What is your play style? Do you prefer slow methodical heavy-hitters that soak TONS of damage? Do you like the fast hit and run tactics that distract and keep moving? Prefer something middle of the road that has advantages of both? Exercising is the same. Some people prefer slow methods of working out and others prefer explosive movements to get their hearts pumping.
Both have their benefits and most instructors will say it’s good to incorporate both into your routines. The difference in the two styles is the type of muscle contractions.
Generally, muscles contract isotonically, meaning that the contraction when you flex and relax are the same. Iso = same, tonic = tone (originally related to the flexing of strings in instruments). Muscles have two types of contractions; concentric (flexing) and eccentric (relaxing), this is an oversimplification but it gets the rough point across. When you work the muscles you are combining these contractions to move weights or to move your body. Think of this as the Ryu/Ken style of exercise.
Muscles can also contract isometrically, meaning that the object that you are working on (weights, your body or a tree as per Rocky 4) is held static. Iso = same, metric = equality of measure. This means that as you are carrying that couch into your new house or apartment that the muscles that you are using are flexing statically holding the object in place. However, when you use this type of contraction to work out, you will generally be doing slower isotonic exercises, but it will result in as close to an isometric workout as you can simulate. This is the Zangeif method.
Taking your generic clone person using isotonic exercising will generally create muscles that are lean and strong and using isometric exercises will generally create muscles that are bulky and strong. Neither are bad and both will get you stronger. It depends on your overall fitness goals what combination of both that you will need.
Random passerby: but…wait. Didn’t you say there were three methods? If isometric is slow and isotonic is medium what’s the third?
Yes, but it’s not so easily explained. Its called plyometric. Plyo = more; metric = equality of measure. To go further there needs to be a quick addendum about muscle fibers. We have both fast and slow muscle fibers. Fast fibers are generally used for quick twitch motions jumping from platform to platform ala Prince of Persia. Slow fibers are generally used for motions that require you to exert force for an extended period of time ala your Skyrim character as you become encumbered.
Isotonic/isometric exercising depending how quickly you engage your muscles will engage those slow fibers. Plyometric exercises will engage the fast twitch muscles. These exercises are typically explosive movements that are use either low weight or no weight. Think clapping pushups or squat jumps. You can try this really quick with just a bit of space. Stand up and extend a leg straight out in front of you as if you were kicking up at the sky. Do it sloooooooow, like really slow, like molasses. You probably won’t get it above your waist, maybe higher if you have really strong muscles around the hips. Next, do the same motion as fast as possible. Raise up your hand at about shoulder height and try and kick that. You’ll see that you can most likely either get close to your hand or tap it. The first kick was isometric/isotonic, the second was plyometric.
Plyometrics are one of my favorite methods of exercises as well as isometrics. While I was involved with martial arts we used them to train our bodies to build muscle (isometric) and train for explosive movements (plyometric). This would be the Vega method.
If you don’t get the references to Ryu/Ken, Zangeif or Vega. Just watch the American version of Street Fighter with Jean-Claud Van Damme and Raúl Juliá. YOU’RE WELCOME!
So, what’s the point then?Why bother? If I’m working the muscles don’t you use all of them all the time? Short answer, no and it’s useful to know how to use your body to hack your workout. Just like you don’t use a wrench to drive nails, you now have three new tools to assist in your workouts and exercise.