- Isometric Deadlift is the ultimate contraction without changing the length of a muscle.
- You’ll need Squat Rack & Safety Pins, Bar and Light Olympic Plates to perform Iso deadlifts.
- Considering the benefits and risks associated with the isometric deadlift, you can decide whether you should add it to your workout or not.
I remember leveling up on the weights during the deadlift. I stacked 507 pounds on the bar.
But I couldn’t even pull the bar past my knees!
For those of you experiencing something similar, you can fully understand my frustration at that time.
So the knee range was obviously my weak sticking point. Most probably a result of weak quadriceps now that I am thinking about it. I did a bit of dabbling on the net and came across the isometric deadlift.
So, what is the isometric deadlift? The isometric deadlift involves a shorter range of motion than the conventional variation. Using a power rack, you unload the weight and lift the barbell upwards. Once the barbell hits the safety pins, you keep pulling against the resistance to strengthen the position. Many lifters use the variation to push through their weak sticking points.
The idea was that it could strengthen the range that I sucked at (knee position). I took on an isometric deadlift routine for 6 weeks.
Guess what happened?
I busted straight through my normal deadlift PR! Heck, I got 540 on the bar before hitting another plateau. This can only mean that I was stronger overall. That is not all though, my grip strength felt a lot stronger and more durable.
So you want to reap the same isometric deadlift benefits?
What is an Isometric Deadlift?
We all know that during the deadlift we can face sticking points. What does this mean? So basically a range of the deadlift that you can not pull past.
This can be where the bar is; ankle height, knee height, hip height, or even higher. As we mentioned my sticking point was above knee position.
So an isometric deadlift is essentially an exercise that focuses on a specific deadlift position.(1)
To be specific, pulling a bar against the squat rack safety pin.(1) When done properly, this should draw the muscles and movement pattern of your sticking point.
It is the ultimate contraction without changing the length of a muscle.
Isometric Deadlifts Muscles Worked
There are many muscles that come into action while doing the isometric deadlift. The 10 main muscles(2) have been highlighted and discussed below.
Grip Strength Muscles
Without going into too much detail, having to grip the barbell would engage the muscles around the hand, wrist and forearm.
Regardless of where you do the isometric deadlift from the grip strength muscles will still be worked.
During the first part of the pressing the feet against the ground would hit the calf muscles. These include the
- Gastrocnemius (back of the lower leg)
- Soleus (outer side of the lower leg)
The quadriceps muscle groups are 4 muscles on the front of the thigh. These muscles are worked by extending the knee, or formally known as straightening the lower leg.
The quadriceps muscles include;
- Vastus Lateralis (outer thigh)
- Vastus Medialis (inner thigh)
- Vastus Intermedialis (middle thigh)
- Rectus Femoris (deep middle thigh)
Now I understand that during the isometric deadlift, you may not be able to physically extend the legs. But, the intention is there.
This effort alone will work the quadriceps muscles a great deal.
The hamstrings are the 3 stringy muscles on the back of the upper leg. These muscles go by the name of:
- Bicep femoris (outer hamstrings),
- Semitendinosus (middle hamstrings)
- Semimembranosus (inner hamstring)
These muscles normally come together to help in the hip straightening movement during any deadlift.
As we know, the isometric deadlift involves no movement. So the hamstrings would be worked from the effect of pulling at the hip.
I must add that the hamstring may have more involvement, depending on where you decide to isometric deadlift. So if you are pulling from closer to the hip height, the hamstrings may get more action.
Gluteus is the thick butt muscles above the back of the upper leg. This muscle would lead the hip hinge movement of any deadlift variation.
As you know by now, the isometric deadlift involved no movement from a certain point. The glutes should come into play from the effort applied to extend.
Core Stability Muscle Groups
There are 7 main core stability muscles all around the midsection. These muscles include:
- Diaphragm (inner stomach)
- Rectus Abdominis (front of stomach)
- Erector Spinae (lower back)
- Transversus Abdominis (deep abdominal)
- Internal and External Obliques (side of trunk)
- Pelvic Floor Muscles (in pelvis)
- Multifidus (Down the back)
These muscles kick in throughout the deadlift to help keep the spine straight and stop it from curving and getting injured.
Another property of this muscle group is to support balance. Balance is crucial while pulling the halted bar during the isometric deadlift.
The meaty middle part of the upper back is known as the traps. This would be activated by pinning them backwards.
During the isometric deadlift, the shoulder blades would somewhat flare. But with the high effort level to pinning them backwards the traps should be worked.
Yes, Deadlifts Work Your Traps. Check out How?
Do you see that winged shape muscle of the outer back? Those are the lats, short for latissimus dorsi.
There are two of them and they connect from the back of the ribs to the upper arm bone.
I could mention multiple movement actions of the lats. But what we are focused on for the isometric deadlift is the intention to pull the upper arm backwards.
This movement in complex terms is the vertical extension of the upper arm.
During the isometric deadlift, you would physically not be able to pull the arms back. But the lats will still engage an isometric pull.
Yes, Deadlifts Work the Lats. Check out How?
Rear Deltoids (Shoulders)
There are 3 shoulder heads called deltoids. The rear delt is the head in the back of the shoulder. It aids pulling the upper arm backwards during any movement.
Along with the lats, the rear delts should also be worked with the effort applied during the isometric deadlift.
The biceps actually work isometrically through any deadlift variation. Specifically, the brachialis activates to resist against the weight.
You could also activate the Bicep head if you opt for a mixed grip. But I have never been a fan of the mixed grip. The mixed grip is notorious for distal bicep tears.
Equipment Needed to Perform Isometric Deadlift
There are 3 pieces of equipment Needed for the isometric deadlift. These are pretty easy to get hold of and are available in most gyms.
Squat Rack and Safety Pins
So essentially you will place the safety pins into a squat rack where you want isometric squat tension. For me, it was just below knee height.
An Olympic bar or a deadlift bar would be used to lift from. These are quite reasonable in load and do not usually go over 45lb.
Light Olympic Plates
To give the bar a natural height to lift from I use large 11 pound Olympic plates. The plates are 25cm in diameter and 34mm in thickness.
Using plates is optional, as you could start the lift straight from the safety pins.
How to Perform Isometric Deadlifts?
Interested in trying out the isometric deadlift? Great! We have laid out 9 steps to perform it safely and effectively.
Step 1: Set up a pair of safety pins into a squat rack to your desired lifting height. The generic pin position is just above the ankles, for me it was under knee height.
Step 2: Place a bar underneath and centered to the safety pins. Ensure the space around it is clear.
Step 3: Load the bar. Use a weight that is lighter than your conventional deadlift.
Step 4: Line up to the center of the bar. Place the feet just outside hip width.
Step 5: Brace the core and crouch to grasp the bar with your hands. Your hands should be shoulder width apart.
Step 6: Take a deep breath and brace. Deadlift the bar upwards.
Step 7: When the bar reaches the bottom surface of the safety pins, make the intention to deadlift. Don’t keep going past the pins.
Step 8: Contract maximally and hold the position until failure or 10-20 seconds.
STEP 9: Drop the bar down.
7 Benefits of Isometric Deadlift
The Isometric deadlift does not merely just improve strength. It has many benefits! We have covered 7 main benefits below.
1. Muscle Strength and Size Gains
Regular use of isometric deadlifts and other variations can help build muscle strength and size.
We now know that so many muscle groups are activated during the isometric deadlift. Maximum effort isometric deadlifts can tap into a high amount of fast twitch muscle fibers.
Fast twitch muscle fibers have more potential to grow bigger and stronger.
This is not to say that you should neglect the rest of the workout program. The Isometric deadlift should be an inclusion and not relied upon.
2. Target Certain Ranges for the Deadlift
The deadlift works in a kinetic chain of movements. We start off by somewhat extending the ankles, knees, and hips. The final movement of the deadlift is pulling the upper arm backwards and squeezing the shoulder blades together.
The Isometric deadlift focuses on a specific part of this movement pattern and builds on it.
In the long halt, isometric deadlift may help break through deadlift sticking points and loads that you were previously struggling at.
In my case, I had a strong hip hinge/glutes, yet weak knee hinge/quadricep muscles. So upon addressing the knee movement through iso deadlifts, I was able to reach new heights.
This highlights that just because you are weaker in a certain range, does not mean that your deadlift sucks overall.
3. Improve Conventional Deadlift Performance
We now know that the isometric deadlift improves your weak deadlift points and strengthens the muscles overall.
These physiological changes should be enough to deadlift more efficiently and effectively. This basically means that you could start loading up more weights and hit a smoother PR. It worked in my personal experience.
Even then, you will eventually hit another plateau. At this point, you may need other dietary and training interventions to keep getting stronger.
4. Improve Grip Strength
Gripping the bar during the isometric deadlift is nonstop. So as long as you are pulling, your grip strength muscles will be firing.
Over time the muscles adapt. They get stronger and are able to endure more forces. This can translate into anything that demands grip strength. Grip strength demanding exercises could include; deadlift, barbell back row, bench press, etc.
Never Fail Your Deadlift Due To Grip Strength
5. Adds Variation to a Workout Program
Including the isometric deadlift adds variation to a workout program. Variation is the key to a successful long term workout program.
For one, doing the same exercises week in week out can get boring. So it is easy to lose interest to the point where you are not applying consistent efforts into your workout. In fact, I see a high turnover of people losing interest and quitting the gym as a whole.
Second of all, changing up on exercises from time to time can bring in new muscle and strength gains.
A Study by Rodrigo and colleagues(3) looked at the effects of changing exercises over a 12-week period on the modifications in muscle size and strength. The participants worked their lower bodies twice per week.
The participants that alternated on their leg exercises experienced the most muscle gains of 11.6% increase on the left leg and 12.2% on the right leg. Not to mention, the most muscle bound across all individual muscles of the leg. Alternating exercises also saw the biggest strength gains.
6. Used During Injury Rehabilitation
The Isometric deadlift is a physiotherapist’s choice during certain periods of injury rehab.
The reason for this is that the iso deadlift may take a lot of stress off the joints and tendons as there is no movement.
Not to mention, you would expect no impact during the lift. Unlike movements like jumping, sprinting and free weight exercises.
7. Help Reduce Blood Pressure
So it turns out that isometric exercises may have some health benefits by lowering overall blood pressure. Even in young healthy adults.(4)
Now whether these are the effect of isometric exercise or exercise in general, we will not know. Regardless, it is worth a try, right? What do you have to lose?
3 Risks of Isometric Deadlift
1. Grip Strength Fatigue
As a result of the isometric deadlift, the grip strength muscles can become fatigued.
So when you decide to move on to your next exercise, the chances are that the lift would not be as effective.
For example, straight after the iso deadlift we may go for the bent over barbell row. The grip muscles may be so fatigued that the bar slips out of the hands.
Even during the following training days, you may have grip muscle soreness. This may affect the performance of all of your other gym demanding exercises.
2. Ego Damaging Exercise
Ego is a big issue in the gym setting. It is the reason for many altercations, ego lifting injuries, mental health, etc.
Some lifters will not be able to bear the fact that they will be using light loads during the isometric deadlift.
For this reason, these types of lifters may not be able to put in as much effort. For a matter of fact, they may not even do the exercise at all. I know from consulting with lifters.
It is really a shame because such individuals could be missing out on a lot of deadlift benefits.
3. Lower Back Fatigue (Erector Spinae)
Just like the grip strength muscles, the lower back will also work a lot.
There is a chance that the lower back would become fatigued. Ultimately, this could affect following back reliant lifts.
Say the barbell deadlift or the bent over back row.
In my personal experience, lower back soreness sticks around for 4-5 days.
3 Tips to Counter the Drawbacks of Isometric Deadlift
1. Use Lifting Straps
Lifting straps will pretty much wrap around the weight handles and take the stress off your own grip strength muscles.
So if the isometric deadlift has taken too much out of your grip strength muscles you could opt to use some lifting straps in the short term.
You can choose from; closed loop straps, figure 8 straps, and lasso straps. Personally, I use the lasso straps as they are cheaper and as effective as any other variation.
2. Use Your Heavy Lifts First
I am not a fan of ego, but it is common in the weights room. So if one feels that the light load isometric deadlift would hurt their ego, start on heavy lifts.
Starting on heavy lifts like the barbell deadlift can boost the dopamine levels in the brain.
After that is out of the way, one could then try the isometric deadlift.
Another good option is to superset the two. So go heavy on the barbell deadlift then use the iso straight away. This way an individual can show off some of their heavy lifting.
3. Temporarily Take Stress off Lower Back
Fatigued lower back from isometric deadlifts? Here is what to do.
If you struggle to do specific exercises from a fatigued or sore lower back.
Try exercises that do not put too much stress on the lower back. For example, you could use; the leg extension, leg curl, leg press, etc.
The isometric deadlift is similar to a conventional deadlift. The difference is that your muscles work maximally without changing length.
Using a lower weight and a power rack, the lifter can pull the weight against the safety pins. This resistance training allows lifters to push through weak sticking points.
Frequently Asked Questions
Certainly! It activates so much muscle with maximal efforts, so there is a good chance of building muscle.
NO! The standard barbell deadlift is NOT an isometric exercise. An Isometric exercise is a contraction without changing the length of a muscle.
YES! by “Tone” we mean getting more muscle bound. The Isometric deadlift activates 10 different muscles which may get tones.
You can, but this is no longer an isometric deadlift, but an isometric shrug. This will work slightly different muscles.
- Harmon, R.A., Malyzek, K.K., Dunick, D.D., et al. ‘Correlation Between Isometric Deadlift with Olympic and Hexagonal Barbells to a Vertical Jump’ Medicine And Science in Sport and Exercise. 2016; 48 (5): 434
- Martin-Fuentez, I., Oliver-Lozano, J.M, Muyer, J.M. ‘Electromyographic activity in deadlift exercise and its variants. A systematic review’ pLoS One. 2020; 15(2): e0229507
- Rodrigo, F., Hamilton, R., Valmor, T., et al. ‘Changes in Exercises Are More Effective Than in Loading Schemes to Improve Muscle Strength’ Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 2014; 28(11): 3086–3092
- Cornelissen, V.A., &., Smart, N.A ‘Exercise Training for Blood Pressure: A Systematic Review and Meta‐analysis’ Journal of The American Heart Association. 2013; 2(1): e004473
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