What Are Isometric Exercises?

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

  • Concentric
  • Eccentric
  • Isometric

In a concentric movement, the muscle shortens as it works, such as the flex phase of a bicep curl. In contrast, an eccentric action stretches the muscles as you work, such as the lowering phase of the bicep curl.

But an isometric exercise requires you to exert muscle force without moving. In other words, you must maintain the contraction without moving the joint. There are two types of isometric contractions: one requires you to hold an isometric position, and the other requires you to push isometrically.

When you contract a muscle isometrically, you don't move your limbs or stretch or shorten the muscle fibers; the joint is considered static. Even if you don't move a muscle in your range of motion, the fibers still activate and fire in response to resistance.

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

You also perform isometric contractions in daily activities. For example, when you carry an object like two or three heavy books in front of you, the weight of the books pushes you down. But instead of dropping the books, his hands and arms oppose this movement with the same upward force. This allows the bicep muscles to contract isometrically.

Benefits of isometric exercises

Incorporating isometric exercises into a general exercise routine allows you to strengthen your muscles, help you recover from an injury, and possibly help prevent future injuries.

  • Target Specific Muscle Groups: If you need to isolate a particular muscle group, such as 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 movements only require body weight, a stable surface to apply pressure, and enough room to perform the exercise. That said, you can incorporate dumbbells, barbells, or bands as a form of resistance.
  • Useful for Injury Rehabilitation: Isometric exercises allow you to gain strength without putting pressure on your joints. Because of this, isometric movements are often recommended as part of an injury rehabilitation program.
  • 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 use isometric or static muscle contraction. Also, sports and activities like cycling and golf require grip strength, which is an isometric contraction.

While there are benefits to doing isometric exercises, there are some limitations that you should be aware of before adding them to your workouts.

  • Limit range of motion: Isometric exercises do not require the muscles to work concentrically or eccentrically. Because of this, you will not gain strength throughout your range of motion.
  • May not be effective for total body conditioning when performing an isometric exercise in one position, you lose the ability to recruit multiple muscle groups at the same time. If you want to train more than one muscle group, you will need to perform several exercises.

How to do isometric exercises

Depending on the exercise, you may need to use a wall, floor, or other type of resistance to maintain the contraction. The key is to find something stable to boost.

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

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

If you are using equipment such as a dumbbell, barbell, or exercise band, resistance becomes the supporting element.

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

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

To maximize the benefits of isometrics, you need to tense or contract the muscle you are working on. If you are pressing on your hands to isolate your chest muscles, you need to squeeze your hands tightly, not just palm to palm.

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

Examples of isometric exercises

The easiest way to add isometric exercises to your general exercise routine is to start with one or two that only require body weight and a stable surface for resistance. Here are seven steps to help you on your way:

  • Sitting on the wall: Sitting on the wall works mainly the quadriceps, glutes and calves muscles. The hamstrings play a minor role.
  • Plank Stand: The plank stand targets your abs and other core muscles. It also recruits glutes, shoulders, and arms.
  • Side Plank: The side plank is a variation on the traditional plank that works your obliques, glutes, and shoulders.
  • Glute Bridge: The glute bridge targets the glutes, abs, and hamstrings.
  • Calf fixation: The calf support works the calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus).
  • Hollow Body Support: Hollow Body Support targets the abdominal, quadriceps, hips, and adductor muscles.
  • Pilates Hundred: Pilates Hundred is a classic treadmill exercise that recruits the abdominal muscles and stabilizes the shoulder blades.

You can also convert various exercises into isometric movements, holding the position rather than doing multiple reps.

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

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