Isometric exercises: examples, benefits and risks

Everyone has different goals when it comes to training. Some are looking to gain muscle, others want to lose weight, and still others want to build strength and endurance. Isometric exercises are great for the latter and are super common in more static routines like yoga. Below, a fitness expert explains how they work, the benefits, and offers some examples of isometric exercises you can try during your next gym session.

What are isometric exercises?

“An isometric exercise is a static exercise where you hold a muscle contraction without movement, as opposed to a dynamic exercise where the muscles can contract from their longest to their shortest length – think plank versus bicep curl,” says Andrew Slane , Fiture sports training specialist and fitness instructor. It really is that simple.

Benefits of isometric exercises

While they won’t necessarily help your muscles bulk up, isometric exercises improve strength and stability, which in turn can fine-tune the form, efficiency, and ultimately results of the dynamic exercises in your routine, Slane says.

“For example, maybe your knees are a little wobbly at the bottom of a squat,” says Slane. “Once we correct the form, we can hold the lowest squat position in an isometric hold to strengthen that part of the movement, locking in the overall execution of the exercise and successfully setting us up for progressions like adding weights.”

Slaine adds that isometrics can also be therapeutic for those with arthritis because it doesn’t require the full range of motion of joints and can therefore help maintain fitness without causing the pain that more mobile dynamic exercises can bring. “They can also allow you to strengthen and stabilize the muscles around injured joints, aiding in recovery,” Slaine adds, with a doctor’s approval, of course.

Examples of isometric exercises

Whether you’re looking to change up some movements to better accommodate your body or just want to improve your endurance, here are some basic isometric exercises that Slane recommends trying.

The wall sits

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“Squat down as if you were sitting on an invisible chair with your back against the wall. Make sure your knees continue to stick to your shins and ankles, keeping them at a 90-degree angle while maintaining a straight line from your head to your tailbone,” Slaine explains. “Hold for about 30 seconds.”

Boards

fit woman wearing sportswear practicing yoga

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“While on your stomach, lift your body off the floor using your elbows and toes—imagine doing a push-up using your forearms instead of your hands,” says Slane. “Maintain a straight line from head to toes, making sure to squeeze your glutes to keep your butt down in line with the rest of your body.” Make sure your shoulders are aligned over your elbows and your core is tight, “it’s like someone sewed up your belly button,” Slaine adds. “Hold for about 30 seconds at a time, trying to avoid rocking your back.”

A hollow body holds

hollow body retention

Thomas McDonald

“Lie on the ground with your arms extended overhead. Lift your legs, arms and shoulders off the floor, keeping only your lower back on the ground, and hold for about 30 seconds. During the execution, your body should look like a canoe or a crescent moon as you hold,” explains Slaine.

Risks of isometric exercises

In general, diversifying your workout routine is rarely a bad thing. And as noted, isometrics can even make fitness more accessible and less painful for some. With that said, they do raise blood pressure during the actual exercise, Slane says. Therefore, it is important to consult a medical professional if you have blood pressure problems.

But in general, exercise can help lower blood pressure. “However, studies show that they can be helpful in lowering resting blood pressure,” he adds. “So people with hypertension or heart disease should check with their doctor before adding these exercises to their regimen.”

He adds that as with any exercise, it’s important to maintain proper form and alignment “to minimize stress on the joints.”

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