Isometric split progression

Discussion in 'Health and Fitness' started by Van Zandt, Sep 25, 2010.

  1. Van Zandt

    Van Zandt Mr. High Kick

    Howdy :)

    In this thread I'll provide you with a snippet of my book teaching you one way how to progress with your isometric splits. It details how to advance on a workout-by-workout basis, from total beginner to advanced. Hopefully you can implement this plan as a standalone method or combine it with your own to gain optimal results.

    This method is based on the principle that total time under tension is key to building strength in extended positions, and therefore increasing flexibility. (Remember, a stronger muscle tenses less as it tries to support itself in an extended ROM.) An individual starting at the beginning of this schedule could reach full splits in as little as 6 months. Some people may achieve such results even quicker. Your overall progress will depend on your starting strength.

    Note that this method is tough and not for the faint of heart. It requires you to hold strong, steady tensions for up to three minutes. Anyone who has tried standard isometrics in the past may very well be crapping their pants right now. Some people may even be reaching for a bottle of aspirin and prayer book when they find out the later stages involve holding such tensions while lifting as much as 30 kilos. Like I said - not for the faint of heart. But it does work. This method is the most successful with my clients.

    The process of increasing ROM during each rep is simple: get into your front or side split and extend your leg(s) until you feel like you can't increase it any further; hold this position until you feel the tension start to dissipate. Don't stick around for too long - 30 seconds is enough for most folks. Extend further into the split. Hold, and extend further still. Ideally you should keep repeating this cycle until you reach your absolute maximum, but by that point most people will have no interest in tensing for three minutes. Yes, the worst is still yet to come! I usually do around three extensions before tensing. Tense the target muscle(s), building the tension up over 5 seconds, reaching its maximum by the fifth second. Hold steady, unwavering tension. You should be contracting at 100% maximum effort at all times.

    When it comes to holding weight you can insert barbell plates into a tough rucksack or wear a weight vest. I prefer the latter.

    The sets below are listed in ascending order. The numbers in brackets indicate how many workouts you should perform that training load. For example, 5 sets x 1:30 + 12.5 kg (6) means you should do five sets using tensions lasting one minute and thirty seconds, carrying 12.5 kilos, for six consecutive workouts. Six workouts usually take around two weeks to complete, going off the assumption you leave a full day of rest between workouts and you aren't overly sore afterwards. Note that, occasionally, you will be extremely sore following the use of this method. If you are very sore for several days after every workout, you need to reduce the intensity a bit. If you are very sore after just the first level, you should leave isometrics for the time being and focus on building overall lower body strength using exercises such as squats, deadlifts and lunges. In terms of order of exercises in your workout, do your isometrics at the very end, after your normal weight lifting routine.

    Anyway, enough of that. Here are the details:

    1) 1 set x 0:30 (1)
    2) 2 sets x 0:30 (1)
    3) 3 sets x 0:30 (1)
    4) 4 sets x 0:30 (1)
    5) 5 sets x 0:30 (1)
    6) 5 sets x 0:45 (6)
    7) 5 sets x 1:00 (6)
    8) 5 sets x 1:15 (6)
    9) 5 sets x 1:30 (6)
    10) 5 sets x 1:45 (6)
    11) 5 sets x 2:00 (6)
    12) 5 sets x 2:15 (6)
    13) 5 sets x 2:30 (6)
    14) 5 sets x 2:45 (6)
    15) 5 sets x 3:00 (6)
    16) 5 sets x 3:00 + 1.25 kg (6)
    17 5 sets x 3:00 + 2.50 kg (6)
    18) 5 sets x 3:00 + 5.00 kg (6)
    19) 5 sets x 3:00 + 7.50 kg (6)
    20 5 sets x 3:00 + 10.0 kg (6)
    21) 5 sets x 3:00 + 12.5 kg (6)
    22) 5 sets x 3:00 + 15.0 kg (6)
    23) 5 sets x 3:00 + 17.5 kg (6)
    24) 5 sets x 3:00 + 20.0 kg (6)
    25) 5 sets x 3:00 + 22.5 kg (6)
    26) 5 sets x 3:00 + 25.0 kg (6)
    27) 5 sets x 3:00 + 27.5 kg (6)
    28) 5 sets x 3:00 + 30.0 kg (6)

    This schedule is capped at 5 sets carrying 30 kilos because I have never met a client who could not do full splits beyond level 28. Most achieve their maximal flexibility many levels before that. You can go up to level 28 if you wish... and if you can handle it. I said this method is tough; it hurts like a bitch, but it works like the devil. My advice is to cap your progress at one level above that with which you hit full splits, two at most. For example, if you reach full splits by level 18, you shouldn't need to progress further than 19 or 20.

    Wondering why you even need to go any further at all? Good question. You might be able to do full splits by level 18, but you won't be able to do them "cold" (i.e. without a warm up). And that is what you want. So by going a little further up the scale, in this case to level 19 or 20, you'll develop enough strength that your body will feel safe enough to let you drop to the floor like a pancake in an instant. At any time of day (or night). Instantly. (Did I say you would do it instantly?)

    Be warned: This schedule is tough. Very tough. You'll understand what I mean when you start hitting levels 13 and 14. But its intensity is what makes it so effective and successful. This method boasts a 100% success rate with my clients. Were they all genetic freaks? No. But they did all have the mental and physical fortitude to stick with this plan. If you do too, then you will do full splits also. I guarantee it.

    Any questions, please post 'em in this thread.

    This information is also available on my blog at *
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2010
  2. RagingDelirium

    RagingDelirium Valued Member

    many thanks for the advice
    i will try starting this program next weekend, and let you know how it goes

    but my next question is having achieved the ability to safe drop into splits cold
    what sort exercise program would recommend for being able to retain this ability?
  3. Simon

    Simon Administrator Admin Supporter MAP 2017 Koyo Award

    I don't know what the latest school of thought is, but at mymost supple I used to drop into the splits cold all the time. Never had any ill effects.

    I remember when I was a gym goer in my early 20's. Jane Fonda videos were all the rage.
    I used to go to the gym straight from my labouring job. There was always a girl in full make up (I'm sure it is the same now) in the warm up area, stretching but not by much. I used to stand next to her, drop into a full split from cold and walk away saying "that's me warmed up".

    The look on their faces is worth a million pounds.

    That said they all came up to me after the workout and asked me what I did and how I did it.
  4. Fish Of Doom

    Fish Of Doom Will : Mind : Motion Supporter

    question: can this be done in addition to my current leg workout, or would that fricking kill me?
  5. Van Zandt

    Van Zandt Mr. High Kick

    If using the workout schedule posted in this thread, then whatever level you achieve full splits at, use the next level or two as your maintenance workout. For example, if you get your splits at level 19, keep doing level 20 or 21 thereafter to enable you to drop flat to the floor without a warm up. Or you can (try to) go all the way up to level 28 - if you're tough enough. :D
  6. Van Zandt

    Van Zandt Mr. High Kick

    LOL. That girl didn't become your wife did she? :D
  7. Van Zandt

    Van Zandt Mr. High Kick

    The answer depends entirely on the intensity of your current leg workout. You may have to increase/reduce the intensity of your workout according to how you feel afterwards. If you're lifting particularly heavy weights you may feel a fair bit of soreness in the later stages of the above schedule.

    Unfortunately this isometric plan won't make you any taller. :D
  8. takahura19

    takahura19 Valued Member

    Is it good if I do it at the end of my taekwondo workout or before I go to sleep as my cycling coach told me strenght exercises are best in evening before u go to bed, so body can rest and adopt. When I do them in weekends do I need any warm up before and another issue. When is isometrics when muscles start to hurt. As last time happened to me I could streech more but didnt feel any strong pain. What leve should I begin with if around 8-10 inches are missing to the floor, when I am at max position. But as I told before, after my pads kicking I feel so not streech all tough and unflexible. When we have sparring I am flexible the most. I have to take this method or when I arrive to korea [ame=""]YouTube - Taekwondo Groin Tears[/ame] this is waiting for me. I prefer your method. enjoy
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2010
  9. proteinnerd

    proteinnerd Valued Member

    I would assume that once you hit a full split using weights, the weights would become redundant and you just hold the tensions for the length and sets prescribed in the split position?
  10. Van Zandt

    Van Zandt Mr. High Kick

    Almost everyone will hit a plateau at some point in their flexibility training. The human body seems to adapt to isometrics much quicker than a lot of other exercises. To overcome these barriers, the athlete should tense harder, or longer, or both. Increases in intensity must be steady, but also rather rapid. In terms of tensing for longer, in my experience three minutes seems to be the upper most limit before strength gains start to taper off (I experimented with clients using tensions lasting up to 5 minutes with very little difference; but there was a substantial strength increase with 3 minute tensions compared to, say, 1 or 2 minutes). One way to tense a muscle harder is to put more weight on it. Using weights in the prescribed manner allows you to control the amount of weight you're adding on. After all, if you become strong enough to support more than your body weight in a split, supporting just your body weight is a far easier task. As always, with any method I present, I invite you to try it for yourself and see. Try the progression without additional weight, then try it with additional weight, and compare your progress in both stages. :)
  11. Van Zandt

    Van Zandt Mr. High Kick

    1) You should do isometrics at the end of your workout, ideally when you do your other strength exercises. I would advise leaving at least two hours between doing them and going to bed, as the intense contractions can cause painful follow-up cramps which disrupt your sleep and can affect your recovery. (There is evidence that the onset of sleep causes said cramps, but much more research needs to be done before any concrete links can be established.)

    2) You should not need any warm up before your isometrics, whether at the weekend or otherwise. Your body adapts specifically to the way you train (see SAID Principle for more information). In basic terms, if you always warm up your body will come to expect it. This is [one of the reasons] why many people who warm up prior to their splits practice cannot display their maximal gains without one. However, if you insist on warming up, a couple of sets of your preceding strength exercises (squats, deadlifts etc) done at a reduced intensity will suffice. But my advice is to try and wean yourself off warm ups altogether because they develop a fragile mindset.

    3) Regarding which level you jump in at, only you can answer that by picking one and testing your reaction. If you don't do isometrics regularly you should avoid trying out the weighted sets right away. Try level 15; if you can't hold three minute contractions at your maximal ROM limit for five consecutive sets, or you're sore for longer than 5 days after four or more workouts, you should pick an easier level.

    4) The "stretching" method in that video is stupid. Avoid training with any instructors or at any dojos which promote such idiotic practices.
  12. Van Zandt

    Van Zandt Mr. High Kick

    Sorry, did you mean that once you're actually able to do a full split, you should drop the weight and do only the tensions? It's 5am and I haven't slept for 26 hours! :D
  13. AndrewTheAndroid

    AndrewTheAndroid A hero for fun.

    Do you have to start at stage one?
  14. Van Zandt

    Van Zandt Mr. High Kick

    See point 3 from post #11 in this thread.
  15. Hatamoto

    Hatamoto Beardy Man Kenobi Supporter

    Is there a set time ideally left between sets or is it something you can do in separate sittings throughout the day?
  16. liero

    liero Valued Member

  17. Van Zandt

    Van Zandt Mr. High Kick

    I had a couple of clients try this routine with Pavel Tsatsouline's "grease the groove" principle and their gains were not nearly as significant as when they did all sets in a single workout. They experienced soreness more often and for longer periods too. Doing all sets together gives you the added benefit of an accumulative post contraction stretch reflex depression; that's a fancy term meaning you can go further into the split with each consecutive set due to the intensity of the previous contraction taking the edges off the body's ability to resist during a stretch. Almost an anaesthetic effect if you will. In terms of how long you should wait between sets, you can rest for as long as you need to until you feel ready to start the next set. It's an entirely individual number, however, during one of the studies for my book I did manage to calculate an average time of 2:30 as being the most effective (based on a sample of 60 clients). You should note however that waiting too long between sets can reduce the anaesthetic effect of your contractions; there is evidence to suggest your rest period should be equal to or less than the duration of the preceding contraction.
  18. Caleb Demarais

    Caleb Demarais Valued Member

    Thanks for the great info van zant. Is it safe to do this when injured? i am recovering from a very bad hamstring tear from doing dynamic stretches when training with my instructor <grade 3 tear biceps fimoris, grade 2 tear semimembrinasis> thanks again
  19. takahura19

    takahura19 Valued Member

    My biggest problem is that after my taekwondo workout I cant stay like more than 10min. Is tht ok, when I come with cycle back home in like 5min I need from gym, I do them imedieately at home, where I have time. And another question. How to do them. Should I do like u said my back to the wall, with hands behind and than into split or with chair. all the best regards
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2010
  20. Van Zandt

    Van Zandt Mr. High Kick

    See this post for reasons why dynamic stretches can be very bad for you.

    You should wait until you are fully recovered from your injury before attempting any kind of flexibility training, especially isometrics. You will just compound the existing damage otherwise.

    That's some pretty nasty damage you've done to your hamstring, hope you recover soon. How long ago did it happen?

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