John McKean with ISOCHAIN

"Pop," my right knee whispered. I more sensed it actually, than heard it. My extra attempt at a record 1,500lb hip lift finally broke from the platform—barely. But afterwards, I couldn't walk again for three months! During a hip lift, the lifter is harnessed to nearly a ton of weight for a short-range vertical stand-up, yet every fiber within the body will be under immediate, maximum stress.

Had I read the research from Paul Wade's brilliant new manual, The Ultimate Isometrics Manual, prior to that USAWA National Championship appearance 31 years ago, I would have been quite satisfied with my non-moving effort, and actual strength-building bliss of the previous "miss." The earlier attempt never left the platform—a true isometric! In fact, I didn’t even need the 1,500lb hip lift; moments earlier I had already won my division and set a world record (1,400lb at 60kg bodyweight) which remains on the books even now. However, despite a crippling but curable injury, I still love extremely heavy chain lifts in All-Round lifting.

There's something amazing about a rugged solid-steel chain that invokes sheer power! In my initial experiences with the ISOCHAIN, I was pulling and pushing against familiar rock-solid links. Training became very real in a hurry as I no longer had that slight, nagging worry about stretching or ripping a towel, rope, strap, or sock. I am once again an IRON MAN! The neat thing for me is that with 35 years of All-Round weightlifting experiences, I can now convert every exercise into a brutal ISOCHAIN lift!

On the other hand, the new challenge with my ISOCHAIN was merely to beat that darn console screen at every possible opportunity. That’s not as easy as it sounds, of course, but it did involve the joy of numbers from my past career as a math teacher. This digital approach to isometrics is so different from my original work as a teen. I used to stand on the cellar steps and attempt to increase my pressing power by pushing upwards on the basement beams. Sure, I imagined hefting the house off of its foundation, but could never see the evidence of this Herculean feat. Real measurements never lie.

As a lifelong competitive lifter, I've a hunch that I will press the "limit mode" button on the ISOCHAIN quite a bit. In fact, I'm sure of it! Our two grown sons aged 41 and 39, and a moose of a 15-year-old grandson live under our roof. All three of them compete and have established records in big USAWA meets. They grew up training for max singles, so there will be many friendly "number checks" following most exercises. None of us would have ever believed that we would be vying for best weight digital read-outs rather than hefting the most laboriously stacked weight plates!

However, our main focus in home training with the ISOCHAIN has already proven to be the good ol’ "timed mode" with constant vigilance to increase the displayed target poundage from one session to the next. The proven standard for isometric strength training has always been a six-second maximum effort push against a static object. Olympian weightlifter Lou Riecke championed such a practice throughout his career. He later designed a heavy-duty sliding rail system (appropriately named the "Riecke Rack") for teaching isometrics with weights to my hometown team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, as one of NFL's first strength coaches. Always relegated to last place before Lou's arrival, the newly-powered team quickly progressed to win four Super Bowls!

Workouts with the ISOCHAIN have paralleled my lifetime reliance on the power rack. At various stages of personal development, the power rack yielded amazing, almost instantaneous strength gains. In practice, I'd set up for any lift near its mid position on steel rods placed within rack holes. Then, I’d generate maximum force to get a heavy barbell moving up to the stop pins I’d set 3-4" above. Finally, I’d push back down into the rods for all I was worth for six seconds. This was always a cycled or progressive routine, so I added five pounds to each workout until I simply couldn’t reach the stop pins or couldn't even start the lift. While this wasn’t anything elaborate or fancy, just one all-out set per exercise would fry me!

But now, I don't need dozens of rusty old barbell plates or a huge awkward cage with four huge steel stanchions around me. I can get the same results out in the fresh air with my ISOCHAIN!

Experienced advice from an old-time isometrics guy:

Select just four total body lifts from the ISOCHAIN manual and concentrate on achieving the eventual highest possible readings (average mode) on them over a 6-8 week period. You'll be sorely tempted to do much more as you learn to enjoy the heck out of your ultra-modern new device. Even I fell prey to this temptation and went hog wild with my new unit—and I know better! Although the body recovers quickly from isometric training, there’s still tremendous stress, growth, and development. In the "old days," a prime power rack rule was to select one push, one pull, a squat type exercise, plus a favorite or specialty exercise. Many overly enthusiastic lifters who tried more lifts burned out quickly.

In fact, for those unfamiliar with weightlifting history, power rack pioneer Bill March claimed to have trained for only 18 SECONDS daily (with three isometric exercises). He set World press records, dominated National Championships, and won a Mr. Universe title! Plus, there will never be boredom or staleness; two months from now feel free to select four completely different exercises from your manual and start anew.

By the way, back in the 1960s when renowned Dr. John Ziegler began his grand isometric experiment for weightlifting, all rack holds were designed to be purely static. His considerable research indicated that this was THE sole method to increase actual lifting poundage when returning to the barbell for testing. March and Riecke, two rather average, traditionally trained weightlifters, were Doc's test subjects—and they absolutely hated the training! In fact, Ziegler found it necessary to hypnotize them into performing these quick, but intense sessions.

Soon, all three men put their thoughts together and decided to move loaded bars a very short distance to "jump start" their main efforts of 6-12 second pulls and pushes against fixed rack pins. Their gains skyrocketed almost immediately. March used magnum poundages by cycling up over time, while Lou Riecke stayed with relatively light weights. Both methods were wildly successful. From my preliminary ISOCHAIN workouts, I've determined that the ISOCHAIN’s super sturdy spring is a perfect middle ground between the two old-fashioned weighted extremes for establishing the "loading reflex" function. Unlike the older method, the spring leads to an absolutely pure isometric effort.

Currently, I plan on taking my ISOCHAIN to competition. Well, not physically, as the prized unit will stay home, but ALL of my training for future all-round meets will be derived from this vastly updated isometric format. For "record day" meets, I'll select four specific lifts from the 150+ that are described in our rulebook (check USAWA.com for photos and procedures). I’ll train with two sets of six second holds. This is because I want to be absolutely sure that I don't cut out any of the valuable stress-under-time moments! Then I’ll continually up the digital starting resistance for "cycling" purposes. That ought to do the job! Will I be the first ISOCHAIN enthusiast to set a World lifting record? Well, that depends… As the word gets out, there will be legions of highly motivated, super-fit guys and gals joining a new "movement for non-movement"!

John McKeanJohn McKean has won multiple local, state, national powerlifting titles, Masters Olympic national titles, and national and world all-round titles during the past 50 years. He has written extensively for all major strength magazines starting with Strength & Health under John Grimek and was featured in Dr. Len Schwartz's famous book Heavyhands Walking. A certified instructor in flex band training and American Combatives, Mr. McKean offers his consulting services at memck487@aol.com