Obliterate Your Sticking Points

Combining isometric training with CAT can help even the most stagnant lifter power through to a new PR.

Bill March set several world records in weightlifting during the 1960’s. He was probably also the first American to use Dianabol.

March didn’t attribute his accomplishments to steroids, but to a revolutionary new weight training system he’d been using called isometrics. Isometrics was the brainchild of York Barbell Club owner Bob Hoffman and USA weight lifting team physician Dr. John Ziegler. As news of March’s success with isometrics hit the muscle media, it captured the attention of athletes worldwide and made Hoffman in particular a very rich man.

However, things began to crumble when word came out that Ziegler was also the father of Dianabol and that March had been a user. Almost overnight, March, Hoffman, and Ziegler were soundly discredited, and isometrics declared a gimmicky and ineffective training method for natural athletes. Was that a fair assessment?

Isometrics Revisited

An isometric contraction is a muscular contraction where the joint angle and muscle length don’t change. Using the bench press as an example, an isometric contraction can consist of holding the barbell in the same place (a yielding isometric) or pressing as hard as you can into the pins of a power rack (an overcoming isometric).

Strength coaches have frequently revisited isometrics since Hoffman’s day and gotten tepid results at best, at least when compared to more traditional loading systems.

However, overcoming isometrics in particular can be very effective for busting through sticking points – the spot in the concentric range of motion where the resistance can’t be overcome by the strength of the muscles.

The fact is, you can produce 15% more force isometrically than you can concentrically. And producing greater force during the weakest part of your lifts is the key to pushing past sticking points and smashing plateaus.

CNS Programming

With sticking points, the best defense is a good offense! By pushing as forcefully as possible against an immovable object, you’re not only overloading the weak region but also programming your central nervous system to be aggressive, all the while producing a localized training effect within 15 degrees of the targeted joint angle (i.e., the sticky region).

Isometric/CAT Contrast Method

The real magic happens when you combine isometrics with dynamic or explosive work. Begin by setting the pins in a power rack to the region or range of motion you want to target. Then bench press the unloaded barbell into the pins and use maximal force against the pins for 5-6 seconds. Try to push the power rack through the ceiling!

Now wait 2-7 minutes and perform a Compensatory Acceleration Training (CAT) bench press for 1-4 reps. Remember, CAT lifting involves full ROM lifting with maximum force using a sub-maximal load, usually 60-80 percent of 1RM.

You’ll feel noticeably more explosive, thanks to something called Post-Activation Potentiation (PAP effect). Yuri Verhoshansky explains PAP like this:

“When you perform a 3-5 RM set followed by a light explosive set… to your nervous system it’s like lifting a half can of water when you think it’s full.”

What happens is that you’re pushing your CAT sets faster than ever, creating even higher amounts of force, and more force produced in your weakest points followed by more force produced on your regular bench presses is a true win-win.

Potential Negatives of Isometric Training

When performed incorrectly, isometrics can be detrimental to your rate of force development and can negatively affect your stretch-shortening cycle. Furthermore, even properly performed isometrics can lead to burnout and injury when used too often or for too long.

As such, I like isometrics in blocks of three weeks, with no more than two consecutive blocks. Here’s a sample program that shows how you might use isometric/CAT contrast training:


Exercise Sets Reps
A Bench Press – 88% 1RM 2 3
B Mid-range Isometric/CAT Bench Press – 75% 1RM 2 3
C Top-range Isometric/CAT Bench Press – 75% 1RM 2 3
D Bottom End Drives 2 6
E Kaz Press 4 8
F Chain Flyes 3 12

Rest 3 minutes between isometric sets and CAT sets.


Exercise Sets Reps
A Bench Press – 90% 1RM 2 3
B Mid-range Isometric/CAT Bench Press – 77.55% 1RM 2 3
C Top-range Isometric/CAT Bench Press – 77.55% 1RM 2 3
D Bottom End Drives 2 6
E Kaz Press 4 8
F Chain Flyes 3 15

Rest 3 minutes between isometric sets and CAT sets.


Exercise Sets Reps
A Bench Press – 95% 1RM 2 1
B Mid-range Isometric/CAT Bench Press – 80% 1RM 2 3
C Top-range Isometric/CAT Bench Press – 80% 1RM 2 3
D Bottom End Drives 2 56
E Kaz Press 4 6
F Chain Flyes 3 10

Rest 3 minutes between isometric sets and CAT sets.


Bench Press Isometric Guidelines

Here’s Al Davis performing bench press isometrics.

And here he is performing CAT benches 3 minutes later:

  • Perform them against an immovable, solid structure.
  • Don’t start the isometric contraction at the exact point the isometric contraction is to take place. Some dynamic movement is recommended pre and post contraction.
  • Don’t exceed 6 seconds for maximal isometric contractions. Five seconds is recommended.
  • Perform some type of explosive dynamic work after the isometric contractions to benefit your central nervous system and create positive neural adaptations.
  • To maximize benefits, contract as hard as possible.
  • After a workout that contains isometrics, I recommend some breathing exercises, static stretching and/or PNF stretching, and some foam rolling.
  • Don’t perform this for more than 6-8 weeks at a time.

If you’re fighting a pesky sticking point, then give this bare-bone basic method a try. You don’t need access to any Ziegler goodies, just a power rack, a barbell, and a desire to get better.