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Isometrics on a rope

Mark Sias explains how with a piece of rope, you can build functional strength and muscle.

You do not require any expensive equipment to make leaps and bounds in your physique, power output (vertical jump & sprint speed), and strength levels. It seems most training equipment that comes on the market is aimed at fleecing your wallet rather than producing desired results. I understand most young athletes do not have access to weights, but strength training is a must. While I fully realise that impressive gains can be made with plyometrics alone, sooner or later you will reach your limit because of a lack of strength.


Let me use my friend Vince Carter for an example: In High School, he had a 36" vertical jump with no resistance training at all, only plyometrics. Not bad! But after going to UNC and building a new strength base to develop more power, he added another 6 inches to his leap! So what can you do?

Isometrics have been dismissed because they only build strength in the range of motion that they are held in. The solution is to use three different angled contractions per muscle group. The contractions only need to be held for 10 seconds at each angle. So what this means is that you can get a biceps workout in only 30 seconds of exercise, two days a week! The workouts will be quick and very effective. I challenge you to undertake an isometric strength training program for one month, and you will be surprised at the progress you make.

Where is the evidence to support this method?

Before we go any further let me make a couple of quick points for some of you who will be sceptical. Not too many years ago, a study was conducted with several elite male gymnasts. The researchers had each gymnast, all of whom have never set foot in a weight room, perform the bench press for maximum weight. What they found out was astonishing! Every athlete was able to press 315 lbs. easily for several repetitions, but how was this possible with no prior weight training? The answer is 2-fold. As an elite coach, I can tell you that there are only three basic training methods employed in our gymnasiums:

  1. In early development basic callisthenics
  2. In advanced levels plyometrics, even for the upper body
  3. Yes, a lot of isometric training!

You see isometrics at a peak contractile effort also requires you to activate many of the deeper motor units in muscles which you cannot recruit with light routines! This is the second reason for the impressive power. My athletes are using more of their available muscles, only due to this nature of training!

The program

All you are going to need is a 6ft long piece of rope. I will show you how to make it work for you. The rope will act as your resistance and an immovable object. Some common isometrics like holding a position, or pause in a repetition, are not what we are after. Those are isometric's, and they work but what we are talking about doing now is a maximum force applied for 10 seconds to an immovable object! This is a far superior method that yields much faster overall results.

For each exercise you will need to do only 1 set ideally in 3 positions:

  • 1st is at a very slight angle of the movement, e.g. the bottom of the squat and is usually where you are weakest.
  • 2nd contraction will be in the middle of the movement
  • 3rd will be close to the peak of the range of motion

This makes sure that the muscles in the exercise are fully worked and the strength will directly carry-over to a specific motion. The rope is made stationary by either standing on it or tying it to something stationary. I realize that some examples below are upper-body that you do not need to do, just read them for example purposes so you can apply them to lower-body isometrics.

Example Exercise

Isometric biceps curl

Standing upright, wrap the rope around your left or right hand (whichever you choose to do first) and stand on the remaining cord, thus making it stationary.

  • In the 1st position the arm is only slightly bent, e.g. 10 degrees from full extension
  • Squeeze & pull with all your might for just ten seconds, then relax
  • Rest for 30 seconds
  • Move your arm into the next position at about 90 degrees
  • Squeeze & pull with all your might for just ten seconds, then relax
  • Rest for 30 seconds
  • 3rd and final hold is at the top almost peak flexion point
  • Squeeze & pull with all your might for just ten seconds, then relax

That is it; now you can repeat this process for the opposite arm. This is the basic concept for every exercise.

Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • SIAS, M. (2005) Isometrics on a rope. Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 27 / November), p. 7-9

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • SIAS, M. (2005) Isometrics on a rope [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Author

Mark Sias is a professional USAG gymnastics instructor. He conducts training clinics for High School and College athletes on strength, speed and vertical jump training.