Build Speed, Strength, & Size With This Isometric Lunge

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Build Speed, Strength, and Size With This Overcoming Isometric Lunge

Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.

When it comes to producing significant intramuscular tension, motor unit recruitment, constant tension, and post activation potentiation (PAP), few protocols are as effective as overcoming isometrics. Whether you’re a bodybuilder looking to gain size or an athlete looking to improve sprint speed and power, overcoming isometrics are a highly effective technique to implement in your training.  Overcoming isometrics involve pressing/pulling against an immovable object which allows temporal summation (gradual ramping up of motor unit recruitment and firing frequency) to occur over time.  As previously mentioned this not only produces incredibly high levels of motor unit recruitment and intramuscular tension, it also elicits a significant post activation potentiation response.  In other words you’ll be able to run faster, jump higher and move more explosively. 

Although this technique is typically applied to squats and deadlifts, incorporating overcoming isometrics into other movements such as lunges, split squats, and Bulgarian squats provides additional benefits.  That’s because lunges and split squats simulate stride mechanics thereby transferring even more so to running and sprinting performance.  Here’s one of my awesome figure athletes Leslie Petch demonstrating it with exemplary form.

In addition, these specific overcoming isometrics involve a combination of tension and stretching of all the larger muscles in the lower body including the hip flexors which is something squats, and deadlifts don’t provide.   For athletes that means complete and maximal post activation potentiation of all of the larger muscles in the lower body.  For bodybuilding athletes, powerlifters, and figure competitors that means significant strength and muscle growth throughout every muscle in the thighs.  It’s also a great method for taxing each side individually as a means of improving symmetrical loading patterns.

In terms of execution it’s quite simple.  Set the safety pins at a height that allows you to complete the bottom half of the movement approximately.  Once you set the safety pins, set yourself under them with a lightly loaded barbell on your back then perform lunges by pushing against the pins.  As you push against the pins you should feel the entire lower body musculature activate to a greater and greater extent each passing second until it finally peaks at 2-5 seconds.  In addition, the amount of mechanical tension and overload placed on the core, upper back, traps, and lats will also be extremely high as these muscles must work overtime to lock the spine in under inordinately high levels of tension and force. 

Besides the high levels of intramuscular tension throughout the body, there is also significant constant tension and metabolic stress as there’s no resting point throughout the movement.  Instead the lifter is performing the most difficult portion of the lift, namely the bottom half or stretched position, with no letup.  Be prepared to feel every muscle in your lower body fire including the quads, glutes, hamstrings, hip flexors, and calves.

If you’re a bodybuilder looking to increase strength and size I typically recommend 3-4 sets of 3-5 reps per side with each rep lasting approximately 3-5 seconds.  If you’re an athlete looking to improve power output, speed, and vertical jump height I recommend keeping the fatigue to a minimum while maximizing the potentiation response.  Several sets of 2-3 reps per side with a 2-4 second pause against the pins will do the job. 

I also recommend using a light load (less than 50% of your 1RM) and eccentric isometrics on the negative phase rather than an empty bar or no eccentric loading. This helps to ensure that there’s a degree of eccentric overload, pre-stretch, and muscle spindle activation that normally wouldn't occur if you simply used a fixed unmovable load such as a pre-set smith machine (without negative resistance). 

Applying light eccentric isometric loading into the overcoming isometrics allows the lifter to maintain a higher quality of movement and achieve higher power output on subsequent reps without deterioration of form or excessive fatigue. That’s because eccentric isometrics maximize proprioception and kinesthetic awareness. For lunges, this is critical as locking in form and technique is paramount when it comes to improving gait mechanics and sprinting form.  The last thing we want is to hold high intensity isometric lunges with aberrant mechanics and dysfunctional positions.

Trap Bar Variations

Overcoming isometric lunges can also be performed with the trap bar. In fact some individuals will find this setup and protocol more natural and comfortable than the barbell variation.  Additionally, this variation crushes the upper back, traps, lats, forearms, and grip to a greater degree as the amount of tension created on your upper body as you pull against the pins is incredibly high.

The trap bar provides two methods for performing lunges. The lifter can either be positioned with both feet inside the trap bar as shown above or they can be positioned with their back leg outside the trap bar as demonstrated below by Leslie.  Having both feet inside the trap bar creates a slightly shorter stride position thereby targeting the quads to a slightly greater degree.  Placing the back leg outside/behind the trap bar creates a greater stretch thereby placing greater emphasis on the glutes and posterior chain.   Depending on height differences, some individuals will need to perform these from a deficit position as shown in the video in order to have the trap bar hit the pins at the mid range position.  Also big props to Leslie for coming up with this clever setup and variation below.

Just in case you were wondering, here's how to perform a traditional overcoming isometric barbell squat.

Similar to the lunge, the trap bar can also be used to mimic a jumping, squatting, or athletic stance position.

Note About Frequency

This technique is very intense and physiologically demanding.  I recommend incorporating it only once ever 10-14 days at most while rotating the stimulus with other traditional eccentric isometric squats and lunges.

If you’re looking for a training program that teaches you how to employ movements such as these into your training routine, check out my Complete Templates.