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Isometric strength exercises are strength based exercises in which you hold a muscle contraction without moving the joint. Simply put, the muscle works, but the joint doesn’t.
A common example of an isometric exercise is the plank. While holding your body in the correct position, you use your abdominals to keep yourself stable without any motion. Essentially the muscle is activated without any movement.
- Recommended Reading – 12 Best Isometric Leg Exercises For Safe & Productive Muscle Stimulation
Isometric exercises can target various muscle groups and help improve stability, increase muscular endurance and strength. They also help in rehabilitation from injuries and surgeries.
So which exercises should you include in your isometric training? We take a look at some good options in this guide.
What Is Isometric Training?
Isometric training, sometimes referred to as static strength training, involves exercises where you hold a fixed position for a defined period of time, usually with your bodyweight providing resistance.
To understand isometric training, let’s break up ‘iso’ and ‘metric.’ The former means ‘same,’ whilst the latter means ‘measure.’ Put together; it means that you measure or maintain a certain level of force or tension without changing the length of your muscle fibers.
Conversely, non-isometric exercises change the length of your muscle fiber.
For example, in a bicep curl, the bicep muscle gets shorter and longer during repetitions. When curling a dumbbell towards you, this is a concentric contraction. When lowering the dumbbell back down, this is known as the eccentric contraction. If you were to hold the dumbbell after lowering to the bottom position, this would be an isometric contraction.
Isometric movements recruit muscles but do not lengthen or shorten them. This results in constant tension being applied to the activated muscle group for the duration of the exercise. So, there are no eccentric or concentric movements in the muscle fiber, keeping muscle length the same throughout the activity.
The resistance applied to the muscles during isometric movements can be achieved in different ways:
- Sustaining your bodyweight against gravity. For example, during the wall sit exercise.
- Holding an object such as a dumbbell steady for a period of time.
- Resistance bands. For example, holding the bands at the top of the movement during a lateral raise exercise.
Benefits of Isometric Strength Exercises
The primary benefit of isometric training is that you activate the central nervous system. Doing this prior to other strength based exercises can aid with performance due to the recruitment of different muscle groups.
Other benefits of isometric training include the following:
Activate Multiple Muscle Fibers
Isometric exercises, such as wall-sit and planks, help activate several muscle fibers simultaneously. That’s because the exercise requires using your entire core, leg, and arm muscles. This is perfect if you sometimes notice that certain muscles do not seem to engage during exercises such as the deadlift. Essentially, they can ‘wake up’ underused muscles.
Good for Beginners
Dynamic strength exercises, such as squats, typically take the body through a full range of motion making them more technically challenging when compared to isometric movements. Because of their ease to perform, isometric exercises are great for beginners.
Help People With Injuries
A physical therapist is likely to recommend doing isometric exercises as part of a patient’s rehabilitation program. The exercises help activate specific muscles without potentially putting stress on associated joints.
Research has also found isometric exercises to be useful for people with osteoarthritis. It’s likely that the exercises help improve muscle strength, flexibility, and joint mobility. Likewise, a study found that these exercises may help alleviate pain in knee osteoarthritis.
Improve Muscle Stability
The involvement of muscles in isometric exercises helps improve their stability and strength. This is due to the static positions being held for a longer period of time.
A 2015 study showed that isometric exercises improve muscle stability. Another interesting finding of this study was that this type of exercise also increases an individual’s ability to hold weight over extended periods.
Lower Blood Pressure
Due to activation of the central nervous system whilst undertaking an isometric exercise, this results in an increase to blood pressure in the short term. However, evidence has shown that regularly performing isometric exercises were found to lower a person’s resting blood pressure over the longer term.
10 Isometric Exercises To Build Strength
Below are some of the best isometric exercises that can incorporate into your workout routine.
The V Up will activate the abdominal and obliques whilst helping to strengthen the lower back. It’s important to keep your back in alignment during this exercise to prevent injury. If you find it a little too challenging then bend the knees at 90 degrees and bring them closer to your chest.
How To Perform The V Up Exercise:
- Start by lying face up on an exercise mat with your arms down by your sides. You head and spine should remain neutral.
- Simultaneously lift your torso and legs. Be sure to keep your legs straight if you can and engage the core muscles.
- Keep your arms forward with palms facing the floor.
- Your body should be forming a V shape.
- Hold this position as long as possible before slowly lowering back down.
The bridging exercise, commonly called glute bridges, activate the gluteal muscles, obliques and quadriceps. When performed regularly, this exercise can help to alleviate low back pain and improve posture.
However, be sure not to raise the hips too high as this can put stress on to the lower back. You can increase the resistance of this exercise by placing a resistance band over your hips and pulling it downwards throughout the exercise.
How To Perform A Glute Bridge:
- Lie on your back and bend your knees whilst keeping your arms down by your sides.
- Engage your core and push your lower back into the ground. This is ensures you maintain the correct position at the top of the movement.
- Push through your heels and raise your hips.
- Your body should form a diagonal line from your shoulders to your knees.
- Maintain this position for 10 to 15 seconds before lowering back down.
- Repeat for the desired number of reps
High Plank Hold
The high plank hold is a variation of the traditional plank exercise. It’s a little more challenging than a standard plank exercise due to holding yourself at a higher position. .
How To Do The High Plank Exercise:
- Lie on the ground in a prone position (face down).
- Support your upper body on your forearms and your lower body on your toes.
- From here, raise your hips so your body forms a straight line.
- You should feel your abdominals tighten.
- Hold this position for 20 seconds on the first attempt, then increase it to 60 seconds over time.
Supine Wall Push
The supine wall push is a great exercise improving strength the core muscles but also works muscles in the legs and arms. It can also help to alleviate low back pain. Ideally, you should perform this exercise on a mat.
How To Do A Supine Wall Push:
- Lie down on your back and place your feet flat against a wall at hip width apart.
- Your knees should be bent at a 90 degrees angle with arms down by your sides.
- Push against the wall with your feet.
- If you notice yourself sliding, push into the floor with your hands to prevent this from happening.
- Continue pushing for 20 seconds before pausing.
- Repeat four more times.
Wall sit is a simple beginner-friendly exercise that targets your glutes, hamstrings and quads. This is an easy to perform exercise that can be done pretty much anywhere.
How To Do The Wall Sit:
- Stand with your back against the wall with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes pointing slightly outward.
- Push your lower back, hips and shoulders into the wall.
- Walk out your feet and begin to lower your upper body and be sure to remains flat to the wall.
- Your knees should now be at a 90 degree angle with your ankles directly beneath your knees.
- If you find it difficult to maintain this position, then place your hands on your knees for support.
- Hold this position for as long as is comfortable.
The side plank is a variation of the standard plank in which you engage your obliques, glutes, hip abductors, serratus anterior and spinal stabilizers. It’s important to keep your body in a straight line during this exercise without arching up or allowing the hips to sag.
How To Do The Side Plank:
- Lie on your side, keeping your legs straight and your feet, knees, and hips stacked.
- Bend your right elbow, keeping your forearm on the ground.
- From here, raise your torso and hips from the ground by pushing your forearm into the floor.
- Squeeze your glutes to help you maintain a neutral position.
- Form a straight line from your head to heel while keeping your core engaged.
- Hold the side plank for 15 to 30 seconds.
Technically, it’s possible to make any exercise isometric as long as you hold the contraction for an extended period of time. It’s important to note, that this is not an exclusive isometric exercise as you would still be performing both the eccentric and concentric phase when squatting down and raising back up.
How To Do An Isometric Squat:
- Begin in a standing position with feet shoulder width apart and toes slightly pointing out.
- Hold your hands together at chest height or place them on your hips.
- Push your hips back and lower into the squat position.
- Stop when your knees are bent to 90 degrees.
- Hold this position for around 5 seconds whilst squeezing the glutes and quads.
- Then, push through the heels back to the starting position and repeat steps 3 to 5.
Supine Hip Abduction
The supine hip abduction will help to strengthen the outer thigh and gluteal muscles. All you need to perform this movement is an exercise mat and a glute band. Glute bands come in varying resistance levels so start with the lightest before progressing.
How To Do The Supine Hip Abduction:
- Position the glute band just above the knees.
- Lie down on your mat and bend your knees whilst keeping your arms down by your sides.
- Ensure your feet are around hip width apart or slightly narrower.
- Keeping your feet in position slowly draw your knees apart to create tension in the band.
- You should feel a squeeze to the outer thigh muscles.
- Hold this position for 10 to 20 seconds.
- Repeat 3 times.
The Pallof Press is a great exercise for activating the stabiliser muscles increasing strength and helping to reduce pain to the lower back area.
These can be done either against a wall if doing them at home, or by using a cable machine in the gym.
How to Do The Pallof Press:
- Start by standing in front of the edge of a wall. The corner of the wall should be directly in front of you.
- Position your feet so they are shoulder width apart with a slight bend to your knees.
- Place your hands together and interlock your fingers.
- Straighten out your arms and place your hands against the wall at chest height.
- From here, lean into the wall so that you feel your core muscles engage.
Isometric Wall Push
The isometric wall push primarily targets your chest, triceps, and shoulder muscles, helping to build strength and endurance in these areas. It is often used as a warm-up, rehabilitation exercise, or as a part of a larger workout routine to improve upper body strength and stability.
How To Do An Isometric Wall Push
- Start by standing and facing a wall.
- Adopt a split stance so one foot is in front of the other.
- Now place both hands on the wall at shoulder height.
- Push against the wall as hard as possible until a feel tension across your chest and down your triceps.
- Hold this position for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat 3 times.
Isometric strength exercises are great for building muscle strength and there are many variations so you can work the entire body. When performing repeatedly, they can also help to improve coordination, balance, and posture.
As with any exercise, the key to doing isometric movements is to do them with proper form. Since your body weight usually acts as the resistance in most exercises, such as the plank and wall-sit, it’s important to follow the proper form to get desired results.