Overcoming vs Yielding Isometrics

SUBSTR8 Performance 



Isometric exercises are a great way to train strength. Continue reading to learn more about specific types of isometric contractions and when you should train them for climbing training.  


Isometric vs Isotonic Muscle Contractions 

There are three basic types of muscle contractions: 

  1. Isotonic Concentric: Shortening the muscle while contracting it (example: bicep curl starting with the weight low and raising it). 
  1. Isotonic Eccentric: Lengthening the muscle while contracting it (example: bicep extension, starting with weight high and lowering it).  
  1. Isometric: Not moving the muscle while contracting it (example: holding a weight mid-curl without moving it up or down). 


Yielding vs Overcoming Isometrics 

There are two types of isometric contractions:  

  • Yielding – In a yielding isometric, you generate the training resistance by other means and keep the muscle being trained from yielding, or lengthening.  
  • Overcoming – In an overcoming isometric, the muscle being trained is responsible for generating the training resistance.  


Yielding isometrics typically provide about 50% greater pulling force than overcoming isometrics.  


Isometric exercises have several benefits, including  

  • You can better maximize your motor unit recruitment for strength gains. 
  • Simple to setup and they don’t require much equipment. 
  • Lower risk of injury because you can quickly release any hold. 


In rock climbing, the all-important finger muscles are holding isometric positions throughout a climbing movement. While larger muscle groups must perform isotonic contractions to allow the body to move up rock, fingers generally grab a hold in a fixed position and stay in that position throughout the climbing move. This is one reason that isometric finger training is particularly beneficial for climbers.  


Both types of isometric contractions are useful for route climbing and bouldering:  

  • Yielding isometrics are used in a static hang such as holding a crimp while evaluating your next move, and also when locking off on a hold while performing a move. 
  • Overcoming isometrics are used when a climber grabs the next hold and pulls into it, often called “latching” the hold. This equates the initial strength required to latch the hold.  


How to Train Both Overcoming and Yielding Isometrics 

A force gauge anchored to the floor or floor plate is a simple and effective way to train finger isometrics with minimal equipment. This setup, shown in Figure 1, allows you to perform finger training “floor pulls.” 


Floor Pull Setup 

The Force Board floor pull setup to train either type of isometric contraction is essentially the same. Setup the Force Board system as shown in Figure 1: Floor plate, adjustable strap, force gauge, hangboard. Stand on the plate and pull up. How you pull up is what distinguishes a yielding vs overcoming isometric.  


Yielding Isometric Floor Pull 

To perform a yielding isometric, use your legs, back, and shoulders to generate the upward force on the hangboard. With your grip, your only goal is to keep your fingers from yielding, or opening up and releasing the board. Set the height of the adjustable strap so that you engage into the board with some bend in your knees and tension in your back. This is essentially a deadlift, or mid-thigh pull, body position.  


Training yielding isometrics is best done using a slightly longer rep duration. 5-10 seconds is a good rep duration for a yielding isometric. You should hold the pull until you drop off by about 10-15% of your peak force in the rep.   


Overcoming Isometric Floor Pull 

To perform an overcoming isometric, assume the same mid-thigh-pull stance as for the yielding isometric, though perhaps with the adjustable strap set a bit taller to allow a slightly more upright position. Locate the hangboard at the ends of your fingers when your fingers are not contracted. Then tighten up your entire body, locking down your legs, core, and shoulders, making them immovable. With everything locked, pull upward with your fingers, attempting to “overcome” the immovable object generated by the rest of your body.  


When training overcoming isometrics, focus your contractions on the early part of the grip cycle. From zero to between 3-5 seconds is ideal. This makes the contraction specific to how overcoming isometrics are used in climbing—during the relatively short hold-latching phase of the grip. In the spirit of training specificity, it would be less useful for a climber to train overcoming contractions on a 30-second (rep time) density hang since the overcoming contraction is used when pulling onto and latching a hold but not when statically hanging from a hold, such as resting on a crimp.  



Because yielding isometrics generate approximately 50% more force, a yielding contraction should be used when you are attempting a peak force pull. This is the best way to beat your friends in a peak force contest and move up the leaderboard of life! 


When climbing, you will intermingle yielding and overcoming isometric contractions throughout a rock climb, whether on a boulder or route. Since you need both contraction types, training both on a regular basis is preferred. This can be done as part of a standard finger-training protocol, such as a no-hang, max-hang or repeaters.  


A great way to include both contraction types into these protocols is to designate different holds within the protocol as a yielding or overcoming grip type. This works well, provided that the rep duration for the protocol overlaps the optimal time duration for both contraction types. A 5 second rep duration is perfect for this

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