[06:20] About Dr. Chris Montanaro
[09:02] What Isometric Training Is
[09:30] Tony Robbins and Pete Sisco’s Influence on Chris Toward Isometric Training
[16:00] How Single Sets to Failure Actually Works
[21:30] The Difference Between Push and Pull Workouts
[29:54] Birdwell Beach Britches/Kion
[34:00] The Physiological Science Behind the Results from Isometric Training
[36:00] Are There Cardiovascular Benefits to Isometric Training?
[39:30] Are Full Range of Motion Lifts Recommended?
[44:30] The Effect of Isometric Training on Fat Loss
[50:45] How the PeakFitPro and the App Work Together for You
Ben: Hey, it’s Ben Greenfield. I’ve been getting lots of questions about the video in which you can see me grunting and groaning against some unmovable contraption in my basement gym. I’m doing a high intensity isometric workout in the video, it’s over on YouTube somewhere. Everybody’s asking me “what’s that crazy exercise device?” I’ve got the inventor of it on today’s show, so you’re gonna find out.
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In this episode of the Ben Greenfield Fitness Show:
“Even if you could get a few percentage points above and add in another set and a bunch more reps, what you would actually do to your recovery ability at that point, totally just makes that something not worth doing coz it eats into your recovery too much.” “Five pounds worth of muscle is gonna burn an extra 30 pounds of fat a year, all day long 24 hours a day 365 days a year. While you’re sleeping, while you’re just watching TV just coz you have metabolically active tissue on your body doing what it’s doing.”
Ben: Hey it’s Ben Greenfield and there was this video that was circulating a couple of months ago of me doing a stem cell injection on myself among other crazy protocols at my home. And the video opens with this sound of some random dude, me, grunting and groaning in the forest and then it kind of goes into my gym wherein there… just basically going to town on this workout machine. Just crushing myself with what are called single sets to failure or I’m using this special machine, that’s an isometric training machine, to quickly exhaust my muscles and get this crazy strength training workout done in about 12-15 minutes. Now I have gotten a ton of questions since that video came out about what the heck is this special isometric force plate machine I’m using to do these super-efficient strength training workouts.
So I finally managed to get the inventor of this thing onto my show. It’s called a PeakFitPro and it sits in a corner in my gym. I get on it right now once a week for this very, very quick isometric strength training workout that again absolutely crushes me in a very short period of time but has some really compelling science behind it in terms of how it actually works. So the guy I’ve got on the show who made this thing is Dr. Chris Montanaro and he’s a chiropractic physician. He also has a nutrition certification and he teaches a whole bunch of doctors around the country, chiropractic medicine, naturopathy, also homeopathy, and he happens to be a pretty impressive guy himself when it comes to his feats of strength. Chris, you actually have a background of weight lifting, don’t you?
Chris: Umm, a little bit. I mean I played basketball in college and did a pretty significant amount of lifting there.
Ben: Yeah but some decent PRs, yeah?
Chris: Oh yeah, isometrically speaking. I haven’t done regular PRs in a while.
Chris: Full range lifting maybe, but with the isometric, absolutely.
Ben: How much force can you generate via isometrics?
Chris: The best that I’ve ever done is about 27180 lbs. on the leg press.
Ben: Wow, what about deadlift?
Chris: The deadlift, I stopped at about 680 lbs. I didn’t like all the compression on the spine. It got to be a lot for me. [laughs]
Ben: What about the belt with the squat on, that’s another one that I do on this machine, what can you do on that?
Chris: The belt squat, I got it almost up to 1500 lbs.
Chris: It was 1487 was the best that I had at the peak. And as you mentioned, you can lift for different periods of time doing that for a three minute lift. It takes one reading per second so over the 180 seconds that I’ve been doing that lift, I’ve taken it from 26,000 lbs. up to 160,000 lbs. and that’s the same three minute period of time.
Ben: That’s 160,000 lbs. total. How does that measure, is that weight per second?
Chris: It’s weight per second, yup.
Ben: Okay, so pounds per second is what you were able to generate and then you add that up over the course of three minutes and that’s how many pounds you lifted over the course of three minutes?
Ben: Okay, cool. Alright, before we get too deep into the math, let’s back up. First of all, I want to know a little bit about how this thing is actually made and the sample workouts that you can do on it, but let’s first define what isometric training actually is and how you got interested in this form of training in the first place, so fill me in.
Chris: The most basic breakdown of the wording of isometric, iso meaning same and metric basically being the same distance, so when you’re pushing or pulling against the bar or a wall, nothing’s gonna be moving for you, like a traditional lift were you’d be going to that full range of motion. I first really learned more about isometric lifting listening to a video that was done between Tony Robbins and an individual named Pete Sisco. Tony’s always well known for just finding the best of the best in a particular field and learning from them, and they had a good half hour talk that they had together that really kinda started pushing the boundaries of what I thought was possible from a lifting perspective. They’re talking about gains that I had never seen before and gains that lasted for a much longer period of time. I was then brought back to playing basketball in college, I spent six months getting to my personal record of a one full rep max on my bench press of 315 lbs, and a month and a half into the season when you’re not lifting, I probably lost 100 lbs. of that. You lose it very quickly, and he was talking about taking six months off and setting personal records for himself…
Ben: Who was talking about that?
Chris: Pete Sisco and Tony Robbins.
Ben: Okay. I know who Tony Robbins is but, sorry to interrupt, who’s Pete Sisco?
Chris: He’s one of the bigger names in the world of isometric training. He’s been featured in Ironman Magazine and a lot of the popular weight lifting magazines, bodybuilding magazines over the years.
Ben: Okay. Now he was actually training Tony Robbins?
Chris: Yup, that’s where Tony originally got interested in moving down that road and studying isometrics and lifting that way.
Ben: Now I know that Tony Robbins has advertised before or been using advertisements for this 4-minute exercise machine. Is this the same concept as that or totally different?
Chris: I’m not 100% familiar with that machine but I’m sure that the concept is very similar.
Ben: Alright, you gotta read the back of airplane magazines more, apparently.
Chris: Yeah. [laughs]
Ben: I’ve advertising in those, too. So you saw these guys talking about isometric training and the way that Tony Robbins trains with isometric training, what’d you do then?
Chris: Then, back maybe 15 years ago, there was a particular machine that Pete had talked about that does what he wanted to at the time, and I bought that for my office and started using… I was trying to, for myself, under the guise of using it for my patients coz I wanted to see what it could really do. And they talked about two research studies that Pete had put together. One was a group of professional powerlifters and they did one rep and ten rep maxes, lifted this way for ten weeks, and then they did one rep and ten rep maxes again ten weeks later in their full repetition lifts. And their one rep maxes went up by about 28%, ten rep maxes were up 35%, and their static lifts went up roughly by about 50%.
Ben: But those lifts that they went up in, were they isometric lifts or actual powerlifts?
Chris: They were actual powerlifts. They’d lift it isometrically but then when they went back to actually doing full range traditional lifts, they went up by that much in those particular lifts.
Ben: Okay, so what you’re saying is there’s a direct crossover from the isometric training into the actual powerlifts. Do you know which lifts they were doing?
Chris: They did the same basic ten that we use with the PeakFitPro. Usually the first set is gonna be all of your pushes, so your bench press, the tricep press, leg press, chest press, and shoulder press. And then when you flip over to the opposite side, you’d be doing a lot more of your pulls so your deadlifts, your shoulder shrug, your lat pulldowns, there’s an abdominal exercise… and so really full body. And those are the average gains that they all saw over that period of time.
Ben: But what powerlifts were they doing?
Chris: They were doing one rep and ten rep maxes for every one of those lifts.
Ben: Oh, for each one of the ones that you described, okay. But those aren’t traditional powerlifts, some of those moves, I guess I was thinking more along the lines of…
Ben: Yeah, the actual maximal weights on squat, bench, and dead, those would be the main powerlifts. But they were doing ten different moves and then…
Chris: Bench was included.
Ben: Measuring them.
Chris: Deadlift was included., yes.
Ben: Okay, gotcha. Interesting, what about squat, did they measure the effects on squat?
Chris: The squat wasn’t available. It was just a leg press at that point.
Ben: I gotcha. Okay, cool. But regardless, what they found was some pretty significant percentage in… what’d you say the percentages were again, that they went up in?
Chris: So their traditional one rep max went up about 28% in ten weeks. Their ten rep max went up about 35% on average, and their static lifts were 50%. And that’s for people that are serious lifters. In another group, it was just kinda your average, not really in the gym that often type of an individual and their average gains were about 80%. And I’d have to say that I was pleasantly surprised when most of my patients were going up 100, 200-300% in some cases with a lot of their lifts in an incredibly safe way.
Ben: Yeah, for me so far, it’s been nice just with as much travelling I’ve been doing. I do a lot of body weight, a lot of suspension strap, a lot of blood flow restriction band, and a lot of elastic band when I travel. But then when I get home, being able to just hit this thing with as much force as possible for these very short periods of time so I can kind of inject a bunch of strength into my routine then disappear back out again to travel has been pretty convenient. And when it comes to trained versus untrained, I would probably put myself into the former category, but using a little app that ties to this thing, and I wanna talk a little bit more about how that actually works. I’m seeing big increases in the amount of pounds per second I’m generating and the total amount of force generated during each of these lifts, although admittedly I can’t produce maximum force production for three minutes like you can.
Ben: I’m up to about 75 seconds that I can push against this thing or pull against this thing as hard as I can go and then I’m toast. That’s about the longest I can last, man, so I gotta work my way up to these three minutes. But that kinda relates to the question I wanted to ask you next and that is this whole idea of doing one single set to failure isometrically, meaning the joint is not moving through a range of motion, so you’re just pressing as hard as you can at a certain point in the range of motion. What’s the actual idea behind this single set to failure training? I mean delve into the science behind this and also how it actually looks when you’re fleshed out, when you’re doing it on a machine like this.
Chris: It kinda goes back to some of the work that was done by Mike Menser, a Mr. Olympia winner. He was a huge proponent of basically doing one set… now he would do, a lot of times, traditional sets where it’d be very, very slow on the positive, lifting a weight up for example, squeezing as hard as he can for another 7 seconds in an isometric position, and then the negative, another 7 seconds very slow. And he would basically talk about doing that type of a lift where you could pick away that you’re basically gonna completely die on somewhere between 6 to 8 reps. The idea was that you were gonna give an incredible stimulus to the body, more intensity that the body has ever had at that point, and that’s all you need to get the stimulus for growth. And then the idea is to go home and let your body actually recover from that and actually grow. What he said was even if you could get a few percentage points above and add in another set and a bunch more reps, what you would actually do to your recovery ability at that point, totally just makes that not something worth doing coz it eats into your recovery too much.
Ben: Okay, gotcha. So how long are you supposed to recover between these sets, these single sets to failure?
Chris: The idea with doing that is that you wanna recover to the point where you have gone up. Now when you work out, let’s say that you work out on a Monday, the next time that you work out, let’s say it’s Wednesday, there’s three real options that can happen at that point. You either can go down in weight, which I experienced playing basketball in college, you lift on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, Friday you’re toasted, you don’t have a lot left and you haven’t even recovered from the previous workout. If you could make up a number, say lift 100 lbs. at one day and the next day you’re only lifting 90, then your intensity’s going down and you haven’t recorded even from that previous workout. So that’s exactly how you know if you’re gonna be recovered or not, if you haven’t built muscle up from the previous workout and gone up in intensity in some form, whether it’s the peak amount of weight, the total amount of reps, and/or all of that combined in a lesser period of time, then you just haven’t recovered from your previous workout.
Ben: I can tell you based on heartrate variability training, which is what I use to measure the recovery of my neuromuscular system. I just use basic muscle soreness and how I feel to gauge musculoskeletal recovery but for neuromuscular recovery, this thing seems to do a pretty good number on me. Like surprisingly high amounts of drop in my HRV, meaning neuromuscular system… damage isn’t the right word, right? But it’s certainly working my neuromuscular system.
Ben: Yeah fatigue, exactly. Thanks for putting that complex word in my mouth.
Ben: So I experience neuromuscular fatigue that I don’t bounce back from for a good 4-5 days after I use this thing, which is very surprising. It’s like you’re lifting a burning car off of a baby for a very short period of time and then you’re done but you’re just wrecked for a while. I’m not trying to scare people away from this thing coz there’s not really much soreness, but I’ve been surprised at what happens with the neuromuscular system when I’m paying attention to my HRV after using this thing. So for me it’s been 4-5 days that it takes to recover which comes out to me only needing to do a strength training workout on this thing, like I mentioned, 1-2 times a week. Is that generally what you’re saying in your training, is it 1-2 times a week or do you kinda structure things differently?
Chris: You always want to… so let’s say that you’re doing 5 lifts for example…
Ben: Actually, well by the way Chris, I should qualify, I’ve been going full body. So you mentioned splitting up into push and into pull…
Ben: I’ve just been putting it all in one workout.
Chris: Okay. The idea ultimately is you want 80% of your lifts to basically be going up, and if you haven’t gone up, then you need to add more time. I’ve gotten to the point where I had started out in one week intervals, go to two and three. Just this very last time, with three of my lifts I had to go 8 weeks in between. But then I took another big jump in that positive direction. I’d say most patients will start out doing it once a week, and as they get stronger and stronger and you’ve got those bigger loads, it takes longer for the body to be able to recover from it. And obviously you add in a whole lot of other things on top of it as far as all your recovery things that you do whether you’re gonna be doing your ice baths and nutrition and all of your other things that you add to it. You can obviously speed up your recovery capability in between but there just comes a point in time where you’re putting massive loads on the body and it needs longer of a period of time to be able to recover. And you’re always better off waiting a little bit too long than going too early and not having fully recovered and got the gains from the work that you’ve already put in.
Ben: Now when it comes to the actual push and pull workout that you’re talking about, can you walk people through that, like what a typical workout would look like using this… I believe you said you got the A workout and the B workout based on what you learned from Pete Sisco?
Chris: Yup, absolutely. So the A workout is typically your pushes, so I start off with a bench press, go directly into a tricep press, shoulder press, and then… it used to be a leg press and a calf press in a seated position. Now that the machine has the capability of doing the belt squat, I have people doing a belt squat when they’re capable of doing it. I might have a 90 year old that I’ll have them sit down and do a leg press, but for most patients I’ll have them doing a belt squat and then, still having that belt on in an erect posture and doing a calf raise basically from there. Still getting those same basic lifts with all of the pushes like that. Each one, for most patients, they’re ten seconds in duration times five exercises, you’re really at 50 seconds of all out intensity.
Ben: Just ten seconds, but you’re doing three minutes yourself?
Chris: Right, and that kind of… when I was training for the Ironman World Championships, you were one person that I had consulted with and actually I’d consulted with Pete Sisco as well. And I told him “I followed your work for a long period of time, I love everything that you’re taught, I have one of the original machines, but my problem is whenever I would lift that way, within 6 or 6 weeks I could be up 12-15 lbs. of muscle.” And carrying that around for an Ironman’s not something I was interested in doing, but I wanted his input, and he said “alright well here’s the deal: the best information we have at this point is to try to do three minute lifts but you can’t use your machine.” I was like “wait, what are you talking about? This machine’s been incredible.” And he says “well, you’re gonna get a peak weight, but if you have no data over a three minute period of time, then that’s worthless for us because we don’t know if you’re recovered and what your gains are.” It’s almost as exciting as pushing against the wall every day, it becomes pretty monotonous and not something that you’ll keep up, so that’s where it kinda spun off and where I wanted to create the technology to be able to measure all of that information for those isometric lifts over any period of time and get that total number that was never available before.
Ben: Yeah, that’s actually one thing I thought about when I first got your machine, like why don’t I just push against a wall as hard as I can and then pull against the pull up bar and a squat rack for as hard as I can and then just find something so heavy I couldn’t move it, like a car, and try to lift that as hard as I can. But the thing is, I can’t quantify any of that. You have this app that ties into the actual force plate that you’re standing on that allows you to see, like you were talking about earlier, how much weight per second you’re generating, total amount of force produced, and then also it measures, it beeps when you’ve got 10 seconds or 60 seconds or 3 minutes or whatever you’ve set the actual time for. But coming back real quick to this idea behind 10 seconds, why… is there research behind the actual time under tension necessary to elicit a result or are you just randomly choosing 10 seconds that you’re starting your patients off with?
Chris: Originally, it started off just following a lot of Pete’s work. He actually said that somewhere between 5 and 10 seconds is all you need. Think of a sprinter, Usain Bolt, you can only keep up that level of intensity for 10 or 15 seconds before you start dropping, so that all-out effort is what you’re looking for and there’s no way to keep that up past 10 or 15 seconds if you’re truly at your highest level of intensity.
Ben: Yeah, well that’s what I did initially when I got the machine was I did 10 seconds per lift. I felt like it was extremely fast and explosive and effective, but I wanted to get, especially after you told me that you did 3 minutes…
Ben: I wanted a lot of that growth hormone effect and the lactic acid build up and also the endurance. You started using this when training for Ironman triathlon, I know, and you’re a big guy training for Ironman, and I kinda wanted that benefit of the muscular endurance that the longer sets could generate. So I started going longer and longer, but the idea is, and this is something I like, there’s that little button on the app where you can have it beep when you begin to fail, like when you drop off to about 60% of the amount of force you started generating in the first place. And I find 20-30 seconds sometimes, my force will drop off to the point where I’m below 60%. Now explain to me the drop and whether if I drop below 60%, I should just stop the entire workout right there or the entire exercise right there, or if there’s any benefit to kind of pushing through even as your force production drops.
Chris: Well like you said, there’s two different ways you can lift. You can go based off of time if you want a predetermined time, or in that case, where the percent drop, you’re doing if based off of your performance. And that performance drop, you can actually change to any percentage that you want to, and it actually was intended to be more like a lift that you would do one set to failure like Mike Menser would do where you just get to the point where you have somebody help you with that very last rep into the positive, you squeeze on the static, and then you’re lowering it as slow as you can while you’re basically in tears and screaming as hard as you can, letting it down through that negative where you truly have absolutely nothing left. Isometrically, like a belt squat, in three minutes, by the time I get to three minutes, my legs are shaking so bad I can barely even stand up on my own with my own body weight.
Chris: But the question would then be “at what point do you give the body the stimulus it needed for growth and not have to go beyond that and make it harder for your body to recover?”
Chris: I think that only future studies are gonna answer that perfectly. 60% drop seems to be a decent starting place with that but some researcher somewhere might find out that there’s a very specific percentage or maybe it’s just different for everybody.
Ben: Well I think you emailed me research, it was way back in the ‘50s, the paper where they found a maximum muscle strengthening effect with one daily isometric contraction. And I think that one they were using an effort level about 2/3s of the maximum power so that’ll come out to around 66%, and that was a 6 second contraction that they used in that.
Ben: I dunno if those were trained or untrained subjects or… do you know the research study I’m referring to?
Chris: Yup, yup. And that’s the basic idea is somewhere between that 5 and 10 second range is what most people will benefit from when they’re trying to put on muscle and build their strength capability.
Ben: Okay, so if you’re in it for the muscular endurance game or you really wanna increase lactic acid tolerance or growth hormone production post-workout, you can go for the 1 minute or if you’re Ironman, for example, all the way up to 3 minutes. But what you’re saying is a 6-10 second time range is all it really takes as long as you’re pushing as hard as you can?
Chris: Right, yeah. You have to get that peak up real quickly. Sometimes when people first get started, I actually like to go up to 20 or 30 seconds because there’s something unique happens where the brain figures out how to fire more and more motor units, and as that’s taking place, you think they’d be tiring out in 5 or 10 seconds, and sometimes that numbers keeps going up and up and up coz they don’t even know what it’s like to really truly contract their gluteus maximus, for example, and all of the motor units there. The brain has never found… they’re sitting on their gluteus maximus all day long, they’ve never really had to figure out how to do that. And even people who are relatively seasoned lifters, sometimes they tend to bounce away a little bit, use a little bit of momentum and never really truly contract the muscle the way that they say. When I’m doing it isometrically, they’re just “wow, I’ve never felt the muscle in that way.”
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Ben: Yeah, it’s a weird feeling actually push as hard as you can using the different moves, these pull and push moves that you got loaded into the app. Now I know Charles Atlas had his dynamic tension method that was back in, I think that was in the 40s, this high muscle tension stuff that has been studied I believe since the 20s. But as far as anything that’s come out in terms of research on isometric contraction, I mentioned that one back in the 50s, you mentioned another one with these powerlifters where they found that this isometric training induced increases in powerlifting lifts. I guess it was the actual… were they measuring power production or strength in that particular study?
Ben: Okay, so what about… are there any other research studies behind this stuff as far as the amount of time under tension or any other things that we can use to advise us to the best protocols?
Chris: Well, it’s a little bit… you go to PubMed, there’s thousands of research articles on there regarding isometric force of some sort. It’s kind of frustrating that a lot of them just have to do with grip strength. There’s no talking about a percentage of your maximum grip strength and its effects on cardiovascular output. It’s like man, it would be amazing if when they were doing that study that they would actually have the PeakFitPro add full numbers to a full body lift. They’ve never really thought about just doing a grip strength and how that can affect the entire body.
Ben: Yeah, that’s interesting. But what about what’s happening physiologically? Do we know what’s happening physiologically during isometric training that would elicit those kind of results with such a short period of time spent lifting?
Chris: I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that all four types of muscle fiber are being engaged and you’re recruiting every possible motor unit.
Ben: Get into that for me, can you explain anything about that?
Chris: Absolutely. So you go running for example. Let’s say a 10/10 capability that somebody has to contract those muscles, for most people, maybe you only need 30% of your muscle fiber to actually run. Nobody’s ever at 100% unless maybe for a short 5 or 10 seconds or in an all-out sprint. So that has to do with more of amounts of motor units, amount of muscle fiber that you need to recruit to do a specific lift or a task. And with traditional lifting, you automatically are going to be picking a lighter weight to go through that full range in that weaker range of motion. And just by the nature of that, your body’s not gonna have to recruit as much of the muscle fiber and as many motor units to be able to do that.
Chris: Intensity level is decreased so you’re not gonna get the same stimulus to the body.
Ben: So in a way, you’re almost fatiguing the slow twitch and the fast twitch muscle fibers during the course of the lift, assuming that you’re lifting to exhaustion and reaching as high a peak as you can during a lift, and then in addition to that, you’re also seeing an increase in the number of motor units that you’re recruiting, again if you really are doing a peak lift to failure with as much time under tension as you can produce?
Ben: Now what about the cardiovascular response? I interviewed Dr. Doug McGuff about how strength training can count as cardio, and we talked about the physiological response to super slow training. I think the way that he described it was that you, during dynamic exercise like doing dumbbell curls, you would see a volume load on the heart. And you would see an increase in things like cardiac output for example or heart rate or stroke volume, but with static exercise what you would tend to see is a huge increase in mean arterial pressure. And so you get this big, big increase in arterial pressure and then a subsequent beneficial drop in blood pressure post workout, almost like you’re getting a cardiovascular training effect from a blood pressure standpoint. But have you looked into any of the research on cardiovascular training and isometric training, and for you especially using this thing for Ironman, what did you find as far as the cardio results?
Chris: I don’t have any specific numbers as far as the cardiovascular side, but I can tell you that you get close to three minutes lifting that hard, then I’m completely out of breath and have nothing left. I have to imagine that there’s pretty significant gains, I’m biking alone, I’ve seen my watts on the bike go up significantly that I can sustain over a 40K time trial on the CompuTrainer so I know that all of the different numbers are gonna be very consistent. Apples to apples comparison, so some of those kind of things have been very significant. But as far as the whole blind randomized studies with 20-25 subjects, 50 subjects that are gonna do that, that’s part of where we need to go as a company and get those research results.
Ben: Yeah, what about in terms of the cardiovascular training, the necessity to include actual high intensity interval training or running, etc. I assume you’re doing workouts other than just the isometric workout a couple of times a week.
Chris: Absolutely. So yeah, still gonna be doing a lot of the other biking, running, and swimming that’s involved with it. I would argue that if an Ironman athlete was gonna put any workouts off to the site and not get them in during the week, a lot of times the it’s the strength training sessions coz they wanna put in more hours into whatever it is that they’re gonna do, so it makes it really convenient to get such an intense lifting workout in, maximum amount of strength built, and then being able to just spend all the other additional time doing more sports-specific training whether it’s gonna be technique focused or just putting in the hours that you need to for a distance race like that.
Ben: Now playing devil’s advocate, don’t you see kind of a loss of range of motion or athleticism or what we might call functional fitness when you’re just pressing in a single range of motion. For example, I believe the instructions that you give, and this from what I understand is based off what you learned from Pete Sisco, you’re supposed to do a single set to failure isometrically at the point of the lift where you are least efficient, if I understand correctly.
Chris: And actually your strongest range.
Ben: Or I’m sorry, you’re most efficient if you are squatting, you’d be at 30 degrees of knee flexion with that belt on, just squatting as hard as you can or if you’re bench pressing, the elbows are just slightly bent, kinda sorta towards the top of the lift. But because the joint is not moving through any range of motion at all, do you see kind of a trade-off in terms of the amount of functional fitness or athleticism you’re building? Coz you really aren’t moving through a range of motion, so how do you tackle that?
Chris: Well, in a couple of different ways. First, have you ever seen somebody like Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan on a fast break, getting close to the basket, going down into such a deep squat that their butt is practically down to the ground and then exploding off and dunking a basketball? A full range for an athlete like that is something that they really don’t use. It is gonna be closer to that 30 degrees, they get a little in a very powerful lift to get off the ground, or you take one of the athletes who have the machine as well, he played in the NFL as a lineman for four years with the Titans. And you would never hit somebody, an offensive lineman, where you’ve got your hands almost up against your chest and trying to push somebody from there. You’re gonna have your arms out in front of you where you’ve got the most amount of leverage and that’s where the functional power comes in with almost all sports.
Ben: Now I did see one study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, this was just like two months ago, the National Strength Conditioning Association put out the Journal of Strength Conditioning Research. And looked at the, I think it was the deadlift, and they did find a significant increase in strength on the deadlift, on a full range of motion deadlift after simple isometric training with the deadlift.
Ben: So we know, and you kind of alluded to a similar study earlier that it can help with actual weight training movements to train isometrically. But I guess one way I think about this, and I’d like to get your perspective on it coz anytime you’re moving through range of motion you do get more of an eccentric training effect, you get more muscle fiber tearing, you get increased risk of injury. Say doing even a barbell or a hexbar deadlift versus an isometric deadlift in which you’re not moving through range of motion. So when it comes to the athleticism trade-off, do you kinda couch this in terms of building strength just as well of better without actually increasing risk of injury by moving through a full range of motion?
Chris: Yeah, I weighed that very heavily, I think that you’ll get for sure way more strength lifting isometrically and when you decrease the possibility of getting injured, that’s how a lot of athletes actually ruin their career before it even gets started, especially in a high school workout gym. A lot of times those athletes, their ego gets ahead of themselves a little bit, they throw in a little more weight than they should even have on there just to look as good as the last person that was lifting. And their biomechanics are off, they screw up their back, they screw up something else and then they’re just constantly back and forth between injury and a little bit of recovery, and they never really take off as an athlete.
Ben: Now I don’t wanna give people the wrong idea coz I’m still doing my obstacle course training workouts where I’m running, going over walls, climbing ropes, hanging from monkey bars. And then I’m also doing… right now, my training for some of these other Train to Hunt competitions and stadium races that I do like sandbag deadlifts and sandbag get-ups and burpees and full range of motion type of exercises. So I’m not saying that this would be the only style of training that you would want to do to say like go do a Spartan or go do a triathlon or get better at basketball or soccer or tennis or something like that, but when it comes to the actual strength training effects and getting a high amount of benefit in a very short amount of time by doing these single sets to failure, in my opinion, I’ve found it to be about as efficacious as the Doug McGuff style, super slow training. Do you know the type of training I’m talking about, Chris?
Chris: Yup, absolutely.
Ben: Yeah, where you’ve got five lifts: the overhead press, the lat pulldown, the seated row, the leg press, there’s one other I’m forgetting… the chest press. And it’s like 30-60 seconds up, 30-60 seconds down, usually you last about 5-8 reps and then you’re just toast, that’s 12-18 minutes to failure. This is kind of a similar concept, except you’re generating even more force because you’re simply lifting in one single joint range or motion, just have to have the single all-out isometric contraction, not to kick this analogy to death but again, like you’re lifting a car off of a… I was gonna say car off of a burning baby, that’s not right. A burning car off of a baby… so the question that I have for you though, related to this that I know a lot of people are gonna ask, is the whole component of muscle and size. Coz like I mentioned just a few minutes ago there is no eccentric contraction, there’s not a lot of actual muscle tearing or muscle damage going on and that, from what I understand is the actual signal to the satellite cells to proliferate and cause an increase in hypertrophy or muscle size. What do you see as far as hypertrophy or size when it comes to this style of training?
Chris: Well the ultimate stimulus for muscle growth is gonna be progressive levels of overload, and because we can measure it so closely, I can know every single lift is gonna be with that progressive overload. That’s really the major stimulus that anybody needs for muscle growth, and to go back to what you were saying as far as other sports to… there’s absolutely scenarios, especially like a crossfit athlete or somebody who’s doing Olympic weightlifting where they can get massive improvements from lifting isometrically and get a lot of strength, but there’s no question, they have to go back to… there’s a lot of skill involved with a lot of those lifts and they still have to work that skill. Take a basketball player, I would get… absolutely, you can get incredible amounts of strength gain lifting this way in a short period of time. I’d rather they go spend the extra time shooting free throws and dribbling and passing and working on sports specific skills that are gonna take their game that much further.
Ben: Yeah, it makes sense and I think one thing… I’ve got two observations on that. First of all, I did find some studies that found that the average muscle cross sectional area in response to a maximal isometric contraction, and again it’s kinda like Tabata training. People talk about the magic of the 20 second hard-10 second easy for 4-minute style of training, and then folks go do that at the gym and go at 70% for those 20 seconds. It has to be all out, we’re talking about 100+% of VO2Max to make something like a Tabata training set effective to allow you to actually get significant mitochondrial density and cardiovascular gains with just a 4-minute workout. Very similar to this, you just have to be at maximal isometric contraction as we’ve kind of alluded to, it’s a hard contraction even though it’s over with in a relatively short period of time.
But anyways, I did find one study in 2002 where they saw an increase in average muscle cross sectional area of about 12% after isometric training and that was following a drop off period, I think it was about 60% where they kind of stopped the set when the people had generated as hard a force as they could and then dropped off to 60%. And then as you alluded to, we know that there’s a significant increase in the amount of motor units and muscle fibers that are recruited during a maximal isometric contraction compared to an eccentric or a concentric contraction. And so we do know that you can build muscle that can serve as a stimulus for muscle growth, not to mention the growth hormone release that occurs after if you’re doing some of these longer sets. Growth hormone is a response to build up of lactic acid, and so if you’re doing one minute or two minute, or God forbid a three minute isometric set to failure…
Ben: You are gonna see a growth hormone effect. But one of the things that I was kinda messing around with, and I wanna get your feedback on this, was I use your machine, I use this PeakFitPro and I did isometric training. But then I followed it up, and this is actually based off of an article that I read on T Nation, about isometric training. I followed up the isometric with full reps to failure. I did this a few times and even though I didn’t get that sore after just doing the isometric training on the PeakFitPro, it was like I could barely move my muscles or musculoskeletal response when I would do, for example, isometric set to complete failure on the PeakFitPro and then drop and do pushups right after doing the bench to failure. Or another one I did was the deadlift, I did the deadlift isometric, about a 75 second all-out contraction, then I went over to the bar where I didn’t have a lot of weight loaded, it was like 135 lbs. so a plate on either side, and just ripped the bar off the ground to failure. I think it was 12-15 reps, something like that. Have you toyed around with kind of mixing up other forms of training in with the isometric training to see if you can get more, specifically more muscle or size or hypertrophy?
Chris: I haven’t specifically done that. Most of my additional working out is just more specific to Ironman for myself. You’re walking a line where you wanna create the stimulus but then not make it too hard to recover from so that you can get your next workout in, almost like Phil Maffetone’s training when you’re gonna be running at a certain heart rate that you can recover from and do another workout later tonight or tomorrow. If you’re gonna do an all-out max lift on the PeakFitPro biometrically and then adding in another bunch of sets or reps of a particular lift, there’s absolutely potential to be gained from that but at what point are you making it harder to recover from? If you end up sore for 3 or 4 extra days and you really can’t get your best workout in the next day, that might be more cardiovascular, you might go for a long run or a long bike ride and you can’t put in your best effort there. That’s just gonna be something that… it’s probably more on an individual basis need of what you’re looking for with your training.
Ben: Yeah, I was pretty useless the next day… next couple of days.
Chris: [laughs] Exactly.
Ben: But honestly I’ve done it a few times since, and again if you’re listening in, you’re like a bodybuilder and just size is your pure goal or hypertrophy is your goal or whatever, a high schooler that wants to just put on a bunch of muscle mass. I kinda like that idea of going isometric and then following that up with a set to failure off the machine, I think it’s a pretty interesting way to train for hypertrophy.
Chris: While you’re at it, you should throw in some of those ischemic bands.
Ben: Oh, like blood flow restriction?
Chris: That’s right, blood flow restriction bands at the same time.
Chris: Make it as hard as you possibly can.
Ben: Yeah, well you’d probably get an even more enhanced growth hormone response from those blood flow restriction bands, although admittedly they reduce the amount of fore you can produce. So, I’m not sure if there’d be a little bit of a trade-off… but anyways, another question that I have for your is just about kinda of the way the machine is built. Because we haven’t really gone into that or described for folks how it actually works when you take the app that ties into this force plate, and then actually do a workout using the app. So can you go into the actual… I think the invention itself, how it actually works and how the app combines with the machine.
Chris: Sure, absolutely. So the machine itself looks relatively simple if you were to just see a picture of it, but sometimes things that look simple and a lot of the design and ingenuity goes into it to be able to pretty much do any exercise you can think of. One of my favorite pieces of it was what we added into the middle of the base plate. I call it the universal joint because it’s where you can attach the chain for the belt squat, or a chain for almost any range of motion, for any lift that you can make up at that point. And then there’s just two upright bars, a bar at the top for stabilization and then you’ve got the bar in the middle and that can slide into position from one lift to another very quickly. And in the gut of the machine, there’s a 5000 pound load cell, so… I’ve never seen anybody come anywhere close to the 5000 lbs. I’m actually the closest person I’ve ever seen to even come close to 3000 lbs. at this point, but I’m sure that there’s people in the ultra-strength world that will push some of those numbers over the course of time. The data then goes to a Bluetooth board that we had designed and that all goes to the app. That’s really where all the magic takes place, is in the app that can be easily downloaded on the iTunes App Store.
Ben: So basically you’ve got this force plate that is detecting the amount of pounds generated, sending that signal via Bluetooth to the app, and once you start to lift and you press start for example, I have mine set for a 10 second countdown. So if I’m gonna do the deadlift, I press start on the app and then 10 seconds later, it beeps and I have it set to go for I think right now, like I mentioned, 75 seconds. So just as hard as I can for 75 seconds and during that entire time, the phone app is gathering data about how much force I’m generating, pounds per second, total amounts of pounds generated or produced or lifted over the course of those 75 seconds. And then also in comparison of how that particular deadlift corresponds to the deadlift I did in my previous workout, say 5 days earlier or 7 days earlier, so I can see what kind of drop or increase in strength production has been generated.
Chris: Exactly. You’ll be able to measure your peak weight and compare it to the last time, you’ll see your total weight… so yeah, an incredible amount of data that you’ll have there for sure, and even while you’re in the middle of your lifting, you can look at the live readout of exactly how much you’re pushing. It’s a little bit of a catch-22 because you’re going all out and half the time your eyes are closed and it’s hard to concentrate but if you know that you’re trying to reach a certain number and you’re watching your iPhone or your iPad to see if you’re breaking through that or not. It can give you a little extra motivation.
Ben: Yeah, I don’t look at the screen at all, I can’t.
Ben: I literally can’t see anything except the ceiling so my eyes roll back in my head and I just grunt and go as hard as I can. So I just listen for the beep on that app to tell me once I’ve reached that total of 75 seconds.
Chris: And it felt a little deceiving. I’m kind of like you where you’re grunting for the whole time and sometimes I even lose my voice a little bit for a day or two afterwards coz I’m just grunting so hard for all that period of time. But I’ve even got 80-90 year old patients in the office and they’re just giving the best effort that they’ve got and it doesn’t look quite like you’re delivering a baby for a lot of those people as well. So it is something that people of almost any age can do.
Ben: Yeah, and you generally again, you split it into the A workout as a push and the B workout as a pull, and that’s based off of some of the stuff that Pete Sisco recommends?
Chris: And then we’ll do individual things based on need. Come up with… basically a wrist strap around my foot and around my opposite wrist and go into a running gait position, and just seeing what I can do from building that neurologic pathway where I’m lifting the opposite. So like my left leg is lifted, lift the foot, the hip, contracting the abdominals in between and lifting the arm like you would be when you’re running, and doing that on both sides. A little bit more sports specific in the case. You could grab… are you familiar with those elbow straps that you hang from and doing abdominal work. I’ll do the same sort of thing that where I could do different neck exercises or you could even take somebody who’s training in jiu-jitsu and put your arms through that strap and lift it up like you’re putting somebody in a guillotine or a rear naked choke and make it very sports specific at that point.
Chris: I even had one a couple of weeks ago, about a month ago now, I was at a Syracuse basketball game and the big man didn’t have the strongest hands in the world and I just wanted him to be able to grip the basketball isometrically and build as much strength as he could during the middle of that lift, that’s be perfect for a basketball player.
Ben: Yeah, and what about… one other thing I wanted to ask you was any effect on body fat reduction? Have you looked into that at all in terms of metabolic rate increase, body fat reduction, amount of calories burned, is this helpful at all for weight loss? Because it doesn’t seem like if you’re just pressing against a thing as hard as you can without moving through range of motion, you’re gonna be burning that many calories for example.
Chris: Those don’t have to do so much with the calories burned during the workout, where you get the benefits and there’s plenty of studies throughout PubMed that if you have… you put on, let’s just say something as simple as five pounds worth of muscle. Five pounds worth of muscle is gonna burn an extra 30 pounds of fat a year, all day long 24 hours a day 365 days a year. While you’re sleeping, while you’re just watching TV just coz you have metabolically active tissue on your body doing what it’s doing, and that’s really where you’re gonna get the biggest benefit from a burning fat perspective. You’re not gonna get your thousand calorie burn the same way that you are on an hour bike ride or a couple of hour bike ride. It wouldn’t be the same as that coz the workout’s just over too quickly. But really, truly, the benefit is having the extra muscle which comes on very, very quickly. Even people that are hard gainers, I have a good friend of mine, he’s basically built like a twig, he’s 45 years old, and he had spent a lot of his younger years just taking weight gainers. He’s 6’4” and weighs 135 lbs, and I’ll give you an idea of his size, and he would take weight gainers and lifting all the time and just couldn’t put on weight. Lifting this way with me in the office, he averaged one pound of gain every single week for 12 weeks straight.
Chris: Which is huge gain for somebody. We put on 12 lbs. of muscle on somebody, you’re looking at the potential 30-60 lbs. of the fat that could be burned or the equivalent in calories over the course of a year like that.
Ben: Yeah. There’s some interesting research too behind some of the… well, for example you look at blood sugar control, I know one study that they did on isometric training and insulin resistance, and beta cell function was actually really interesting. They found a significant improvement in insulin sensitivity and in pancreatic beta cell function was something like isometric training. Actually not like isometric training, this was actual isometric training, in this case they were doing back extension and abdominal flexion isometrically and saw a significant reduction in the type of things we would associate with diabetes. The Journal of Clinical Hypertension did another one where they found not only some of the benefits on blood pressure that I mentioned earlier but they saw increase in muscle bulk, they saw upper and lower body strength as you expect significant improvement in that, big increase in bone density, big decrease in bone fractures. It’s very interesting, this idea of what happens when you… in very simplistic terms, just push or pull against something as hard as possible without actually being able to move said object, which is essentially what isometrics is.
Chris: Actually, I have a very specific story associated with that, hopefully the FDA’s not too upset at me for saying this, but I had a patient who went to see his medical doctor, got his blood sugar taken, and it was 465 which is off the charts.
Ben: Oh yeah, so high.
Chris: Yeah, but at the same time he had a little bit of an issue where he showed up to the doctor late a few times and he was kinda fired on that visit from coming back to the office, so he was never put on medication and he came into the office that day and he said “here’s the deal, I’ve got my blood sugar monitor, I can measure this, and I don’t wanna go on drugs.” “Oh, first thing we’re gonna do is change up your diet for sure and we’re gonna try and put as much muscle on your body so that you could burn off as much sugar as possible.” And within a two month period of time, he was back to a completely normal range.
Chris: I’m not saying that that’s gonna happen with every diabetic on the planet but it just… they’re steps in the right direction. If you cut a lot of extra sugar out of your diet and you’re building muscle which is [1:00:28] ______, there’s just scientific fact. More muscle on your body is gonna burn more sugar, and as a result, obviously love to have a hundred patients that I could test that on but that was one awesome case that really made a big difference.
Ben: Wow, wow. It’s super interesting, the idea behind this extremely short effort and what happens physiologically. I think a lot of people just feel like you gotta crush it for an hour to an hour and a half. And don’t get me wrong, I actually kinda like… I’m one of those guys that likes to go to the gym and just wander around and lift on stuff for a while, but at the same time you have to accept the fact that if you wanna be a hyper productive person or get a lot done or extreme efficiency is important to you, this is the type of training that can actually make that happen.
So for me, on a busy day like yesterday, case and point, I did about 15 minutes of high intensity interval training on the bike and then just went in there on the PeakFitPro, did a set of deadlifts, a set of squats, a set of bench, a set of shoulder, and a set of lat pulldowns, each of those was about 75 second contraction. In between each, I like to do some mobility work, so I’ll do some light side to side steps and some cat-cows or some opposite arm-opposite leg extensions. I never like to just sit there on the bench recovering, but I spend about 2-3 minutes between each set kinda moving and doing some mobility work and then do the next set. I made it out within 18 minutes is what I’ve time it to be. Something like that, I’ve got within a half hour, my entire cardio training and strength training done for the day. So that’s an example of the type of thing that it’s gonna be used for. And obviously it’s not… this is a pretty, I mean a lot of R&D behind this machine, it’s a freakin’ force plate, it took me about an hour to assemble when it arrived to my house, but I can tell it’s not an inexpensive amount of technology that’s put into this thing. So I understand this is a little bit different than say investing in a set of elastic bands and a couple of dumbbells, so fill me in exactly in what’s going on as far as the price point on this thing and whether it really is something that people are buying for their homes or this is just something you’d buy if you were a medical clinic owner or health club owner or a gym owner.
Chris: Well actually, about half and half right now with the owners of the PeakFitPro. Half have them in individual homes, and then the other half are in some type of a commercial setting: chiropractor’s office, physical therapy office, there’s one that’s like a cryotherapy/rejuvenation location. So it is about half and half. The price point is $6,500 and it is a lot of very thick, strong steel and technology built into it. You might get the sense of looking at it like “oh, that’s actually what I thought to begin with.” I was like “wow, I probably could make this for $500-600, sell it for a little bit more than that, and go to town. It ends up being a whole lot more expensive than that when you’re actually producing it… the quality and durability of it.
Ben: So $6,500.
Chris: What’s that?
Ben: $6,500. Do you have any kind of payment plan or anything like that for folks?
Chris: Yup absolutely. There’s a number of different situations where they can basically lease to own it, or rather a 1, 2, or 3 year lease to pay for it for a home or commercial location. Those are options for sure.
Ben: Awesome. And I know we’ve got a discount code for people, too. It is GREENFIELD, that saves a couple of hundred bucks if you use code GREENFIELD. And I’ll put that also, if you just go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/isometrics. I’ll give you guys a link to the PeakFitPro and then also that code, as well as the video that shows me grunting and groaning on this thing, if you actually wanna see what the thing freakin’ looks like and how I personally look like a hack using it, grunting and groaning out here in the forest.
Chris: [laughs] And if people are ever interested in calling, asking questions, and even just mention that they listened to this podcast or any number of your videos or information that you put out there, then absolutely they’ll get that discount as well.
Ben: Awesome, got it. So it’s called a PeakFitPro, if you’re listening in. I own one, I’ve been using this thing. This is the one that you guys have heard me talk about a few times, if you’ve ever heard me mention it in the past few months, single set to failure training, this is it. I understand it’s an investment but if you’re just gonna put one thing in a home gym, put this, maybe slap an Airdyne next to it, and you’re good to go. That’s all you need the rest of your life when it comes to the marriage of cardio and strength. And again, if you wanna throw in some range of motion stuff, yeah, you can also combine full range of motion exercising with it. But like Chris mentioned, you’re gonna do so at the risk of a pretty significantly long period of time required to recover because it’s very effective but also… it does a number on your neuromuscular, and then if you add in the full range of motion stuff, your musculoskeletal system, too. So either way…
Chris: There’s always the potential of injury.
Chris: Full range, you bring your bench press all the way down to your chest, that’s where your AC joint’s most compromised position. It can happen.
Ben: Yeah, that’s true. Good point, so also really helpful for seniors or for people who are injured as well. I had a back injury for about three months and I was still able to dead lift and squat, bench, shoulder press and lat pulldown with this thing coz again, I wasn’t having to move through full range of motion, so good point. Very helpful for that as well.
So again, I’m gonna put a link to everything over at bengreenfieldfitness.com/isometrics including the discount code, the link over to Chris’ site. I’ll also link to that podcast I did with Dr. Doug McGuff for those of you who kinda wanna wrap your heads around this idea of how strength training can enhance blood pressure and cardiovascular health as well. And Chris, in the meantime, thank you for coming on the show, for sharing all this stuff with us and for inventing a very cool device here.
Chris: I can’t thank you enough, I really appreciate it.
Ben: Awesome. Alright folks, I’m Ben Greenfield along with Chris Montanaro signing out from bengreenfieldfitness.com. Have an amazing week.
In the beginning of my article “Shooting Up Stem Cells“, you see a video of me grunting, groaning and pushing against a special machine designed to quickly exhaust the muscles and allow for extremely efficient and effective “single set to failure” training.
Since then, I've mentioned this “special machine” in multiple podcasts, and I've finally managed to get the inventor onto my show…
The machine is called a “PeakFitPro” and the man who designed it is Dr. Chris Montanaro DC, DIBAK, DCBCN. Dr. Chris is a chiropractor and a Diplomate in AK and a Diplomate in Nutrition. He teaches certification courses to doctors of various disciplines including doctors of chiropractic, medicine, naturopathy, and homeopathy. Dr. Chris is also a member of the adjunct faculty of New York Chiropractic College & Palmer Chiropractic College in Florida. Dr. Chris is also an Advanced Theta Healing practitioner.
During our discussion, you'll discover:
-How Tony Robbins and Pete Sisco got Chris interested in extreme efficiency in isometric training… 9:30
-The fascinating research behind “single set to failure” training, and how it actually works… 16:00
-How to do a “pull” workout and “push” workout using the PeakFitPro… 21:30
-How much time under tension is necessary to get the most out of isometric training… 24:45
-What's happening physiologically during isometric training that elicits such fast results… 34:00
-Whether there are any cardiovascular or endurance benefits to this style of training… 36:00
-Whether you need to do full range lifts, especially to maintain athleticism… 39:30
-Whether you can put on muscle or size or lose fat with this style of training… 44:30
-What is so special about the technology built into the PeakFitPro machine and app combo… 50:45
And much more!
Resources from this episode:
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