Most of us know what cardio and strength training are, but you may not be familiar with isometric exercises. That doesn’t mean you’re not already doing them, however. In fact, if you’ve held a plank, you’ve performed an isometric exercise. These are a way of training strength, stability and balance. In the interest of learning more about ways to work out, here we highlight isometric exercises.
Mayo Clinic defines isometric exercises this way: “contractions of a muscle or group of muscles in which the muscle doesn’t noticeably change length, and the affected joint doesn’t move.” In other words, this is a static hold. The muscle isn’t contracting or lengthening (like it would in a bicep curl, for instance), but remains in the same position. Even though the muscles aren’t moving, they are still working and maintaining tension, and you are expending energy.
In contrast, isotonic exercises are most common for strength training. In an isotonic exercise, the muscle/s contract concentrically (get shorter) when lifting a load, and eccentrically (return to regular length) when lowering the resistance. For example, in a hamstring curl, the hamstrings shorten as you curl your heel toward your glutes, and return to their normal length when you extend your leg straight.
Both types of exercises have benefits and should be incorporated into a balanced workout regimen. Isotonic exercises can build strength and muscle mass, boost muscular endurance, improve range of motion, increase bone density and more.
Benefits of Isometric Exercises
In addition to not needing equipment, and just using your body weight, isometric exercises offer multiple benefits:
- Build strength
- Strengthen joints from every angle
- Enhance stabilization
- Improve joint flexibility
- Can help overcome weaknesses and imbalances
- Aid in rehabilitation from injury
- Can activate 5% more muscle fibers than isotonic exercises with maximum effort
- May lower blood pressure
- Are time-efficient
- Can be performed anywhere
Common Isometric Exercises
Now that you know the value of isometric exercises, you can start to add them to your workout routine. Remember to deliberately contract/squeeze the muscles and breathe throughout. Hold the exercises for 15-60 seconds without moving, and aim for 3-5 sets. Obviously, the longer you hold them, the more challenge you experience. Add duration and sets to progress as you get stronger.
Here are some common, effective isometric exercises:
- Plank – There are lots of options for this fabulous core exercise. You can be on your hands or forearms, forming a straight line from your head to your heels while contracting your abs. You also can do a side plank on one hand or elbow, with support from the bottom knee or extended leg.
- Wall sit – Stand about two feet from a wall. Keep your back against the wall and bend your knees to 90 degrees, like you are sitting in a chair.
- Glute bridge – Lying on your back with your knees bent, bridge the hips up and squeeze the glutes.
- Squat or lunge hold – Assume a low squat or lunge stance and hold steady.
- Wall press – Facing a wall in a lunge stance, place your hands on the wall about shoulder-width apart, and shoulder height. Press into the wall, squeezing your chest and shoulders.
- V-sit – Sitting with your knees bent and feet flat on floor, raise legs up to form a V-shape, then lift arms overhead.
- Prayer pose – While standing, press your palms together about chest height, with elbows pointed out or down. Contract your chest.
- Supine leg raise – Lying on your back, with a towel rolled up under the right knee, lift the right leg straight up and hold. Repeat and then switch legs.