Isometric Workouts: Work Against Yourself to Get Results

Written by | Posted under Exercising | 8 years ago

Many people keep asking me about simple workouts you can do at home that don’t require any equipment or much space. There are all kinds of workout videos and regimens out there, but why not try something simple for a quick toning session. Isometric (“iso” meaning “same,” and “metric” meaning “distance”) exercises are a form of resistance exercises in which one’s muscles are used in opposition with other muscle groups, to increase strength, for bodybuilding, physical fitness, or strength training. You have probably already been doing isometric exercises and didn’t even know it!

What is Isometric Exercise?

Isometric exercise (aka isometrics) are a type of strength training in which the joint angle and muscle length do not change during contraction (compared to concentric or eccentric contractions, called dynamic/isotonic movements). Isometrics are done in static positions, rather than through a range of motion. The joint and muscles are either working against an immovable force, overcoming isometric exercises, such as pushing against a wall or fixed object, or are held in a static position while opposed by resistance, yielding isometric exercises, where body weight can be the resistance.

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How Do I Use it to Train?

For strength training purposes, holding each contraction for a duration of 3-5 seconds per exercise is optimal. However, when body weight is used as resistance, holding for a count of 10 seconds or more is necessary. In terms of joint position or joint angle, it is important to note that the muscle will only gain strength for the joint angle at which the exercise is performed. Individuals who want to gain strength through the entire range of motion of the joint should consider training at intervals of 10 to 30 degrees. While dynamic exercises are slightly better than isometric exercises at enhancing the twitch force of a muscle, isometrics are significantly better than dynamic exercises at increasing maximal strength at that joint angle. Isometric contractions recruit more muscle fibers that are often neglected in some dynamic exercises, and can also increase flexibility when performed at end ranges of joint motion.

The negative to isometric training is that the strength gained from doing isometric exercises is not generally translated to functional strength. This means that you will not necessarily be better at lifting heavy objects, but you will be able to hold them in place for longer, especially when you train muscles that cross many joints. However, when training your core muscles needed for balance and posture, isometrics can really play a valuable role.

Types of Exercises


1. Plank Pose. The most common isometric exercise out there is probably “the plank.” This is an example of a yielding isometric exercise where body weight is your resistance and you are working to hold yourself up on your elbows and toes to keep your back and legs straight, while toning your tummy and core.

2. Wall Sits.
This one tones your quads. Lean against a wall with your feet shoulder width apart. Slowly slide down the wall so that your back and shoulders are against a wall and your thighs are parallel to the floor. Pretend you are sitting in an imaginary chair. Hold for 30 seconds. Squeeze a ball or pillow between your knees to activate your adductors for an extra challenge or kick out one leg and alternate for 10 seconds each. You can also hold a weight in your hands out in front of you.

3. Dead Bug Variation. Total body burner! Lay on your back with your hips and knees bent at 90 degrees in the air. Use your arms to push down on your thighs, while keeping your thighs in place resisting. You can alternate pushing down on your thighs or push with opposite arms to work your obliques. You can also push on the insides and outsides of your knees to work your hip abductors and adductors. Try to see if you can beat your legs with your arms and really get a full body workout.

4. Isometric Lunges. Lunge and hold for 10 seconds. Go forwards, backwards and to the sides. Hold weights in your hands for extra challenge.

5. Isometric Calf Raises. Come up onto your toes and hold a strong calf raise for at least 10 seconds.

You can really do almost any dynamic exercise in an isometric form. Even holding a weight in place for a count of 10 is considered an isometric exercise. People often use isometric training to boost strength training results as well:

    The idea is that isometric training will give the muscle an infinite workload of resistance, recruiting all of your muscle fibers to accomplish the impossible task. You can emulate just about any lift you can imagine, simply by contorting your body against some equipment in the gym, or in your home or office, when time is short. Muscle coordination benefits tremendously, which allows for greater contraction, strength, and concentration when you’re actually conducting the movements the isometric stretching was designed to mirror. Mix isometric into your training following the three major lifts of deadlift, bench press and squats. You might just discover it allows you to break a plateau and increase your strength levels without resorting to steroid use or weight gains.

-The Isometric Exercise Site.

Some Precautions

There are some precautions that should be noted. Specifically, those with high blood pressure should not engage in this type of activity because isometric exercises can cause a spike in blood pressure. Although the blood pressure typically returns to normal rather quickly once the muscle is relaxed, the spike in blood pressure can be dangerous to those who already suffer from elevated blood pressure. It is important to remember to always breathe while holding isometric contractions.

2 Comments

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  1. Quang Nguyen said,

    Awesome stuff, next time I’m too lazy to go to the gym, I’ll throw a few of these into my at home regimen.

    8 years ago
  2. Margaret said,

    I really enjoy doing isometric exercises, they put a twist on my workouts. If you do these regularly, you will definitely become and feel stronger.

    My favorite isometric exercise is the wall sit, oh boy does that burn but I have learned to use my mind in order to work through the pain.

    7 years ago

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