Dr. Schwartz – A Fan of Isometrics?

Posted: November 17, 2014 in General
Tags: , , , ,
Strongman Alexander Zass was known for specializing in Isometric Exercise

Strongman Alexander Zass was known for specializing in Isometric Exercise

Was Dr. Schwartz a fan of Isometrics? Good question. Some say a definitive “no”. Even his “isometric like” exercises were “isotonic”!

The answer is probably more nuanced in reality.

On the sidebar of page 164 of  “HeavyHands:The Ultimate Exercise” Dr. Schwartz discusses isometrics.

He finished the sidebar by noting that at the time of publication, the opinions of physicians had changed regarding the usefulness of isometrics. Before that, some felt that isometric exercise dangerously increased blood pressure and was useless as an exercise protocol.

Quoting a Dr. Paul S. Fardy he noted that isometrics could be good for the heart, even for folks with coronary artery disease. Schwartz recognized the turning tide in favor of the once despised isometrics! He perhaps would not have been surprised to see this abstract from the Mayo Clinic Proceedings titled:”Isometric Exercise Training for Blood Pressure Management: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis“. After analyzing 9 peer reviewed trials dated between January 1, 1966, and July 31, 2013, the researchers concluded:

Isometric resistance training lowers SBP, DBP, and mean arterial pressure. The magnitude of effect is larger than that previously reported in dynamic aerobic or resistance training. Our data suggest that this form of training has the potential to produce significant and clinically meaningful blood pressure reductions and could serve as an adjunctive exercise modality.

But before expressing these findings he made an interesting observation about the polarities in our thinking. Do we count “calories” or “carbohydrates”? Do we “rest” or “work” a sore muscle? And – as he was driving at – why do we have an “either/or” approach about “isometrics” OR “isotonics”.

While he does not mention “IsoTonoMetrics” in his HeavyHands book, he would one day turn to that protocol in earnest and it seems this sidebar anticipates it! He considers that every exercise has some potential to merge isotonics and isometrics. The push up which is “isotonic” as the body lifts off the ground becomes “isometric” when the “plank” position is held.

Even in this first book, Dr. Schwartz was interested in strength endurance development. He would naturally have been interested in the strength building potential of isometrics because of this growing fascination with the intersection between endurance and the ability to move heavier weights for longer times. (He was constantly amazed at how people who could bench press 350 pounds would not be able to “box” with 10lb weights and not be able to continue for a full minute!)

His problem with isometrics as a stand alone exercise performed in “isolation” exercise fashion for the typical few seconds per hold is described in his “Fitness Method” patent filing:

One of the drawbacks to the system of isometrics is the inability to generate sufficiently large workloads to involve the circulation (heart rate especially) appreciably. For one thing, the duration of each isometric exercise is too brief; for another the muscle mass involved in the exercise was generally too small. Consequently, isometric exercise only provides strength improvement and does not contribute to endurance, flexibility, aerobic training or the like.

(And in the next paragraph of his patent filing, he had strong words about the deficiencies of isotonic exercise as  well – because they did not always provide for strength improvement or activate large muscle masses simultaneously either!)

Presumably as long as the other components of total fitness were developed – flexibility, endurance, skill, etc. as well as strength – he had no qualms with an isometric element within IsoTonoMetrics….

As practitioners of IsoTonoMetrics easily realize (as Dr. Schwartz certainly did when he talked about slowing the speed of exercise and doing “heavy tension” repetitions), any upper body IsoTonoMetric move can increase tension to the point where the movement pauses anywhere (or multiple places) along it’s path to become “isometric”. Such “Isometric stops” can be done anytime the exerciser wishes.

When describing one key component of IsoTonoMetrics, the handclasps his website noted:

Handclasping is at the very basis of Isotonometrics. It is a technique by which forces are brought to the exercise. The manner in which hands are clasped and then travel through space is crucial to Isotonometrics.

Unlike traditional strength building using weights, there is no quantifiable measure of “how much” am I lifting or moving. That “how much” becomes irrelevant to the ISO-cizer fairly quickly. The amazing array of movement combinations and self-designed workloads soon intrigue the individual so much that, over time, the total output of an ISO workout provides enormous increases in strength while providing many other fitness factors!

It’s easy to envision isometric stops within the “total package” of IsoTonoMetrics. Certainly “dynamic tension” practitioners would see a kinship with their movements and they often include isometric stops as part of their routines.

Perhaps if Dr. Schwartz had lived longer he might have found a way to test and publicize the utility of isometric stops. As things stand, Schwartz seemed open to the potential of isometrics. Practitioners of IsoTonoMetrics can’t lose anything by doing isometric pauses along the path of their movement in multiple positions at some point in a particular exercise if they wish!

  1. Adam says:

    An early advocate for using brief isometric contraction to improve patients with high blood pressure was Broino Kiveloff, M.D. An article about the doctor and his method was published in 1983 in the popular health magazine Prevention. Someone recently posted the entire article in another fitness forum. Scroll down the thread to see the article titled, “A 60-Second Shortcut to Vitality”.



  2. NorrinRadd says:

    You may be somewhat interested to see the current direction being taken by the U.S. distributor of “Bullworker” products, especially their simple “Iso-Bow”:


    I believe they also featured a lot of “motion” routines for the little “Steel Bow,” which seems to have been replaced by the “Bullworker Pro.” (The “Pro” site is currently broken.)


  3. Hello Norrin,

    I talked about this with another fellow who left a comment here:


    I’ll repeat it here because it’s pertinent:

    Yes, I’m very familiar with John’s Iso Bow and IsoMotion. There are some similarities between what he’s doing and IsoTonoMetrics that may be addressed in a future post.

    Having used the Iso-Bow (the blog links to it in the store!) as an adjunct to IsoTonoMetrics and as John describes it, it can be helpful if people don’t feel they can generate enough force with a handclasp.

    By using the device instead of a handclasp, however, pushing moves aren’t immediately available as the “reverse” action of the pushing movement.

    Another major issue that I notice is that the users of the Iso Bow for exercise focus on upper body work primarily. Now admittedly John says to throw in leg work like lunging, knee bending, etc. to activate the lower body. I don’t think people learn how to do that unless they are studying Dr. Schwartz – both his theory of panaerobics in general (the necessity of activating as much muscle simultaneously as possible) and the moves Schwartz incorporates to activate the lower body and even other upper body muscles in the lower back. Most of these are demonstrated in the HeavyHands books even if you can’t find the “WholeBody Fitness for Seniors” video. Those will really make the Iso Bow a “panaerobic” tool.

    As things stand, I don’t think Iso Motion has reached its full potential, though it’s a start and the Iso Bow is a handy tool though I have to admit to preferring the handclasps!


  4. Parker says:

    Dr. Schwartz told me he understood the value of isometrics for pure strength training, but, felt they had limited application for his approach to fitness. We also discussed their application to Isotonometrics–he suggested the grasp should be enough to generate resistance but NOT raise your blood pressure.


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