Iso Strength Chisel

In Coaching, Fitness Programs, Reviews by Dale HillLeave a Comment

An intense resistance workout using isometric holds and flexibility to increase strength

Building a strong, sculpted body doesn’t require hours spent working out—just an expert approach. And with The Master’s Hammer and Chisel, seasoned trainers Sagi Kalev and Autumn Calabrese have compiled their best, most efficient techniques into 30- to 40-minute resistance-training workouts to help you craft a powerful, perfectly defined physique in just 60 days.

Throughout the entire 60 days, you’ll focus on Stabilization, Strength, and Power to rapidly build, sculpt, and refine your physique. Combine this training with proven portion-control nutrition-the way Sagi and Autumn do in The Master’s Hammer and Chisel-and you’ll build a body that’s strong, chiseled, and defined.

As I  embark on my own 60-Day Journey with The Master’s Hammer and Chisel, I will be reviewing each workout as they present themselves in the program calendar. I will add my own insights and observations about the workouts; the comments I make are my own as an Independent Certified Personal Trainer and do not necessarily represent the Celebrity Trainers or Beachbody. Full disclosure, I am also an Independent Team Beachbody Coach and a distributor of this program and all other Beachbody products. I hope the information I provide is beneficial in your personal fitness journey.

Iso Strength Chisel735x1102Iso Strength Chisel combines resistance training with isometric holds to keep your muscles under tension longer. In this workout you’ll use a couple of traditional bodyweight exercises as well as dumbbells to provide the resistance needed to gain strength; repetitions will be alternated with static “holds” in a particular position. The goal is to keep your muscles under tension throughout the entire set.

Strength comes from your body adapting to the stress you put on it; not the “gnaw at your gut” stress of an impending deadline or public speaking engagement, but the the stress of muscles, joints, bones and connective tissues being forced to respond to demands you’re placing on them. It’s easy to understand how repeatedly lifting a weight (think: sets and reps) stresses the muscle and engages all these components. When you go to the gym, you know this and it’s why you strive to lift increasingly heavier weights. Truth is, while lifting heavy is important, it’s not the only way to gain strength, you have to mix things up.

In FitSpeak, an Isometric muscle action is when the contractile force is equal to the the resistive force and the muscle fiber length doesn’t change. In layman’s terms – you’re holding the weight (or your body) in one place. Sounds easy right? Hold a plank position for a few minutes and you’ll begin to understand the stress that an isometric hold induces. Integrate these isometric holds with moving the weight (or your body) and you have Iso Strength Chisel.

The standard protocol for this workout is simple and will be repeated throughout the full workout for each exercise: you will complete 10 repetitions, perform a 10 second isometric hold and repeat that cycle two more times without pause or rest. If a particular move is a “one-sided”, then you’ll complete one full set (10 Reps/10 Sec hold – three times) on one side, then repeat it on the other side.

Obviously just out of the gate, you may find that you are not able to keep tempo with Autumn and the cast or that you need to incorporate brief rests during the set. Know your limits, but don’t be afraid to go at your own pace and rest when needed. Safety is paramount and your goal is to work up to completing each set as prescribed. Remember, the maximum benefit comes from keeping the muscle under tension throughout the entire set.

I have to say that out of all the variations of a squat movement, one of my favorite is the Sumo Squat, perhaps it’s simply the setup and mechanics of the move that work best for me or the fact that it really targets the adductors or inner thighs. Like traditional body weight squats you’re still going to target your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, hip flexors and calves.

The Sumo Squat likely takes it name from the sport of Sumo wrestling, Sumo’s perform a ritualistic movement in training called the “Shiko” where the leg is raised high in the air and stamped down in a wide stance. This movement was performed to ward off evil spirits as well as to train the lower body. By the time you get done with this workout, you may wish you’d warded off the evil spirits because you’re legs are going to be screaming.

Position your body with a wide stance, feet wider than hip width, toes pointed outward approximately 45 degrees, hands on hips. If you’re using dumbbells, hold them on your hips or in front of you. I prefer to do my sumo squats using kettlebells, and I vary my grip by either using a 2-handed grip holding the handle by the sides with the bell centered on my sternum or grasping the handle in an overhand grip and letting it hang naturally in front of me with arms relaxed. Squat down keeping your back posture upright, as you come down to parallel, your knees should align over your ankles. Depending on your core strength, you may find that balance is an issue, try to avoid rocking forward or backward as you progress through the movement. Keep your feet flat on the floor and push upward through your heels as you return to the starting position.

Remember to write down your results, weights used, rests taken and whether or not you maintained pace with the cast, these data points become your baseline and give you something to compare yourself against as you progress through the program. It’s not about being as good as the people in the DVD, it’s about being better than you were the day before.

The Push-Up is a classic body weight exercise; to begin a standard push-up, lie prone on floor with hands slightly wider than shoulder width. Raise body up off floor by extending arms with body straight. To execute the move, lower your body to the floor bending your elbows while keeping your body straight (back flat: imagine a straight line drawn from your ears down through your neck, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles). Push your body back up to the starting position while maintaining that same straight line.

You’ll perform the push-up following the same protocol you used for the sumo squat, complete 10 repetitions followed by a 10 second isometric hold, repeating this cycle a total of three times without pause.

There are a variety of ways to modify a standard push-up to make it less difficult (regression) or more difficult (progression). One of the more popular regressions is to drop to your knees and performing the same movement while maintaining a straight line from head to knees. Alternative regressions include elevating your torso and using a bar, bench, table edge or the wall as the anchor for your hands. On all regressions you will still want to maintain the proper body alignment and focus the attention on the Pectoralis Major (chest) muscle. For safety, ensure that any anchor point you use for your hands is secure and will not move during any part of the exercise.

By elevating your feet and manipulating your hand position (narrower placement) you can quickly progress the standard push-up into a much more difficult movement. Other progressions include adding a shoulder tap or plyometric component. As you elevate your feet and transition to a decline push-up, you shift the emphasis to the upper portion of the pectoralis major (clavical head)

You’ve most likely heard of this next movement referred to as the Bulgarian Split Squat and you may remember being introduced to a variation of this move in the Chisel Balance workout. This version is not as ballistic as the Split Squat Jump, but it will have your legs burning nonetheless. On the workout sheets, the split squat shows up twice, one set for each leg; the process is identical except you’ll switch legs. Begin by selecting your weights and standing with your back facing your bench. Placing your weight on your right leg, lift your left leg up behind you and place the ball of your foot on the bench. Your distance from the bench will vary based on how long your legs are, the ideal is to be far enough away so as you drop down into a lunge position, your right knee does not extend past your toes and in the full lunge position your right leg forms a 90 degree angle at the knee. You may want to experiment with finding the best position before hand, without weights so you can easily find your mark during the workout.

To execute the move, drop down into a lunge, bending the right knee and driving the left knee towards the ground. The weights should hang naturally at your sides, stop just before your knee touches the ground. Push upward through your right heel, keeping your torso upright as you return to the starting position. This movement not only builds strong quadriceps, but engages your glutes, hamstrings and calf muscles as stabilizers. Initially you will want to perform this move slowly and focus on balance while flexing and extending the hip and knee through the full range of motion.

Again, the set includes 10 repetitions followed by a 1o second isometric hold in the “down” position, repeated three times without rest.

I’ve always found this to be a very challenging exercise and suggest starting off with light weights until you master the form, it’s an excellent move to build strong quads and to improve balance.

The Split Squat – Left is the same movement as described in the previous section except that you’ve changed legs. Position your body in front of your bench and select your weights as you did previously and place your right foot on the bench. Bending the left knee and hip as you drive the right knee downward. Same protocol, same weight, same movement…performed on the opposite leg.

The closer your forward leg is to the bench, the greater the muscle activation will be in the quadricep, as you move your forward leg away from your bench, your glutes become more engaged. Be very careful not to be so close to the bench that your knee pushes forward of your toes as you lunge downward, this will place unnecessary stress on your knee – aim to maintain the 90 degree angle in the forward leg when in the full lunge position.

The Pull-up is another classic body weight exercise and performed using this protocol of 10 repetitions / 10 second isometric hold, repeated three times without rest, it’s a tough one no matter which option you choose. The image below captures all three variations: the most challenging full body pull-up,  using a pull-up assist device and performing the pull-up movement with a properly anchored resistance band. Regardless of the option(s) you choose, your focus will be on engaging the Latissimus Dorsi (lats) or the large muscles of the back.

The wide grip full body pull-up is performed without any assistance, grab the bar with an overhand grip, hands placed wider than shoulder width. Pull your body up until your neck reaches the height of your hands. Return to the starting position by lowering your body until your arms and shoulders are fully extended.

There are a variety of pull-up assist products on the market and they all consist of some form of resistance tubing that helps “share the load” of your body weight as you perform the move. The Beachbody Chin-Up Max is adjustable and has a comfortable foot stirrup; when using the assist adjust the tension so you’re not bouncing up and down. Also be sure at least one foot is securely placed in the stirrup.

If you don’t have access to a pull-up bar, you can achieve similar results by using resistance bands securely anchored at a point at least one to two feet above your head. As with all exercises involving any type of equipment, you’ll want to inspect your resistance bands prior to use. Check for cracks, tears or splits in the bands, examine all connectors and handles to ensure a safe and solid connection. Anchor devices should be secure and able to withstand the forces applied with the bands. If using a door attachment be sure the door is locked or otherwise secured (it’s always a good idea to put a sign on the other side advising that you are using it for an anchor point if it’s an interior door where others could open it). Check the door anchor strap (if used) to ensure it is not frayed or worn. Grasp the handles of the resistance band, step backward engaging the bands. Take a stance with one leg forward and bent, the rear leg straight back, lean forward forming a straight line from back heel up through your hips, and shoulders. Position your hands straight out in front of you slightly wider than shoulder width, pull the bands back so that your elbows are bent at 90 degrees – this position should have the maximal tension on the band and is equivalent to the “up” position in the pull-up (this is also the position you’ll hold during the 10 second isometric hold.) Extend your arms back in front of you to simulate the lowering movement of the pull-up. You can find resistance bands and door attachments at most sporting goods stores or at the links included here.

Just as with the Bulgarian Split Squat, you’re going to perform the Step-Up Side Hold once through on your right leg, then again through the full cycle on the left leg. As with any movement that involves stepping on to/off of a bench, you must ensure that your bench is stable, can support your weight and the surface is dry so you don’t slip. Always plant your foot fully and firmly on the bench. Alternatives to a bench could be a plyo box or a adjustable height step platform, whatever you use, just make sure it’s a stable and safe surface.

Select an appropriate weight and hold it centered  and close to your chest. Stand parallel to the side of your bench and step your right foot onto the center of the bench as shown in (A) below, rise up using your right leg and tap your left foot on the bench (B) and return your left foot to the ground – that’s one rep. Complete 10 repetitions, landing softly on the ground each time. Find a rhythm and avoid landing heavy or slamming your foot down, as you land, flex your knee slightly. After completing 10 reps, come up and lower into a single leg pistol squat as shown in the second image. This is a difficult balance posture especially when you’re holding a weight – hold this isometric position for 10 seconds, then repeat the cycle two more times.

Single leg exercises are amazing for building strength and balance, be prepared to tire quickly! Focus on maintaining proper form and balance as you execute this move and as with any balance move, if you find that you’re beginning to lose your balance simply slow down. I have an adjustable weight bench very similar to those used by the cast throughout The Master’s Hammer and Chisel program and I use it for the traditional lifting exercises. However, I personally choose to use my 18″ Plyo Box for all of the moves that require stepping up and down off a bench only because I find the plyo box a more stable surface.

See the Step-Up, Side Hold on the Left, for a modification if you don’t have a bench or platform to step up on to.

The Step-Up, Side Hold on the Left, is performed the same way except you begin with the left foot on the bench as shown in the image below.

Don’t have a bench, Plyo Box, Aerobic Step or similar platform to perform this move? You don’t get a pass on this one just because you don’t have the equipment! The modification for this move may even be harder than the primary move. If you don’t have something to step on to, perform a pistol squat (with or without weights depending on your level of fitness).

To perform a Pistol Squat, balance on one leg with the opposite leg held out in front of you and your heel at least 6 to 8 inches off the ground (aim to hold it as high as possible). Squat down as far as possible while keeping leg elevated off of floor. Keep your back straight and your supporting knee pointed same direction as the foot supporting your weight. Raise your body back up to the starting position.

I really like the One-Arm Row, I find that when you’re supporting your weight on the bench as shown you can generally lift much heavier than you might expect. Like all the moves in this workout that are performed on each side of the body, you will go through one entire set on lifting the weight on your left side then a full set on the right. Each set is comprised of 3 rounds performed without rest,  each round consists of 10 repetitions of the row followed by a 10 second isometric hold with the weight at the height of the row.

Focus on pulling up with your back muscles, this exercise really hits the back in general, engaging the lats, traps, and rhomboids. You will engage the biceps and triceps, but really try to isolate the muscles of the back as you pull the weight up. Make sure you have a stable stance, a slight bend in your standing leg is fine, your hand placement on the bench should be directly below your shoulder and your knee on the bench should be aligned below your hip.

The Sit-Up C-Curve is not to be confused with a traditional sit-up, depending on your experience with Beachbody home fitness programs, you may recognize this move as a variation of the “C-Sit” move that Shaun T. uses in the INSANITY or MAX:30 workouts. You begin this movement by selecting an appropriate weight and sitting down on your mat. With feet spread slightly wider than hip width and a slight bend in the knees, lean back pulling your belly button towards your spine. You’re forming a “C” shape with your body, you will have to experiment to find the sweet spot that allows you to go back as far as possible without falling over or lifting your feet off the ground. The movement is simply, from this position – sit up bringing your chest up and forward, return to the starting position and repeat for 10 repetitions. Stay in the “C” position for a 10 second isometric hold and repeat the sequence two more times.

It’s appropriate that the final exercise in this workout is the Lateral Raise, you will find a general progression in the order of most lifting workouts – they tend to work the larger muscles of the body first and the smaller muscles last. I enjoy lateral raises but I never feel like I can go as heavy as I really want to, choose the best weight for you. You want to be challenged and you really want to have to work for those last 3 or 4 repetitions.

Start with the weights at your sides using an overhand grip (in this case your palms are facing in towards your body as you hold the weights). Raise your arms straight out to shoulder height, there’s no need to go higher and you may even find it more difficult to stop when with your arms level with your shoulders. At this point your palms should be facing down, the weights should be level, you may have a slight bend in your elbows but nothing too extreme. Lower the weights back down to your sides and repeat for 10 repetitions…that’s the easy part! Follow that with a 10 Second isometric hold with the weights held at shoulder height. The first round of this may not seem too bad (depending on the weight you chose) perform two more rounds without rest to complete the set.

Once you’ve completed this one you’re done with everything except the cooldown. Don’t skip out on the cooldown, you worked hard on this one and you need to stretch out. I personally take about twice the time allotted for the cool down, basically doubling the time in each stretch, but that’s just me. After doing lateral raises, I could stay in a child’s pose with shoulder stretch for 10 minutes and be perfectly happy!

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