - there is is little to no difference between Eastern and Western concepts of thought save the words and manner of their expression.
Ultimately we all question and provide the same answers for the same questions. Rather than simply look to one philosophical cultural thought process look at humanity as a whole and see what you can find without division and construct.
The "West" have understood Eastern concepts as long as they have in the "East" and vica versa they just have cooler names. ;-)
With that said, I'd highly recommend Meditation and Martial Arts. But keep in mind that does not necessarily mean Eastern. Zen and Busido are equally as worthy as Prayer and Fencing. Ultimately it's a question of personal enjoyment and satisfaction - the same as your choice of training methods. Weights, and Isometrics will both give you increased lean muscle tissue, better metabolism etc. It's just that in terms of time spent per gains and injury extra isometrics is superior.
On the other hand 2 minutes isometrics is much tougher than an hour conventional training both physically and mentally. It all comes down to personal choice and enjoyment. The only way to know that which you like is to take the time to experience as many as possible and make an informed choice.
Hope that helps,
Your isometric expert and personal trainer,