It’s videos like the one shown above that goes through a circuit of bodyweight isometric exercises that get me really excited! Why? It goes to show you that we do not need to lock ourselves up in a dark and depressing gym like a little rat (or a big rat if that makes you feel any better) in order to attain our fitness goals.
I would like to send my apologies to anyone who took offense to the gym-rat metaphor that was just used. It’s not that there is anything wrong with attaining our fitness goals inside a gym; it’s that most people simply do not realize that there are other ways to train. One of the main purposes of this article is to do just that—open others up to the possibilities of training outside in the natural world without your typical gym equipment.
I personally have a passionate distaste for training indoors. I enjoy being outside as much as I possibly can.
I do understand that people may have a different perspective than I do and actually enjoy training indoors. That is absolutely fine!
However, based on my own experience, I have perceived the gym to be nothing more than a dark, depressing, and boring place to be. It is for this reason why I am such a huge advocate of getting outside in the natural world, expressing your own creative-being, and seeing what comes up of it.
It could just be that I do not enjoy being confined to a given space day in and day out, but who can blame me really?
I have come to realize that there are endless possibilities when training outdoors. There is also a certain freedom that comes with being outside.
With that being said, the corresponding video is an excellent example of an outdoor training workout that can be done just about anywhere.
Positives and Negatives of Isometric Exercises
Through my studies, I have learned that isometric exercises are actually the best form of exercise that can be used to increase strength gains. Of course, the practicality of doing isometric exercises is incredibly lacking due to the fact that it only covers the degree in position that is being held. For example, if you take a look at the video, one of the exercises that they do is a simple push-up where you hold at the bottom for 5 seconds—this is the isometric part of the exercise. The unfortunate part of only holding the position at the bottom is that you are only becoming increasingly stronger at that one position or degree in range of motion. In order to use isometric exercises in an optimal fashion, you would have to hold the position at every degree in range of motion for each exercise that you do. Since the human body has such an amazing capability of moving some joints beyond a range of motion of 180 degrees, the idea of using only isometric exercises as a means to becoming stronger lacks in practicality.
The video displays a workout that they refer to as “the stairway to heaven.” The stairway to heaven is a progressive circuit consisting of bodyweight isometric exercises with a dynamic and plyometric spin to it.
The workout was completed on a beach using nothing but the ground, stairs, and bodyweight resistance. There are four circuits which are made up by both an upper and a lower extremity bodyweight exercise. The recommended set rep range used for each exercise went by three sets by eight repetitions—you could very easily do any set rep range that best suits you. Each circuit was also split up with two repetitions of stair sprints. Chosen exercises include:
- Bulgarian Split Squat
- Single-Leg Hip Extension
- Jackknife Pushup
- Single-Leg Crab Stance Hip Extension
- Horizontal Pulls
My favorite aspect of the workout “the stairway to heaven” is the balance and variability that it involves. We already talked about the positives and negatives of isometric exercises: the one negative aspect in doing bodyweight isometric exercises or any type of isometric exercise really comes back to the limiting ability to work all range of motions that the given joint allows for the movement to be completed. The great thing about “the stairway to heaven” workout is that it is not only incorporates isometric movements, but it also has that dynamic and plyometric twist to it—it has that balance and variability that is so important in improving strength gains.
With that being said, I would recommend adding in some bodyweight isometric exercises as shown in the video, but don’t become attached to only doing the isometric exercises unless you were to perform each position within each degree of motion. Even then so, we still want to be functional and it is my belief that we lose out on that functionality of moving anytime isolation is the prominent source of one’s strength gains. Of course, we’ll leave that for another discussion on a different day.
To round it all up, I think that the workout provided by the video would be a great place to begin your incorporation of bodyweight isometric exercises. If you could not find a place to add in the stair portion of the workout, for example, you could always do something in replacement of the stairs such as sprints or even use a hill as a viable substitution. I invite you to create your own workout using the foundations that have been set in front of you and use it in such a way that can help you meet your own individual goals.
Greg Pearson is an exercise science major at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania with minors in biology and coaching. He is also a lifelong athlete – involved in the sports of basketball, baseball, football, track & field and volleyball growing up. Competed at Shippensburg University in the shot put, discus, and hammer events as a Division II Track & Field athlete. You can contact Greg via e-mail: [email protected] or his linkedin profile.
I’ve done really slow tempo circuits before, like 5-2-5 and I didn’t notice any endurance gains and in fact found I had less gains than just doing normal speed movements. Is there a point of speed where there is no pay off?
The main purpose in my eyes of going slower is to make sure you’re strengthening the whole range of motion of the exercise, and not using momentum to blast through certain portions. But, depending on the exercise that might not be a problem, thus going normal speed would be better.
One thing not mentioned that In my opinion is highly beneficial with pausing at the bottom of a repetition is dissipating the stretch / shortening reflex generated from the negative portion of the rep.
I would probably pause for a little longer than the “quick” five seconds shown in the video. A slow three to five seconds should work, this helps build starting strength similar to that of dead lifting from the floor, floor press with elbows resting or pull ups from a dead hang.