The most attractive part of a bodybuilding competition, when you’re in the audience, is practically a sum of isometric contractions of the competitors’ musculature, in other words- Posing.
Isometric contractions are considered to be a ‘workout’ in a sense, that deepens the hardness, detail and separation of one’s musculature.
Bodybuilders nowadays pay more and more attention to doing isometric workouts, especially when they are close to their competition date.
Even more to that, when they are just a couple of days out of a competition, bodybuilders usually cut back on the heavy workouts in the gym and their only workouts consist of intense posing sessions until the end of the competition.
How to apply this principle?
The iso-tension workout can be done in a couple of ways
- Iso-tension flexion (Bodybuilding posing) – Doing this, we complete all of the mandatory bodybuilding poses and an optional freestyle posing routine, that may consist of the mandatory poses, as well as other, fancy, twisted poses that highlight our strong body parts.
- Classical isometric contractions where the level of tension in the muscle grows up until it reaches it’s maximum. (Simply- Just flexing your muscle to it’s peak level of flexion)
- Combined isotonic-isometric repetitions for each exercise, where you keep the muscle flexed for 2~5 seconds at the end of the motion, keeping the peak flexion before the next repetition.
From a bodybuilding perspective, the most effective way of applying this principle is through option number one, which, on it’s side is a solid workout that burns a decent number of calories.
Unfortunately, many young competitors do not think about posing beforehand, and only appreciate this ‘fountain of gains’ once they step on stage for the first time.
Many of the mandatory poses, repeated during the pre-judging and final stages of a competition, completely exhaust the already exhausted (because of the diet) energetic stores of one’s organism, which, leads to a sloppy look and poor performance on stage, if, of course, you spent little to none time practicing those certain poses.
The negative results of such a poor preparation towards a bodybuilding show, are very obvious, come show day and they stand out, especially when other competitors, who spent more time on how they show their physique, start posing.
Example for the positive effect of isometric workouts
An interesting example of the benefits of isometric contractions is the well-known “Austrian Oak”, Arnold Schwarzenegger, during his three consecutive competitions, namely- Mr. Universe (London), Mr. World (Columbus) and Mr. Olympia 1970 (New York).
1970 becomes his first year as a start in bodybuilding, as he wins these three shows in a time span of less than one week.
However, the exhaustion he had, due to the big distances between cities as well as his busy schedule, did not allow him to do his usual day to day heavy workouts in the gym, which forced him to spend more time on mandatory posing, free posing and isometric work.
It’s remarkable how his shape progressively improved, competition after competition, as the peak levels of muscularity, density, detail and separation were achieved in NY City during the Mr. Olympia contest.
So, during the last days before a competition, Arnold progressively decreased his training activity, replacing it with more and more posing and photoshoots for muscle magazines.
Tips from the pros
Arnold’s broad experience and success in bodybuilding, allow him to give young bodybuilders a couple of advice:
- Exercise posing in a relaxed state- The poses you will be doing in the beginning of each competition, when every muscle is about to be flexed to it’s peak level of flexion. Try to build up endurance in those poses, up until the point where you can stand for 60 seconds to a couple of minutes in each pose- This will be mandatory once you step on stage.
- Practice all the mandatory poses, by tensing every muscle in your body. Practice them up until the point where you can hold each pose for at least one minute.
- Take each pose and hold it tight for as long as possible, so that even if you hit a pose that’s supposed to show your back, tense every other muscle visible in this pose.
- After you learn to hold all the poses for more than a minute, start practicing the transition from one pose to another and learn to never relax completely between the poses, because if you do that, you will look sloppy on stage.
- Try to get as many pictures as possible during your last 7 days before a competition. Posing in front of a camera will cause it to improve, and you will be able to see any mistakes you might be doing.
- While working out in the gym, constantly flex the worked muscles between sets. Constant tension helps maximum hypertrophy and gives deep muscle detail.
Iso-tension and mind-to-Muscle connection
It is very important to know that the isometric contractions are directly linked to muscle control (mind-to-muscle connection.)
Professional bodybuilders, who are masters of isometric contractions use them as a “special trick” on stage, that gives a pleasing effect to the judges’ eyes.
Two tricks, often used by bodybuilders on stage:
- Consecutive contraction- When the competitor does the “Abdominal and thighs” pose, he contracts the abdominal first to show them off, 2-3 seconds after that he tenses the leg musculature, and after another 2-3 seconds, he flexes them all together and holds the pose properly for a couple of seconds.
- Two-stage contraction- During this, the competitor tenses all the muscles in a certain pose, but not completely. After 3-5 seconds of light contraction, he contracts the whole musculature to it’s fullest flexion potential and holds the given pose for a couple of seconds.
Iso-tension as a workout
Besides having a very positive effect on muscle separation and detail, Isometric contractions have little to none impact on muscle hypertrophy, due to the fact the powerful contractions do not provide enough stimulus for the muscle to grow.
When we compare isometric workouts to actual workouts in the gym, we can notice clear differences between the two types of training, that give advantage to the weighted workouts, when it comes to achieving optimal muscle hypertrophy.
However, for more advanced trainees, isometric workouts have more of a psychological advantage, simply because, once they start flexing, they have a visual representation of the heavy loads of weight they have moved, displayed in the thick muscle bellies and the separation between them.
Dynamic, weighted muscle activation leads to a more significant hypertrophy and strength development, while the isometric contractions grant us, as we said, a better mind-to-muscle connection and functionality.
There are no actual disadvantages and negative effects of practicing posing, however, the physiological mechanisms linked to movement coordination, time reaction and the development of dynamic strength and endurance, are not really worked on while doing isometric contractions.
Additionally, we can also note that this type of workout does not really have an impact on our vegetative functions and cardio-respiratory system.
At the same time, it’s important to note here that the isometric workout does not really require a lot of space, time or specialized equipment. You can basically flex your muscles anywhere, be it at work, school or home.
This principle, that is significantly different, compared to other bodybuilding principles, can perfectly be combined with the principles of isolation and priority (static contraction of a certain muscle group), whether it’s through posing or simply local isometric workout using weights.
While using the principle “set until failure”, which we will talk about next, we notice certain points throughout the movement, where maximum, peak flexion of the working muscle is achieved, that is, mainly at the end (failure) of the completed set.
There are even more similarities between this principle (iso-tension) and the principles of peak flexion, pause-rest and hesitation reps.