Isometric Exercises – Why Are They So Effective?

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Isometric training has existed for thousands of years, and there are countless ways to incorporate isometric training into your routine – many of which you can do in your home, at the office, or even in your car. Isometric exercises remain popular for a number of good reasons, but why?

What makes isometrics so effective?

What are isometric exercises?

Isometric training, also known as static strength training, is great for strength training, conditioning, and even rehabilitation. The American Heritage College Dictionary (fourth edition) defines “isometric” as “of or involving muscular contraction against resistance in which the length of the muscle remains the same.” The muscle shape doesn’t change when doing an isometric exercises – it doesn’t contract or lengthen – hence the name. “Iso” means “equal” and “metric” means “measure.” There’s no visible change or movement in the muscle itself or in any related joints when doing an isometric exercise – the muscle is working, but not changing position the way the biceps does in a curl, for example. This is also why they are called static strength training. Note: some people mistakenly refer to an isometric exercise as an “isometric contraction.” This is not technically accurate, as isometrics are not a contraction. It’s more accurate to say “isometric action,” if you’re looking to impress someone at the gym.

Some isometric exercises are fairly simple and don’t require equipment. Others are more complex. Isometrics can be stand-alone exercises, added to a regular exercise, or part of a fluid combination of exercises. You’re doing isometrics when you press your palms together as hard as you can, when you pause for three seconds at the bottom of a squat, when you plank against a wall, and off and on when you do a ballet combination or a sun salutation in hatha yoga. The “pause and hold” effort is isometric.

Why should I consider adding isometrics to my workouts?

Part of what makes isometric exercises so effective is that the exercises usually require a full exertion from the muscle. Your muscle is giving maximum effort, and that is the secret to strengthening. They’re also effective when maximum strength isn’t necessarily the goal: by definition, isometrics don’t cause or require movement in any joints, making them ideal for rehabilitation when moving a joint is not recommended or even impossible.

There are two ways of training using isometrics: maximal muscle movement, and sub-maximal muscle movement. Maximal movements incorporate immovable objects into the exercise, like a door frame or a wall. These are the type that is good for strength training and conditioning. Sub-maximal movements use movable objects, like free weights or elastic bands; these are often used more for rehabilitative purposes because the level of exertion required is not as great.

Are there any drawbacks to isometric exercises?

Click next to find out!

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5 comments

  1. Hi, I love that you’re highlighting the benefits of isometrics for a wider audience, however I have to take issue with the drawbacks you mentioned, as it’s not accurate.

    The concern about Isometrics simply increasing strength at the point it’s trained is a common one. And it doesn’t make any sense what so ever if looked at logically and with an understanding of anatomy and physiology. Let me explain.

    There is no single study produced that actually shows Range of Motion has ANY impact on strength or size development, and I doubt there ever will be. You see the way a muscle works is it contracts or it doesn’t. That’s it. It’s on or off. It adjusts the amount of strength used through a phenomenon called the GIC (Gradual Increments of Contraction). This is a misleading name as it implies partial contraction of a muscle, which isn’t the case.

    The way a muscle work is that is composed of several bundles of muscle fibres which are connected to one nerve each. To lift a pencil 4 nerves are say activated and the WHOLE muscle contacts under the impulse of those 4 bundles contracting and low and behold we can lift a pencil. To lift 100lbs nearly all 150 say nerves would be activated and all the attached muscle bundles would contract thus giving you more power. It has NOTHING to do with the position of the arm – just the tension being applied to it.

    Intensity is the SOLE dictator of whether you get stronger or weaker, bigger or smaller. And isometrics is by far the most intense muscular exertion possible, and thus produces the best results in the shortest time.

    All the best,

    Paul O’Brien
    Author 7 Seconds to Strength the Ultimate Guide to Isometrics.

  2. Hi Paul,

    Thank you for your comment and providing my visitors with a different perspective on Isometric exercises. Are there any drawbacks to isometric exercises that you could comment on? I am sure my readers would benefit.

    Best,

    Jayme

  3. Mark Brenizer on said:

    I agree with Paul. I think isometrics are way misunderstood. I would also like to add that isometrics have a valuable place in an exercise program, as an addition to Isotonic type of exercise. Isotonic meaning in motion. In tests comparing isometrics to isotonics strength increases were greater with isotonic form of exercise than with isometrics. If we look at any of the top athletes, especially weightlifters or bodybuilders, 99.999% got to where they are at using isotonic forms of exercise. Our muscle’s basic function are to provide motion. However, isometrics is more a part of our everyday function in life. The ultimate goal in a workout in my opinion is a combination of isometrics AND isotonic type of exercises either within the same workout, or alternating workouts. One downside to isometrics that gets overlooked is that there is no real way to measure improvement or progress. And we all know that to make improvement we need to have progressive stress to the muscles. Also isometrics does nothing for our cardiovascular system, circulatory system, flexibility, endurance, or size. Isometric exercise is vary useful in maintenance or our muscles when immobilized in a cast. Because of the no movement aspect of isometrics it is important in preventing atrophy of our muscles during those times. I hope this helps in the understanding of the whole isometric exercise benefits. One more thing. As we get older, isometric exercise is easier on the joints. Bottom line is,,,,,, add isometrics into your exercise routine.

  4. Thank you for your great feedback Mark. I agree with your statements that Isometric and Isotonic exercises should be combined to have a complete workout of all your muscles. I appreciate the insight into some drawbacks to isometric exercise but I agree that the benefits outweigh them by a lot. My readers will appreciate this feedback as well. I have been integrating some isometric exercises into my normal workout routine and I am loving it so far.

    Best,

    Jayme


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