Joel Smith STACK
If there’s one thing that’s been a game-changer in improving athletic movement quality and reducing injury rates in my athletes, it’s been making Jay Schroeder’s extreme isometric training exercises a staple in my team workout sessions.
I program these exercises, which involve holding an isometric in a stretch-range joint position, heavily in early-season training to improve movement quality and to set a baseline for how an athlete is expected to move once we start utilizing more loaded exercises.
So often we coaches rush to the heavy barbells before making sure our athletes can move well in the first place!
Isometrics in general offer a lot of benefit, the most notable of which include:
- Reduces injury rates through improved tendon properties
- Helps to cultivate maximal intention through a maximally simple movement (when done correctly)
- Doesn’t interfere with any sport-specific movement pattern like traditional strength training exercises can (when done correctly)
- Improves movement efficiency by reducing muscle compensation patterns (when done correctly)
- Improves muscle-tendon energy storage capacity (when done correctly)
Looking in-depth at the above list, we can see that even isometrics done at a subpar level may still help improve muscle-tendon properties to some extent. But when athletes don’t execute isometrics at a high level, they mostly miss out on those other four benefits.
The big benefits from extreme isometrics are allowing athletes better movement quality (through optimization of the neuromuscular system and stretch-shortening qualities), and gaining better joint position for moving their body weight around the field or inside the weight room.
They also are fantastic for helping heal tendons through increasing tendon compliance, as the tendons will slowly lengthen while the movement is being performed.
Extreme isometrics can be performed in sets ranging from a few seconds to several minutes, and I like to generally accumulate around 2-3 total minutes of these movements in a session.
In this article, I’d like to dig into one isometric exercise in particular that is quite popular, but also often executed quite poorly.
It’s the Extreme Isometric Lunge.
A demonstration of a proper Extreme ISO Lunge
Done right, the Extreme Isometric Lunge (or Extreme ISO Lunge) is a move that can benefit just about any athlete.
But to execute it correctly, it helps to understand exactly what you’re trying to accomplish.
First off, these isometrics are called “extreme” because they are performed in an “extreme” joint position, or the furthest end of range of motion capable under control in the joint being worked.
In the ISO lunge, the first element to address is that of an athletic posture.
This means that the torso is held erect with the head in a good position and the chest puffed forward. You can slightly retract the shoulder blades in this position, but I don’t prefer to have athletes “pinch” any joints, so puffing the chest out usually does the trick.
This also fits with Adarian Barr’s “Athletic Posture” (you can learn more about athletic posture and how I integrate extreme isometrics into my athletic speed programs in my book Speed Strength), where the xiphoid process (bottom of the sternum) is pushed forward.
This point provides direction to the athlete and allows a greater expansion of the chest in breathing.
Good athletic posture has the xiphoid process facing forward
The second element of a good Isometric Extreme Lunge is what’s happening at the hip joint.
The front and back knee should be at a far distance from one another while a vertical front shin is maintained. The back leg can and should be held relatively straight, although I don’t coach a full straightening. The big thing here is the front and back knee moving as far apart from each other as possible.
From this position, I want an athlete to “pull” the feet toward one another gently as they also pull the body downward. These mechanisms are seen in the figure below:
Proper direction of forces during an Extreme ISO Lunge
The capstone on this exercise (and really all Extreme ISO Exercises, and many bodyweight exercises in general) is that there must be a maximal intention to pull one’s self into the final stretch-loaded position of the exercise.
This must be done while maintaining good posture and nose-breathing (the latter helps keep para-sympathetic balance).
Simple exercises with a maximal intention are among the most effective in existence. Complicating an exercise can often decrease the intention we’re able to bring to it, and intention is a strong driver of adaptation.
Many athletes tend to perform the Extreme Iso Lunge while leaning forward at the hip or with their head pointed down, directing their mental energy toward the effort (or discomfort) of the exercise. This is poor practice, since a focus and awareness on the external environment is key when doing these exercises, as it replicates the awareness needed in sport. It can also stem from a tight rear hip flexor and a lack of body awareness in regard to torso position.
Leaning forward is common among athletes with tight hip flexors and poor body awareness
This lunge position is not necessarily “wrong,” as it has positional specificity to sprint acceleration, but it’d be a better fit for an explosive or weighted isometrics rather than the stretch loading and balancing effect of the Extreme ISO Lunge.
The most common mistake I see is the back knee held in a bent position rather than relatively straight:
A bent back knee guarantees an inability to create the “pull” that makes this movement effective
In this case, the athlete is definitely not “pulling” downward and creating a balanced muscle tension through the body. So the athlete may be getting gentle tendon benefits, but they are not getting much from a neuromuscular perspective.
Another common error, which indicates an inability to get into the quadriceps and anterior chain of the body effectively, is the tendency of the knee to drift backwards behind the ankle:
Athletes who lunge like this tend to be very poor squatters and don’t generally use their quadriceps and anterior chain well
The same athletes who have problems here often have issues squatting deep, whether that’s due to joint restrictions, coordination patterns or a combination of both. This error can be resolved by giving the athlete a “target” to tap the knee on while performing the movement to keep the shin around a perpendicular angle.
Again, the proper direction of forces during an Extreme ISO Lunge looks like this:
For my money, the Extreme ISO Lunge is one of the most effective and functional exercises on the planet. It can be performed anywhere and requires zero equipment.
Done right, athletes will find it helps decrease injuries, enhances movement quality, increases work capacity and more.
Photo Credit: PeopleImages/iStock