People are always advised to eat a balanced diet and exercise if they want to be healthy. As hard as always making sure you eat a balanced diet might be, exercising is even harder. Lifting heavy things, running for miles, bouncing up and down, squatting until your joints start begging for mercy – even reading about it probably causes soreness in your muscles. What if we told you there are exercises that don’t require you sprinting around like crazy or turning into a puddle of sweat after two reps but they are as effective for blasting your strength gains? In this article we’re getting to the bottom of isometric exercise, its benefits and examples.
What Is An Isometric Exercise?
Most exercises involve a lot of joint and muscle movement, and this is especially true for strength training exercises which isometric exercises are part of. Even though isometric exercises help build strength, they are different from other variations of strength training exercises. They are different because they require you to hold a stationary position for the duration of the exercise (2). Isometric exercises are exercises that involve the contraction of muscles without any movement in the surrounding joints. They are low-impact exercises that strengthen the muscles through holding poses for a longer period of time compared to other exercises (4).
These exercises challenge your muscles without necessarily putting them through the normal range of motion. You contract a muscle or a group of muscles, you hold them in that same position until the exercise ends – this is the basic mechanics of isometric exercises. These exercises don’t allow the muscles to change the length, and the joints associated with those muscles should not move. Most people think that since they do not involve a lot of movement, they are easy workouts to do, but this is just a common misconception as in reality they can be quite challenging.
Since isometric exercises are only performed in one position without movement, this makes them good exercises for improving strength. In addition to that, these exercises are useful when it comes to enhancing one’s stability. Due to them being stationary exercises, they are said to be poor exercises for improving one’s speed or athleticism. If speed and athleticism are what you are looking for, these are not the recommended exercises for you. These exercises are mostly recommended to people with injuries that cause pain when they move (8).
Isometric Vs Isotonic Vs Isokinetic Exercises
Isotonic and isokinetic exercises are usually compared to isometric exercises in terms of how they are performed, their benefits and how they differ from each other. We now know that isometric exercises are exercises that involve you contracting a muscle or a muscle group and holding it in the same position till the exercise ends. A good example of an isometric exercise is the wall sit.
Isometric exercises are said to be good when it comes to maintaining strength and building one’s stability. These exercises are mainly recommended for people who are recovering from injuries or people who have arthritis. Isometric exercises are believed to lower one’s blood pressure (3).
Isotonic exercises differ from isometric exercises in that they involve putting a constant amount of weight on one’s muscles while moving your joints through your full range of motion (7). Hence, when it comes to isotonic exercises, there is movement of muscles involved. Another thing to note is that in the case of isotonic exercises, even though there is movement involved, one thing remains constant, and this is the weight or tension exerted on one’s muscles. A good example of an isotonic exercise is the bench press.
These workouts are known to help build muscles and make them stronger. This helps one to be able to move through all ranges of motion without any problem. These exercises are also said to preserve strength as the person becomes older. Isotonic exercises can help regulate one’s blood sugar and hence they are recommended for people with diabetes. These exercises also help build one’s bone density, that is why they are often recommended to people who have osteoporosis (7).
Isokinetic exercises differ from these two workouts in that they involve very complex machines. They are used to improve one’s mobility (7). These exercises are mostly done by athletes. A commonly used equipment in these exercises is the Isokinetic dynamometer. What this machine does is that it keeps one’s muscles moving at a consistent speed (7). One can increase the speed once they get more used to the exercises involved. These exercises are helpful for people who have specific injuries.
From that, we can see how isometric, isotonic and isokinetic exercises differ from each other. To recap, isotonic exercises maintain the same length of muscles; isotonic exercises maintain the same weight exerted on muscles, and isokinetic exercises maintain the same speed.
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Who Should Do Isometric Exercises?
It is hard to find exercises that can be done by all people regardless of their age or medical conditions. Isometrics can be of benefit to anyone who wants to tone their muscles, but they should be accompanied by other strength training exercises for better results.
Isometric workouts are highly recommended to people recovering from injuries. The reason for this is these exercises allow people to target the muscles they need to strengthen without straining the injured parts of their body. Another reason for this is the fact that they involve no movement and hence reduce the chances of pain caused by movement during exercises.
These workouts are also recommended to people with arthritis and people with rotator cuff injuries. If you also want to switch up from the traditional strength training exercises, this is the way to go. People with little space to work out could also consider these exercises since you’re required to stay still when performing these exercises.
Benefits Of Isometric Exercises
In the earlier parts of this read, we briefly touched on some of the benefits associated with these exercises. Still, there are even more benefits that will make you consider adding these exercises into your workout program.
Isometrics increase the pain threshold in older adults
A study was done to see if this is actually true. The study assessed how isometric exercises performed in different intensities, and duration affected the pain perception in people over the age of 60. 24 men and women participated in this study (6).
The results showed that the pain thresholds in the participants increased while the pain ratings decreased after performing isometric exercises. The study also showed that different sexes perceive pain differently. It was shown that older women experienced greater pain sensitivity compared to men and had higher pain ratings. The older women experienced larger reductions in pain ratings compared to men after performing the isometric exercises.
This goes to show isometric exercises are effective when it comes to reducing the pain rating in older people. Hence, older people who still want to work out should include these exercises in their exercise program.
Isometric exercises help people recover from injuries
The worst thing that can happen to someone while working out is getting injured. Apart from injuries being painful, they might also undo most of the fitness progress you had achieved, as you might be forced to take a break to recuperate. One way to ensure you bounce back sooner after an injury is through isometric exercises. Experts often recommend isometrics as the first stage of the recovery process. This is especially true if you have a shoulder or a knee injury (10).
When you injure your knee, for example, the doctor will have you squeeze your quads for a few seconds and ask you to release the contraction. You will do this repeatedly. You will notice that the doctor will not be counting the reps you do, but the time you spend holding those contractions (10). An isometric muscle contraction is pretty much the first step in your recovery journey.
In addition to that, the fact the isometrics don’t involve a lot of movement and mostly involve targeted exercises can also help in recovery. The fact that you don’t have to move the injured area constantly reduces your chances of straining the injured part or causing reinjury. The fact that the exercises are targeted means you can avoid the injured parts and work out the healthy parts. If you are injured, you should consider adding isometrics to your workout program.
Isometrics are perfect for building strength
Isometrics are part of strength training exercises and have many benefits when it comes to muscles.
First and foremost, isometrics help in building strength. It is a known fact that muscles need movement to get stronger, but there is a belief that isometrics help in building the strength of a muscle around the range of motion in which you are contracting the muscle (9). For example, if you isometrically contract your quads in a leg-straight position or any other position, your quads will be stronger in that particular position. Thus isometrics build strength in a very limited range of motion. The range of motion is about 15 degrees on each side of the joint. This makes the application of isometrics when it comes to building strength limited but for as long as they can build strength that is a good place to start.
Secondly, isometrics are very helpful when it comes to building endurance (9). The reason for this is that most of the isometric exercises require you to keep a muscle contracted for a long period of time. The longer you can hold the muscle in that position, the more endurance you build.
Isometrics are also great when it comes to improving your stability (9). They do so by training your core, making it stronger and stable in that certain position. Once you work out your core in this particular manner, you will be able to keep your body stable even when doing other exercises.
Isometric exercises are equipment-free
The fact that no equipment is required makes it easier for most people to incorporate these exercises into their workouts (1). You also don’t need to enroll yourself in a gym for isometrics as there are many tutorials online on how to perform this type of exercises. Isometrics can also be done anywhere at any time. You are at work, and you are bored, why not try the prayer pose or a wall sit.
Examples of Isometric Exercises
Since now we know what isometric exercises are, who should do them and how they might be of benefit to our bodies, here are a few examples of isometric exercises you can do at home.
This is a common isometric exercise that is very easy to do. Just like the name suggests, it involves putting your hands in the prayer pose. You can choose to either have your elbows pointing outwards or downwards (5). When you have your hands in that position, press your hands as hard as you want to. This exercise is useful for working your chest muscles.
Planks are beneficial when it comes to building strength and leveling up your core power.
How they are done:
- Firstly, lower yourself into the press-up position.
- Then, bend your elbows so that your forearms are flat straight on the floor.
- Then make sure your body is in a straight line, with your forearms just below your shoulders. This helps keep the core muscles tight.
- Hold that position for at least 10 seconds. You can go increasing the time as you get used to the exercise.
It is important to remember with isometrics it is not about the number of reps you do but how long you can hold a particular position while doing the exercise.
Wall sits help in improving your muscle endurance in the thighs and hip area without causing much strain to the lower back.
How they are done (1):
- You first need to stand close to a wall. You should be approximately 2 feet from the wall, and your feet should be at shoulder-width apart.
- Then slowly lower your body until you attain a sitting position. This should result in your back resting flat against the wall.
- Then bend your knees to a 90-degree angle. A position similar to the one you would have if you were sitting in a chair. This helps keep the tension in the core muscles.
- Hold this position for as long as you can.
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This exercise is effective in working out the glutes, one’s lower back, the chest area, and arms.
How it is done (3):
- Firstly, kneel and place your palms on your yoga mat. Make sure you keep your elbows underneath your shoulders and extend your legs behind until you attain a high plank position.
- Then roll both of your feet to the right and take your right hand from the ground and extend it straight above.
- Hold this position for 10 to 20 seconds before going back to the high plank position.
- Do the same for the other side and try to repeat this exercise at least 3 times.
This exercise helps work your upper body.
How it is done (1):
- First, grab a pull-up bar and make sure your hands are shoulder-width apart.
- Then cross your feet and lift them from the floor so that your body is hanging off the pull-up bar.
- Hold this position for as long as you can.
From the name, you can easily know which muscles this exercise works out.
How it is done (1):
- First, you start by lying on your back with your knees bent upwards. Make sure your feet are flat on the ground.
- Extend your arms straight and face your palms upwards.
- Using your core muscles, lift your hips from the floor until your torso is a straight line. Use your hands for stability.
- Hold this position for as long as you can.
Did you know you can arm wrestle alone? Well, if you didn’t, now you know. This exercise is useful when it comes to working out one’s biceps and triceps.
How to do it (5):
- First, bend your right hand at a 90-degree angle.
- Then grab your right hand with your left hand and push them together as hard as you can.
How does it help work your triceps and biceps you may ask. While your right biceps are preventing your arm from dropping, your left triceps are busy trying to push your right hand down. This is how they work out these two muscles.
- Hold your hands in that position as long as you can. Repeat this exercise after exchanging your hands so that you can work out both muscles in both hands.
The Bottom Line
What is an isometric exercise? This is a low-impact exercise that strengthens your muscles through holding poses for a long period of time (8). As you have seen, isometrics come with benefits like building endurance and stability, helping people recover from injury and building strength. Isometric exercises are easy to perform, and people should look to add them to their workout programs. It is important to remember that before you include these exercises to your workout program, you should consult an expert as he or she will advise you best in regards to these exercises.
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This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- 5 isometric exercises for people to try (2020, medicalnewstoday.com)
- 9 Best Isometric Exercises You Can Do Anywhere (2019, womenshealthmag.com)
- 12 Isometric Exercises For Full Body Strength Training (2020, stylecraze.com)
- Are isometric exercises a good way to build strength? (2020, mayoclinic.org)
- Isometrics: The Secret to Gaining Strength — Without Moving a Muscle (2015, greatist.com)
- Pain Relief after Isometric Exercise Is Not Task-Dependent in Older Men and Women (2014, journals.lww.com)
- The difference between isometric, isotonic, and isokinetic exercises (2020, insider.com)
- What is isometric exercise? Why they matter and a guide for doing them (2020, insider.com)
- What the Heck Are Isometric Exercises, Really? (2020, self.com)
- Why Isometrics Should Be Part of Your Strength Training Plan (2018, menshealth.com)