Why Chris Bumstead Uses Isometric Holds to Promote Chest and Back Hypertrophy

For seasoned bodybuilders, breaking through plateaus to stimulate new muscle growth can be a persistent challenge. Five-time Classic Physique Olympia champion Chris Bumstead uses an isometric hold technique to add muscle tissue in the off-season

An isometric hold is the contraction of a muscle group without movement of the surrounding joints. Isometric holds increase time under tension and maximize muscle fiber recruitment, leading to potential muscle gains. A study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports concluded that isometric training can effectively promote hypertrophy, especially at longer muscle lengths. (1)

Bumstead’s off-season programming involves isometric holds followed by six reps of heavy compound movements. Check out the video below:

[Related: Men’s Physique Athlete Alex Toplyn’s Advice for Making a Living as a Bodybuilder]

Chris Bumstead’s Chest and Back Superset Workout

Bumstead uses antagonistic supersets (alternating between opposing muscle groups) to improve efficiency and boost work capacity. Here is a summary of the training session:

SupersetIncline Dumbbell Press & Seated Machine Rows

Superset — Incline Machine Chest Press & Lat Pulldown

Superset — Incline Cable Flyes & Machine Low Row

Superset — Incline Dumbbell Press & Seated Machine Rows

Unlike dynamic contractions that involve following a full range of motion (ROM), isometric holds allow for heavier loads without adding strain to joints and tendons. 

Bumstead opens with 140-pound dumbbells and pauses for 10 seconds at the mid-point on the first rep, followed by a controlled eccentric and five additional reps.

It’s almost like loading a spring before performing the remaining five reps.

According to a review published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine, to increase muscle hypertrophy, isometric strength training should be performed at 70-75 percent of maximum voluntary contraction (MVC) with sustained contraction of 3-30 seconds per repetition and a total contraction duration of 80 to 150 seconds per session for at least 36 sessions. (2)

Isometric holds at the beginning of a set can pre-fatigue the target muscle and maximize activation. They can be beneficial for experienced lifters to push limits while minimizing injury risk, muscle weaknesses, and imbalances.

While staying in line with the cues from the previous exercise, Bumstead supersets the incline dumbbell bench press with machine rows to bias the lats. He depresses his scapula to engage the lats. After a 90-second rest, Bumstead repeats this cycle twice more.

Superset — Incline Machine Chest Press & Lat Pulldown

Bumstead trains the incline machine press for the upper chest. He prioritizes explosive concentrics and controlled negatives. He fully extends his elbows at the top of each rep to achieve peak chest contraction. 

The Canadian bodybuilder begins with a heavy weight for 10 reps to exhaust the chest. He progressively increases the reps on subsequent sets.

Bumstead maximizes lat engagement during pulldowns by extending his scapula at the top of his range of motion. Despite his impressive strength, Bumstead admits his lack of muscular endurance and finds training more than 10 reps per set can be challenging.

Superset — Incline Cable Flyes & Machine Low Row

Bumstead sets the arms of a functional trainer at the bottom position and an incline bench a few feet in front to bias the inner pecs. His elbows were slightly flexed and behind the midline at the bottom. He drove his elbows together on concentrics. Bumstead keeps his hands open throughout the exercise to minimize biceps and forearm engagement.

Bumstead employs an underhand grip on the low-row machine to bias the lower lats. He lifts his chest off the machine’s pad and pauses in the fully shortened position. 

Going Bigger for Number Six

Bumstead is scheduled to compete at the 2024 Olympia (Oct. 10-13) in Las Vegas, NV, where he will aim to win his sixth consecutive Classic Physique Olympia title. The 2024 Arnold Classic US and Arnold Classic UK champ Wesley Vissers and the 2023 Olympia silver medalist Ramon Rocha Queiroz are considered the biggest current contenders.


Oranchuk, D. J., Storey, A. G., Nelson, A. R., & Cronin, J. B. (2019). Isometric training and long-term adaptations: Effects of muscle length, intensity, and intent: A systematic review. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 29(4), 484–503. https://doi.org/10.1111/sms.13375

Lum, D., & Barbosa, T. M. (2019). Brief Review: Effects of Isometric Strength Training on Strength and Dynamic Performance. International journal of sports medicine, 40(6), 363–375. https://doi.org/10.1055/a-0863-4539

Featured image: @cbum on Instagram

The post Why Chris Bumstead Uses Isometric Holds to Promote Chest and Back Hypertrophy appeared first on BarBend.


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