What Are Isometric Exercises?

Isometric Exercises: Definition, Benefits, Tips, Examples

Plank

Verywell / Ben Goldstein?

What Are Isometric Exercises?

Isometric exercises are movements that involve isometric contraction. There are three types of muscle contraction:

  • Concentric
  • Eccentric
  • Isometric

In a concentric movement, the muscle shortens as it works, like the curling phase of a biceps curl. In contrast, an eccentric action lengthens the muscles as it works, like the lowering phase of the biceps curl. 

But an isometric exercise requires you to exert muscle force without moving. In other words, you must hold the contraction with no movement at the joint. There are two types of isometric contractions: one requires you to hold a position isometrically, and the other requires you to push isometrically.???

When you contract a muscle isometrically, you do not move the limbs or lengthen or shorten the muscle fibers—the joint is considered static. Even though you’re not moving a muscle through its range of motion, the fibers are still being activated and firing in response to the resistance.???

A good example of an isometric exercise is the wall sit. After squatting, you hold the position isometrically for 30 to 60 seconds before standing up.

You also perform isometric contractions in daily activities. For instance, when you carry an object like two or three heavy textbooks in front of you, the weight of the books pulls downward. But instead of dropping the books, your hands and arms oppose this motion with equal force going upwards. This allows the biceps muscles to contract isometrically. 

Benefits of Isometric Exercises

Incorporating isometric exercises into an overall workout routine allows you to strengthen muscles, aid in injury recovery, and possibly help prevent future injuries.

  • Target specific muscle groups: If you need to isolate a particular group of muscles like the quadriceps, performing an isometric movement gives you the ability to contract a specific muscle or muscle group. 
  • Use body weight and a stable surface for resistance: Unlike exercises that use machines, isometric moves only require bodyweight, a stable surface to press against, and enough space to perform the exercise. That said, you can incorporate dumbbells, barbells, or bands as a form of resistance. 
  • Helpful for injury rehabilitation: Isometric exercises allow you to build strength without placing stress on the joints. Because of this, isometric moves are often recommended as part of a rehabilitation program for injuries.??
  • May improve performance in some sports and activities: A variety of sports, physical activities, and fitness classes require static muscle strength. For example, rock climbing, gymnastics, Judo, yoga, and Pilates all use isometric or static muscle contraction. Additionally, sports and activities like biking and golf require grip strength, which is an isometric contraction. 

While there are benefits to performing isometric exercises, there are a few limitations to be aware of before adding them to your workouts. 

  • Limits range of motion: Isometric exercises do not require muscles to work concentrically or eccentrically. Because of this, you won’t build strength through the entire range of motion.
  • May not be efficient for total body conditioning: Because you perform an isometric exercise in one position, you lose the ability to recruit multiple muscle groups at one time. If you want to train more than one muscle group, you will need to do several exercises. 

How to Do Isometric Exercises

Depending on the exercise, you may need to use a wall, the floor, or another type of resistance to hold the contraction. The key is to find something stable to push against. 

For example, if you want to contract the chest muscles isometrically, you can press your hands together and hold this position for 10 to 30 seconds while the chest muscles contract.

Alternatively, you can get into a push-up position, lower your chest to the floor, and hold this contraction for 10 to 30 seconds. 

If you’re using equipment such as a dumbbell, barbell, or exercise band, the resistance becomes the item you’re holding.

For example, when doing an isometric biceps curl with an exercise band, you will begin the move with your arms fully extended and at your sides.

Next, concentrically contract the biceps to bend your elbows until they are at a 90-degree angle and your forearms are parallel to the floor. Hold here for 15 to 30 seconds, then lower your arms. 

To maximize the benefits of isometrics, you have to really squeeze or contract the muscle you’re working. If you’re pressing the hands together to isolate the chest muscles, you need to forcefully squeeze your hands together, not just place them palm to palm. 

And just because you’re squeezing or holding a contraction doesn’t mean you should also hold your breath. When performing isometric exercises, you still need to breathe as you would with an exercise that moves through its full range of motion. 

Examples of Isometric Exercises

The easiest way to add isometric exercises into your overall workout routine is to start with one or two that only require bodyweight and a stable surface as resistance. Here are seven moves to help you get on your way: 

  • Wall sit: Wall sits primarily work the quadriceps, glutes, and calf muscles. The hamstrings play a lesser role. 
  • Plank hold: The plank hold targets the abdominals and other core muscles. It also recruits the glutes, shoulders, and arms. 
  • Side plank: The side plank is a variation of the traditional plank that works the obliques, glutes, and shoulders. 
  • Glute bridge: The glute bridge targets the glutes, abdominals, and hamstrings. 
  • Calf raise hold: The calf raise hold works the calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus).
  • Hollow body hold: The hollow body hold targets the abdominals, quads, hips, and adductor muscles. 
  • Hundred in Pilates: The Hundred in Pilates is a classic mat exercise that recruits the abdominal muscles and stabilizes the shoulder blades. 

You can also turn several exercises into isometric moves by holding the position instead of performing multiple repetitions.

For example, a bodyweight squat can become an isometric squat simply by holding the bottom or squat position for 30 to 60 seconds. Similarly, a forward lunge can be held in the 90-degree position for 30 to 60 seconds. 

A Word From Verywell

Isometric exercises have a place in many types of workouts and rehabilitation programs.

In general, they require minimal space, no equipment, and are easy to perform in several different settings.

Although they are considered to be gentle on the joints, if you have an existing injury or are experiencing pain in a particular part of your body, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor or a physical therapist prior to starting an exercise program with isometric exercises.

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