Once again Peterson hits the ball out of the park and gives us a book that really delivers. When done properly, isometric exercises really do enhance muscle development. But, at least for me, these are ADVANCED exercises that I was only able to do effectively once I achieved better muscle awareness and control. This is a five star book, but I think it works best for folks who have already mastered the basics of Petersons' Transformetrics system or similar methods of exercise. Before buying this book you may want to buy (or at least take a look at) two of Peterson's other books The Miracle Seven: 7 Amazing Exercises That Slim, Sculpt, and Build the Body in 20 Minutes a Day and Pushing Yourself to Power: The Ultimate Guide to Total Body Transformation. As with his other books, Peterson is short on prescriptions for fitness. He gives you the information as to how to make isometric exercise part of your fitness program, but doesn't give you an exact routine to follow.
(NOTE: I recommend the spiral bound version of this book (and the other Transformetrics books) when available. It helps when you want to look at an individual picture and do the exercise. It avoids placing weights on the book and cracking a standard binding...)
THE LONGWINDED REVIEW:
I started using Peterson's Transformetrics system a year and half ago. I started by purchasing the Miracle Seven (M7) and then, heartened by success, bought Pushing Yourself to Power (PYTP) shortly thereafter. Peterson has brought back these old methods of exercise, written books that clearly illustrate the techniques, and opened up a new level of fitness to his readers.
You'd think that after such success with M7 and PYTP I'd simply trust Peterson and would have bought the Isometric Power Revolution earlier. But this was not the case. In spite of my past successes with Peterson's method, I was a major skeptic about this book.
THE STRUCTURE OF THE BOOK:
1. GOALS: Peterson starts off, like any good executive, with goals in mind. This is a sound way to begin, because it really puts one's exercise program into context. After goals he explains deep breathing, which as it turns out is incredibly important for isometrics.
2. HISTORY: We get a concise history of isometrics. This may seem odd, at first, for an exercise book, but is a welcome addition given the fact that isometrics have often been maligned as ineffective and are generally not well understood. He introduces us to some of the pioneers and heroes of isometrics and also puts and puts isometrics into a historical context. The section was a quick and interesting read and really gets you revved up for the exercises. Some have commented on lack of references, but this is not a scholarly text. Anyhow, with web search engines on hand you could verify Peterson's facts quite easily. You can also find the pioneering articles on isometrics in a health sciences library. Fact checkers beware, Peterson does his homework, but in many cases there may be conflicting evidence.
3. NUTRITION: This is a minimalist overview of Peterson's philosophy on nutrition and could have been fleshed out. Pushing Yourself To Power and the Miricle Seven have a more in depth nutritional regimen. I believe he kept things simple here because he described this in more depth in his other books.
4. ISOMETRICS QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS: This is a nice little FAQ section. Peterson answers commonly asked questions about isometrics. He easily anticipates a reader's queries and gives precise and satisfying answers. I suppose this reveals Peterson's experience in championing a neglected kind of exercise. He knows what a skeptic or student might ask and is able to provide solid answers.
5. BLOOD PRESSURE AND ISOS: He discusses how to perform isometrics safely. If done correctly, they do not increase blood pressure. (Yes. I have a cuff and checked before and after.) He has even outlined steps to use isos to lower your blood pressure. (Not tried, but his references to Broino Kiveloff and how to lower blood pressure using isometrics are also spot on. You can find Dr. Kiveloff's article in J Am Geriatr Soc. 1971 Dec;19(12):1006-12. It's there.)
6. THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN: This is the only part of the book with isotonic exercises. These are seven exercises that can use in low reps to warm up or at higher reps as part of your exercise routine. This section also includes the Tiger Bend (`Hindu' or `Furey') push up and the Hindu squat that Peterson believes are the best odds calisthenics that you can perform. At first, I wasn't sure why Peterson put these in. They seem like fish out of water in an isometrics book. However, they do give you a reasonable warm up and loosen your muscles and joints at low reps. They are a good preparation for the isometric exercises that follow.
7. CLASSIC ISOMETRIC EXERCISES (see below)
8. ISOMETRIC POWER FLEX EXERCISES (see below)
THE TRANSFORMTETRICS SYSTEM:
The Isometric Power Revolution concentrates on Isometrics, a single component of Peterson's Transformetrics system. Let me explain. The transformetrics system is basically composed of four kinds of exercises:
1. DSR: Dynamic Self Resistance where one limb acts in resistance to the other throughout a specified range of motion. For example, flexing the right biceps and using the left hand grab your right fist. Now extend and flex providing resistance by opposing the motion of your right arm with your left hand.
2. DVR: Dynamic Visualized Resistance where the muscles are tensed maximally and then moved through a specified range of motion. For example, by `making a muscle' by flexing at the biceps. Keep the tension high as you flex and extend the arm.
3. PC: Power Calisthenics which are Peterson's best-bet variations of push ups, sit ups, squats, kicks, chin ups, pull ups etc.
4. Isometric exercises that involve static contraction of muscles by resisting one limb against the other maximally without movement, flexing at the extremes of contraction without movement, or maintaining a posture without movement. (More on these later.)
1-3 are ISOTONIC exercises. That is, the muscles expand and contract while moving against some form of resistance (gravity, tension supplied by an opposing limb, or their own intrinsic tension). Isometrics are quite different--here the muscle pushes against resistance but doesn't move.
At the outset, I was most comfortable with the power calisthenics and the DSR exercises. Once I achieved more muscle control, the DVR exercises started to make more sense to me and I added more of them into my routine. But the isometric exercises never really quite clicked. I basically resolved to skip over these exercises and concentrated on what worked best for me.
This worked quite well with M7 and PYTP. The majority of exercises therein were DSR, DVR, and PC. Isometrics were thrown into the mix, but were fewer and farther between. Once again, I didn't really `get it.' I couldn't seem to make these work. This was somewhat ironic, as Peterson--who never seems to hold back his enthusiasm for any Transformetric exercise--seemed to praise the isometric exercises above and beyond the rest. I just didn't get it. What was I missing? I should have taken a clue from Peterson's Grandfather who told Peterson at age 10 that he needed to learn how all of his muscles work and move before he started pushing them to the limit. Peterson's Uncle Milo promised to teach isometrics to the young John Peterson when he turned 18, after his DSRs,DVRs, and PCs up to snuff. (The story appears on page 19 and 20 of the Miracle Seven.)
As it turns out, Grandpa and Uncle Milo were right. At least for me, the isometrics require more muscle awareness and concentration to be effective. This would not be the first book in the Transformetric series that I would pick up if I were naïve to this kind of exercise. But once you develop this level of mastery, isometrics can really take you to the next level. You can think of them as the 'power lifting' equivalent in Transformetrics.
Peterson breaks up isometrics into three types:
1. Classic Isometric Contraction (CIC): These isometric exercises require that you contract your muscle powerfully in a single position by pitting muscle against muscle or pushing against a fixed object (e.g. a table or wall). Most exercises in this class are like a frozen DSR. For example, you attempt to do a biceps curl with your right hand while providing resistance against the curl with your left. However, unlike a DSR you try to contract maximally with each hand, but the forces are equally balanced so you stay in the same position. There is no movement. Other examples would be pushing against a fixed object like a table, chair, or wall. Muscles are maximally pushing, but there is no movement. (These are similar, but in practice they are two separate subcategories. When pitting muscle against muscle, you are defacto exercising opposing muscle groups. When you push or pull a fixed object you are exercising (flexing or extending) with one set of muscles. Peterson is now selling an 'Isometric Power Belt' on his website. The advantage to such a device is that you can isolate the isometrics to a single group of flexing or extending muscle. On the other hand, Peterson believes that although the device may facilitate exercising some muscle groups, it is not necessary.)
2. Peak Contraction Isomtric Powerflex (PCIP): This is more like a frozen DVR. Muscles are maximally contracted while you maintain a posture. This would be like flexing at your biceps with maximal power but without movement.
3. Static Isometric Postures (SIP): In this kind of exercise, you maintain a posture--like the beginning position of a push up--and simply do not move. These are not unlike maintaining various postures in Yoga. Isometric postures are ususally easy at first but become more difficult as you maintain the posture over time. There are very few of these exercises in this book that could be classified as SIPs.
Most exercises fit within a single category, but some are combinations of categories.
CLASSIC ISOMETRIC CONTRACTIONS (CICs):
These are the most accessible for me at this point. Each exercise is accompanied with explanations and pictures. Peterson and two of his students model the exercises effectively and the photographs clearly show you what positions you have to assume. The technique of contracting to the maximum while inhaling and then to maintain the contraction for a count of seven while exhaling is effective.
One of the criticisms of isometric contraction is that it only strengthens the muscle in a single position. To counter this, Peterson has you repeat the exercise in three or more positions throughout a range of motion.
The descriptions of the exercises are precise and they are critical here. At first blush, many of the pictures look quite similar, if not the same. Upon reading the descriptions, however, you may be instructed to pull or push in a different direction. Until you actually start to do the exercises, you might wonder whether the pictures were even necessary. Let's face it, with isometric contraction there is no movement. You are simply looking at Peterson or one of the other models holding a position. However, once you start to do the exercises the pictures really do help clarify what needs to be done. The book would be far less engaging and effective without the pictures.
Peterson does state that virtually any exercise could be converted into an isometric exercise, but clearly some positions are better suited than others. Peterson's has real expertise in giving you the best bet bet isometric exercises that allow for maximal opposition of forces without awkward positioning. Even so, there are some exercises that are more challenging to do than others. I have found that the CIC exercises for the larger muscles in the upper body have been easier to master than those for the lower body, torso, wrist, and hand. These are, of course, doable but it takes a while to figure out how to achieve and maintain maximal tension. This is one of the advantages of the exercise band that Peterson sells. (I didn't buy Peterson's device, but used a Lifeline Jungle Gym that I bought a long while ago for body weight exercises, such as chin ups and pull ups. This is basically webbing with two connected handles. You can step on the webbing and pull on the handles in various positions to perform an isometric contraction.) It was much easier for me to use a simple apparatus to isolate the hand muscles or provide fixed resistance for the larger leg muscles. Perseverance pays off over time and I have improved in leg work, wrist work, and hand work over time. Still, these exercises are more challenging to do isometrically and I prefer to use isotonic (PCs, DVRs, DSRs etc.) to exercise these muscles.
It should be noted, that most of the exercises in this section are CICs. Some of the exercises within the CIC section might be technically classified as isometric power flexes or are difficult to classify hybrids of CICs, IPFs, and IPs. This makes sense because Peterson wants to provide a full body work out and some muscle groups (for example, abdominal muscles) are not so amenable to typical CIC exercise.
ISOMETRIC POWER FLEXES:
These poses are very similar to what body builders do at shows to show off their muscles. The prose isn't clear as to whether these kinds of exercises simply improve muscle definition or improve strength. My take on his writing is that Peterson believes that when these exercises are combined with the correct breathing techniques they are as effective as the classic isometric contractions.
I have to admit that these have been more challenging for me. Flexing one's muscles maximally against their own resistance is more difficult than flexing muscle against muscle. It takes a great deal more control to isolate muscle groups this way and, hence, more concentration to get the best results. However, once you get the hang of them, these exercises are quite rewarding in their own right. Peterson demonstrates how to do these exercises so that you can exercise all muscle groups.
Once again, the pictures and descriptions are extremely helpful in demonstrating the exercises. This level of explanation really makes the book stand out. For me, these exercises are still a work in progress, but I am coming along with them and they seem to be additive to the CICs.
CONTROVERSIES AND CONUNDRUMS:
DO ISOMETRICS WORK?
I can't speak for everybody, but adding these exercises into my routine have improved my overall muscle hypertrophy and strength. I have gained more definition of the muscle groups and am able to perform more consecutive push ups and pull ups than I was able to before I added these exercises into my routine.
That being said, Peterson addresses some important issues of isometrics in his Q&A section. Isometrics are a component of an exercise program, they are not the whole ball of wax. Peterson breaks down fitness into seven attributes--Strength, Flexibility, Endurance, Speed, Balance, Coordination, and Aesthetics. Although isometrics build strength and aesthetics, they require a different kind of coordination and balance than do weight lifting exercises.
When lifting weights or doing any specialized sports-related move, you need a specific combination of strength, balance, and coordination. Isometrics will help build strength, and using Petersons technique can even do so throughout a range of motion. However, they cannot help you develop the balance and coordination required for another activity.
For example, Isometrics can strengthen your arms, back, and core muscles but cannot give you the balance and coordination to do a pull up. Nor might the isometric exercise strengthen all of your muscles in the balanced way required to do a pull up. That being said, isometrics may augment your strength and contribute to your ability to do a pull up. However, you will still have to do pull ups in order to get good at doing pull ups.
The same can be said for lifting weights. You may be able to lift massive amounts by doing a biceps curl, but these will not give you the muscle coordination or balance to, say, throw a caber (or for that matter do an isometric exercise effectively). Overall improvements in strength do not always translate to gains in every area. They will likely contribute, but can't substitute for all activities.
Peterson recommends using isometrics in conjunction with other kinds of isotonic exercises and sports training.
WHERE'S THE ROUTINE?
Peterson gives you all the information you need on how to integrate these exercises into your existing routine, but doesn't prescribe the exact regimen. This is consistent throughout his books, as he doesn't believe in a one-size-fits-all kind of program. I admire this approach, but for the beginner it would still be helpful if he suggested a sequence for a beginner, intermediate, and advanced exerciser. Even so, once you get the feel for the exercises, it becomes easier to see how to do this for yourself. You can also seek advice on his website.
IS IT SOMETHING FOR NOTHING?
No. Peterson promises results, but only if you work and work really hard at this. None of these exercises will work unless you put forth large amounts of effort and concentration. Isometrics may be efficient in terms of the time it takes to do an exercise, but they will (and should) take incredible amounts of effort. These exercises are simple to learn but difficult to master.
DOES THIS BOOK ADD ANYTHING TO 'PUSHING YOURSELF TO POWER'
Absolutely. The Miracle Seven is an excellent introduction to Peterson's Transformetrics system. Pushing Yourself To Power (PYTP) is the best general book about this kind of exercise and is almost encyclopedic. PYTP does explain isometrics, but concentrates mostly on DVR, DSR, and PC exercises. In the Isometric Power Revolution (IPR), Peterson really takes the time to explain the history, principles, and practical use of isometrics. PYTP is more concerned about a holistic, Transformetrics approach to exercising a muscle group or region, showing DVR, DSR, PC, and isometric exercises for that isolate that area. IPR also goes through all major muscle groups, but shows you how to exercise these areas using isometrics alone. This allows him to go into far more detail and demonstrate far more isometric exercises.
POTENTIAL FOR INJURY
As compared with free weights, the potential for injury is probably lower for isometrics. Peterson always sends the message that you must listen to your body and stop when you feel pain. (He does not believe in 'no pain, no gain.') That being said, you can certainly over-strain your muscles with this or any other exercise. Anyone who has ever tried to push an immovable object with all of his or her might knows that the next day can be one of muscle pains and strains. You can overdo the isometrics and cause muscle strain. Then again, the potential to do this is low if you listen to your body.
THE EMPHASIS ON DEEP BREATHING
Peterson probably states this better in his book than I can, but in a nutshell it is impossible to do isometric exercises maximally, efficiently, and safely without the proper breathing technique. It is almost useless to jump to the exercises without making a concerted effort in learning proper breathing technique. Without this you will be sorely disappointed in using isometrics as a system, as your results will be poor. It is no mistake that Peterson repeats breathing technique with every description of exercises in the book.
BLOOD PRESSURE PROBLEMS
Before reading the book, I too thought that isometric work might increase my blood pressure. Having a blood pressure cuff handy, I tested my blood pressure before and after exercising this way. I am only a single person and results may vary, but my blood pressure was the same or lower after performing isometrics correctly. Peterson also has a prescription to lower bood pressure. Peterson also recommends many of the same things your doctor would recommend to lower your pressure (for example, salt restriction) and adds in isometrics contractions. His reference to Broino Kiveloff and how to lower blood pressure using isometrics can be found in the J Am Geriatr Soc. 1971 Dec;19(12):1006-12. It may be worth a try.
THERE IS NOTHING NEW IN THIS BOOK
Interestingly, some reviews have looked at this as the 'same old isometric stuff.' Well, IT IS, but I don't think that that is a criticism. Peterson has simply researched and packaged it so that it is easily accessible and incredibly usable.
There is nothing in this book that you cannot get from other sources. Peterson himself even tells you about his sources in the history section. As with PYTP, you could find all these sources and put them together yourself and come up with your own version of this book. You can even go to Peterson's website and look at the 'classics' section or go to the 'Eugene Sandow and the Golden Age of Iron Men' website and look at more exercise literature from a bygone era. Yes, all this stuff can be found (somewhere) on the web and you don't have to pay for it. Furthermore, you could create your own isometric program--virtually any move can be turned into an isometric exercise.
But when you surf the web and look at that literature, you will realize that it is often poorly organized, poorly photographed, or poorly explained. You will not find a more thorough going over of the material than you find here or another source that is so clearly photographed and explained. The reason to buy the book is because it is well written, well photographed, and well organized. You are also buying it because of Peterson's expertise--he points you to the exercises and gives you the techniques that work the best. It is also well priced, given its size and the excellent photographs and descriptions.
ANTI-FREE WEIGHT BIAS
Peterson is unabashed about this and is against using weights. You are free to agree or disagree with him on this account, but it doesn't take away from the exercises presented here. As someone who used to lift and now almost exclusively uses Transformetrics, I can say that Peterson has won me over. On the other hand, there is no reason to assume that one kind of exercise is for everyone. I know plenty of people who have lifted for quite some time and have never had 'busted up weight lifters syndrome.' Then again, none of these weight lifters were power lifters and they were more interested in lean muscle, using lower weights for higher repetitions. I do think Peterson is quite correct if you think about the lifters you know who are lifting heavier weights. I can't really think of any lifters I know who have tried to push it to the max who didn't have shoulder or back problems at some point in time.
What I will say is that I am impressed as to what I have been able to accomplish after using Peterson's system--not just isometrics but the whole Transformetrics system. When I started I used the Trasnformetrics along with weights and exercise bands, I was impressed with how much Transformetrics added. Over time I have stopped lifting weights and have less joint pain, no strains, and have seen great progress. I have tested myself by occasionally to see how much I can lift (Peterson is not against testing yourself on occasion) and have seen much improvement over time. It's hard to believe that you can accomplish this without lifting weights, but it is possible. All this with zero pain--amazing. By the same token, it may be that isometrics aren't the exercise for you. But once again, you need to decide what works.
WHY NO APPARATUS BASED ISOMETRICS?
You could try to argue that Peterson is against using all but the most basic of equipment, but he now sells the 'Isometric Power Belt' on his website. This is basically a thick ribbon of Kevlar reinforced webbing with a friction buckle that can be used for isometric exercises and comes with a manual.
I haven't used this device, but it seems to to replicate exercises as advocated by Alexander Zass and others who used to perform such exercises using chains(see the Sandow and the Golden Age of Iron Men site). I did try some rudimentary exercises, as noted above, with my Lifeline Jungle Gym which basically consists of two adjustable handles connected to webbing. This is 'off label' use of the Jungle Gym--it isn't designed for this kind of exercise--but it served the purpose. As above, it was easier to exert maximal effort in one direction than it is to learn how to oppose muscle groups or do a power flex. At least at this juncture, I don't think I will buy the device, but if I decide to use an apparatus, it seems pretty clear that a simple design like the Peterson's Power Belt would be the way to go.
The Isometric Power Revolution is complete in the sense that it gives you a range of classic and power flex isometric exercises for all major muscle groups. However, it does not address how to implement isometrics using apparatus (other than a hand towel, wall, table, or chair). For completeness' sake, Peterson could have included these. He may not have wanted to 'force' his readers to buy a piece of equipment in order to fully use the book or may have felt it more practical from a marketing standpoint to sell these separately. Either way, it was nice that I was not obligated to buy a piece of equipment along with the book unless I really wanted to.
MUSCLE TIGHTNESS AND STRETCHING
There is no specific part of the book that is devoted to stretching. This book is all about maximal muscle contraction. Even with the relaxation phase and deep breathing, I have to stretch after exercising.
Peterson is incredibly flexible and can contort himself into a variety of positions. He may be able to do this without a formal stretching program because he has superior muscle control and can maximally relax as easily as he can maximally contract. However, I am not yet there and have incorporated my own stretching routine to prevent muscle stiffness.
***NOTE: I read on the forum that stretching per se is not necessary after Transformtric type exercising. What you perceive as tightness is apparently a natural result of the exercise. Unlike weights where you often overburden the muscles at some point in the range of motion, Transormetric type exercises don't do this. I have to say, I still enjoy stretching after this kind of exercise. However, eliminating the stretches deliberately for over a week wasn't harmful and didn't cause me any ill effects. Peterson was once again quite correct that the feeling of tightness dissipates with time and relaxation and the range of motion isn't effected as it is after weight lifting. Doing lighter tension DVR exercises (e.g. the Miricle Seven exercises) while relaxing and breathing deeply between isometrics actually loosens you up faster and prepares you better for the next Iso exercise than stretching does. Even so, after calisthenics I find stretching necessary. Once again, this could be substituted with lighter tension 'tiger move' DVRs from M7.
HISTORY AND REFERENCES
Some say that Peterson's take on his history is somewhat naive. I have no basis to judge this. The section was interesting and inspiring for me, but I have not fact checked everything and I am not about to do so. None of the historical background takes away from the exercise program. Some have criticized Peterson for lack of references, but this is not a scholarly book on the subject of history of isometrics. When it comes to the science of isometrics, the Hettinger literature can be found on Peterson's own website. If you search more modern scientific literature, it appears that there are some more recent articles on the benefits of deep breathing for lowering blood pressure and isometrics for increasing muscle mass and weight loss.
Religious references appear in this book, but are much toned down from Pushing Yourself To Power. Once again, being a non-Christian these references didn't bother me. I believe Peterson feels strongly about his religion and that it is so integral to his being that it is only natural for him to include such references. Even if some are put off by them, they don't effect the utility of the exercises.
There are also fewer 'manly' or 'macho' comments within the text when compared to PYTP. Once again, this is Peterson being plain spoken. If you want to take offense at the language, I suppose you could but in the context it is clear that he absolutely does not mean to offend. My guess is he writes the way he talks. This makes for a more natural narrative and makes the book easier to read and understand.
I VANT TO LOOK LIKE ARNOLD
Then take some steroids and lift some weights. Peterson is the poster child for his methods. If this is your ideal, Transformetrics will deliver. But remember, Peterson is muscular, but he is not built like a professional body builder. He believes that the body builder look is only achievable by taking steroids. (The more I read, the more I agree with him, but I'm not an authority on this subject.) That being said, a lot can be accomplished by using Isometrics and the full Transformetrics program. But once again, you have to tailor your exercise program to what you want to accomplish.
On the whole, I am incredibly satisfied with this book. It is of great value and the exercises really do work. I believe that it is a worthy addition to Peterson's other titles, but would hesitate to recommend it as a stand alone manual. For one, you need a good grounding in the Transformetrics style of exercise before you can get maximal benefit from isometrics. And two,I don't think that isometrics alone are versatile enough to be your only type of exercise. However, when taken in the context of Peterson's Transformetrics program, this book is the ticket that will take you to the next level.