The Ultimate Strength and Hypertrophy Technique
Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
When it comes to boosting functional strength and hypertrophy even in the most stubborn muscle groups /lifts, one of the most effective techniques I’ve used is combining eccentric isometrics with the one and a half method (1.5 rep technique).
Here’s why it’s so effective:
When it comes to specific weaknesses, stubborn muscles, and stalled lifts there are two categories that need to be considered both of which this 1.5 eccentric isometric technique addresses:
1) The neuromuscular component
2) The structural hypertrophy component
When a lifter has a particular movement pattern such as squats or chest presses they struggle with, chances are both their technique and neuromuscular efficiency needs improvement. The eccentric isometric (slow negative followed by a pause in the stretched position) allows the lifter to hone-in on their body position by using precisely executed negatives to fine-tune their mechanics. That’s because muscle spindles (sensory feedback mechanisms embedded within muscles) provide the greatest feedback when the muscles are under stretch. Besides teaching proper mechanics this does wonders for improving neural connections and grooving the appropriate movement patterns into the CNS. The result is substantial increases in strength and force production not to mention a nice bonus of decreased joint pain.
To address hypertrophy particularly in areas of the body that are more resistant to growth, the key lies in taking advantage of the three hypertrophy mechanisms namely, muscle damage, mechanical tension, and metabolic stress. Eccentric isometrics exploit each of these, however, to further increase the growth-inducing benefits and ensure hypertrophic changes in the most stubborn regions, implementing the one-and-a-half (1.5) technique will do the trick.
The 1.5 technique simply involves a bottom half-rep followed by a full repetition. In terms of increased strength, the phase involving the full repetition will allow the lifter to practice lifting with compensatory acceleration/maximal speed (during the concentric phase), while the partial/bottom-half repetition will focus more so on triggering functional hypertrophy.
Additionally, the muscle damage and micro trauma from this 1.5 technique (particularly when combined with eccentric isometrics) is exceptionally potent for triggering size gains as the lifter will be spending significant time in the eccentric or stretched position.
The bottom half of the movement is also key for triggering increased levels of mechanical/intramuscular tension as well as metabolic stress due to the constant tension and reduced momentum.
Regardless of how stubborn your body or muscles may be, if you can summon the mental fortitude to push past the pain associated with this incredibly brutal protocol, you’ll be rewarded with significant boosts in functional size and strength.
I’ve found the one-and-a-half eccentric isometric protocol useful on a number of lifts including squats, bench press, deadlifts, overhead press, lunges, RDL’s, pullups, pullovers, as well as many other exercises. Because of the long duration of time under tension incorporated for each repetition I typically recommend lower rep ranges of 3-6 per set.
Finally, focus on using optimal range of motion with joint segments close to 90 degrees and perpendicular/parallel body segments. Using excessive range of motion (i.e. squatting past parallel) reinforces faulty body mechanics and decreases sensory feedback from muscle spindles not to mention reduced tension on muscles with more stress on the joints.
1. Is this optimal depth in the squat video?
Yes, this video represents optimal squat mechanics that will be similar from human to human. Read more about squat depth here.
2. What's with the sudden snap you perform in the bottom of each squat?
The sudden snap at the end of each eccentric isometric (the quick snap at the very bottom of each rep) illustrates intense eccentric co-contraction of agonist and antagonist muscle groups for the sake of creating greater reciprocal inhibition on the concentric phase. Simply put, as I get closer to the bottom 90-degree position I squeeze my antagonists harder and harder until I snap into the optimal stopping point. This is very natural and not forced. For the squat that means I’m squeezing my hip flexors and hamstrings to get more activation and eccentric elongation in the glutes and quads. This is something that naturally occurs over time from focusing on proper mechanics not so much from intentionally trying to squeeze these muscles. Simply put by focusing on optimal body mechanics you’ll naturally achieve optimal eccentric co-contraction although it is good to understand these subtle intricacies of the body so you can feel (and tune into) these muscles automatically contract when training.
3. Isn't that hyperextending your knees at the top and bad for the knee joints by being that explosive?
No, this is called compensatory acceleration and in fact it's quite healthy and therapeutic for the knees as long as the muscles and body are functioning properly from correct training. In addition, there is an enormous difference between completing a full range of motion in the concentric phase and hyperextending a joint. Furthermore it's nearly impossible to hyperextend a joint when posture and spinal alignment are locked in.
Finally, the explosive concentric phase with a powerful finish actually ensures that the glutes and hamstrings fire at the top as a means of co-contracting and stabilizing the joints at the end of the the concentric phase. This is one of the key principles of muscle co-contraction. Simply put the glutes and hamstrings contract to keep the knees from hyperextending. If in fact the individual allowed their posture to collapse at the top and the hips to over-extend (it's actually ideal not to allow the hips to fully extend at the top as the hips need to maintain a slight constant hip hinge throughout), then the chance of hyperextending the knees would be much greater. In essence, focus on keeping proper postural alignment and when attempting to use compensatory acceleration to improve power output and fast twitch fiber activation, drive through as explosively as possible on the concentric phase.