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February 2, 2011
Stiff exercise makes your body less stiff
Isometrics are a great way to train a desired athletic position, whether it is a volleyball player working on their defensive stance or a sprinter holding a track start. Isometric exercise in the training environment involves the static contraction of a muscle without any visible movement of the joints. At Sparta, we often hold a barbell at the knee level to ensure a safe and powerful back curvature before Olympic lifts are performed. What we did not expect were the beneficial effects these static holds have on the nervous system, particularly stiffness. A 2009 study, out of University of Northhampton in the United Kingdom, made a novel discovery that isometric exercise actually caused a significant decrease in stiffness of the lower leg muscles. Such characteristics are crucial because tendon stiffness allows you to transmit force quickly, an ability known as the RATE of force development. This RATE is regulated by the nervous system and often results in a higher vertical jump or quicker ground contact times in sprinting. Such stiffness can also prevent injuries (see SpartaPoint 5/13/2009). Think of your muscles and tendons like a series of rubber bands. You don’t want your rubber bands to be too loose, they will be slow to respond to quick changes in direction or speed, and put dangerous amounts of stress on ligaments and other soft-tissues. But like everything in life, you can have too much of a good thing. Some athletes, usually males who have made a lifetime of lifting heavy weight in a short range of motion, have become so stiff that they cannot stay on the ground long enough to apply the force needed to make movements smooth and graceful. This concept of enhancing performance through a longer contact TIME, is a biomechanical variable known as impulse (see SpartaPoint 11/3/10). Baseball pitchers with higher impulses tend to load and drive off the rubber in a more prolonged fashion and basketball players can keep a wider defensive stance with ease. So if you feel like you need to be smoother and require more TIME on the ground, try isometric exercise. We usually work our athletes up to heavier reps of 5-6 second holds in various positions and grips. You will be surprised that stiff exercise makes you less stiff.
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February 2, 2011
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7 thoughts on “Stiff exercise makes your body less stiff”

  1. Phil,
    Would you advocate heavier partial movements at all as a means tackling an athlete who was already TIME dominant, and therefore needs more stiffness or RATE to increase his/her power? Or or do you simply view it as a case of choosing movements that are quicker that allow a greater velocities- ie Olympic lifts but still hold maximum range of motion (full clean etc)?
    Or could you say that you get enough stiffness from the partial movement nature of jumps, along with elimininating static stretching & myofascial release?

  2. Great question!

    To increase RATE, or stiffness, our primary choice is squats because it is the most effective stimulus for eccentric strength.

    The second choice is squats again! Lower level athletes perform front squats both workouts, while our more experienced athletes perform 1 heavy back squat complex and 1 heavy front squat complex each week.

    We view jumps as an opportunity to work on all 3 variables of neuromuscular system. For example, with those athletes that need RATE, we provide coaching cues to load quickly with less displacement of both the upper/lower body.

  3. I like the sound of more squats.

    Aside from coaching cues would various jumps train greater stiffness? ie something like Pogo Jumps or Depth/hurdle jumps from a small height where joint angles are possibly more rigid and contact times smaller.
    Wheres landings from a higher altitude and prolonged ascent could possibly need a more rangy, fluid smoother TIME quality?

    Im trying to guess you! Intriguing stuff mate.

    Im being a nause Phil, but finally…everything still full range of motion for all 3 qualities or is there there value in partial shock absorbing movements like the Power/Hang versions of Olympic lifts to train RATE?

    You are killing it PW, all the best TT

  4. Beautiful ?s, as I believe a well trained coaching eye is almost as good as the force plate and our system can be applied in any setting.

    All of those jump variations are good, and inherently stress certain qualities, but we have the key is the coaching cues. For example, “jump as quick as you can” versus “jump as high as you can” can emphasize RATE and TIME, respectively in the same movement like a depth jump.

    Any shortened range of motion movements we use only as a teaching progression (i.e. clean pull to knee). For the most part, every strength movement we do is full range of motion, but the weight (intensity) and volume (how much you relax to get more reps in) dictate which quality is emphasized.

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