241216 Building your squat strength by not squatting
Static exercises have not been given a great deal of attention in the recent past. In reality they “occupy a significant place in the training” of the (successful) weightlifter (1). This method of exercise enhances not only the muscles ability to produce strength but also increases the functional capacity of the cardiovascular system in both the junior and adult lifter. This is not to say that dynamic tension exercise has been placed on the shelf by this method but it does offer an extra training protocol from which coaches can draw upon to better prepare their athletes.
Coaches have long recommended maximum effort static holds of up to six seconds for sets of three to five repetitions ‘while holding the breath’ (2).Keep in mind the fact that strength is gained at or near the specific angle at which the weight is statically held. These are performed ten to fifteen minutes per exercise day by holding the tensions for five to six seconds each position.
Isometrics develop strength at the angle in which the muscles were tensed. Some literature states the angle varies by as little as 5° from the static held position. Thus the isometric transfer to full range of motion (ROM) is slight unless the full ROM is trained isometrically. Doing so will increase the chances of becoming stale in the exercise in only six to eight weeks time. Changing the position of the muscle angle every three to four weeks should prevent this stagnation from setting in.
The transference of the strength garnered from a specific joint angle is anywhere from 10% all the way up to 50% to other angles. This transfer is greater during muscle lengthening isometrics than during muscle shortening isometrics.
The outcome of these strong static holds is greater physical attributes in the individual which are manifested in their strength, speed and endurance outputs.
Even static tension that is 50-75% maximum power that is held for five seconds has been found to be beneficial in the training regimens of younger lifters.
True Isometrics are not meant for those athletes who are not past puberty. The most effective method of strength enhancement using isometrics is through the use of maximum muscle tension and prepubescent should not exceed 70% of one rep maximum.
Prior to 1992 Soviet strength researchers conducted an interesting study on 76 of their junior lifters aged 13-20 years old. These lifters were separated into two groups: an experimental group and a control group according to age and skill levels. This experimental study lasted for one full year and during this time the experimental group squatted once a week while the control group continued to squat twice a week.
The control group performed the normal squat, i.e. with weight on the back, sitting back on the heels with the shins in an upright position and going to 90-120 degrees flexion on each repetition. In other words these were deep contest legal squats (the kind everyone should be performing but generally aren’t).
When performing the static tension holds the experimental groups were instructed to execute the exercise under the following three conditions:
The athlete stands on two blocks, 30-40 cm tall, one under each foot.
The knees are bent to 90-120 degrees with the upper torso tilted forward ever so slightly.
The back is kept straight and the breathing remains normal under the exercise conditions.
A weight equal to 30-40% of the lifters 1RM is fastened to the waist belt.
In order to establish whether or not the static holds were useful pre-experiment tests were conducted on all participants to determine their one repetition maximum squats. Testing was also performed at the third, sixth, ninth and twelfth months.
The results were quite revealing, especially at the end of three months and then again with the tests conducted at the sixth and twelfth months of training. The experimental group, squatting once a week and performing static holds on the second squat session, were able to increase their back squat by 17.5 kg ± 0.7 kg when compared to the control group doing squats twice a week. The control added 14.0 kg ± 0.8 kg.
The most drastic improvements in the weight lifted, for both groups, occurred during the first three months of the training phase. And for the 13-14 and 15-16 year olds at the conclusion of the sixth and ninth months of the period under study, again for both groups of young lifters.
Additional training adaptations took place in the length of time these weight loads were statically held by the experimental section. The initial times to fatigue were in the 28.5 seconds range. At the end of the study these times were up to 34.5 seconds.
It was also noted that the younger lifters benefited the most from this type of training as they were able to hold the weight the longest when compared to their older counterparts of 15-16 years of age.
It was firmly established that static tension holds are an additional valuable training tool to the normal eccentric/concentric lifting modalities. Try it and see for yourself, you have everything to gain and nothing to lose.
(1) Weightlifting and Age (Scientific and pedagogical fundamentals of a multi year system of training junior weightlifters; Static Tension in the Training of Junior Weightlifters, Dvorkin, L.S. 1992 Sportivny Press, Livonia, Michigan, USA