Plyometrics, Isometrics, and The “Lateral” Family
While the majority of our results will come from loaded compound movements in the sagittal plan, there is also a lot of good to be had in many other aspects of our training. Here are three.
What is now commonly referred to as plyometrics started out in Russia as training for Olympic athletes during the Cold War era by a different name: shock method. The idea being behind plyometrics is that we increase strength through the explosive release of elastic energy, stored in the connective tissue during eccentric muscle contraction and released on the concentric portion. In other words we lower down, store energy on the descent, and explode up precisely like a slingshot. A rapid muscle lengthening phase followed by an explosive muscle shortening phase (contraction).
Performed correctly, and plyometrics are an effective way to apply maximum force and muscle power in movements like squat jumps and plyo pushups. It’s a highly effective way to add load without having equipment, so for those of you who think you don’t have any equipment, you do: Your body + plyometrics + gravity = weighted resistance.
They are also an effective way to increase caloric burn when time is a factor, aka, before the workout goes too long and you get bored as shit. Some days we might see plyometrics as a strength movement for maximal force and power, other days we may see low level impact movements in a conditioning format. Both work. If you remember anything about fitness at all, remember this: If Russia does it, it works.
Isometrics are held positions of maximal muscle contraction for an extended period of time like a plank, squat or push-up hold, while keeping our joint angles constant. A traditional biphasic movement like a squat has an up (concentric) and a down (eccentric), and each of those have different agonist and antagonist muscles that are each working a little more than the other in their respective phases. For example, in a bicep curl your agonist is the biceps (more of the work) and the antagonist is your triceps (some of the work). However, in isometric movements there are no traditional agonist/antagonist because everything is turned on at all times, peak tension, and working at nearly 100% of their capacity if performed correctly. This is why isometric contractions produce greater muscle activation than both the eccentric and concentric portions of a movement.
As we’ll see in the upcoming weeks, isometric pauses at various sticking points of movements are a very effective way to get past those areas of weakness. The last few inches of a push-up, the first few inches out of the hole on a squat, etc. Because movement of the joints are not permitted, the constant state of muscle tension requires an energy expenditure that stimulates enough adaptation in our neuromuscular system to not only support strength, but develop it.
3. Unilateral, Contralateral, and Ipsilateral Training
Unilateral, as in single leg or arm (i.e lunges). Contralateral, as in your opposite arm working with your opposite leg (i.e. a single leg RDL right arm holding a DB and taking it to your left foot ). Ipsilateral, as in your same arm working with your same leg (i.e. a single leg RDL where you are holding the DB in the same arm as your working leg).
You’ll often find movements on the board hat force us to train single and isolated parts of our body in this manner and they are beneficial because of the varying stability adaptation they create. Stability is a non-negotiable skill when it comes to getting strong and fit, and to stay healthy under the barbell for years to come. Contralateral and ipsilateral movements force us to stabilize in a much greater level than bilateral movements like squats because only one side is working, and since everything must have an equal or opposite reaction, the force on the stabilizing side is just as significant as the force on the working side. The result of this kind of stability training is an improved ability to maintain good form on the bilateral movements when we return to them. Greater form not only means improved safety, but improved gains.
You like gains, dontcha?
Additionally, there is a sneaky benefit when it comes to building and maintaining muscle. While bilateral movements unquestionably develop greater total loading ability which yield greater strength gains, it is actually unilateral work generally allows for greater ranges of motion and thus, potentially improved muscle activation.