What Is Isometric Exercise Training?

When you consider the perfect fitness regimen, what are the exercises that come to mind?

Do you envision a classic pullup? A heavy deadlift? Running endlessly on a treadmill? 

How about standing still? 

Isometric exercises require no movement at all, and in today’s article, we’ll explore how isometric exercises can do wonders to improve your strength, endurance, and overall health. 

Don’t believe us? Read on to learn more. 

Definitions

There are lots of terms we can use to describe physical movements in fitness. 

There are aerobic and anaerobic exercises, which, by definition, relate to the amount of air you have to breathe to perform movements in each type of exercise. There are categories to describe types of strength training—you have bodyweight training, circuit training, HIIT, and beyond. There are exercises that are all about functionality and others that come down to strength and strength alone. The list goes on and on.

Keep in mind that, as we discuss one type of exercise, the terms can overlap. But let’s get back to why we’re here: isometric training. 

The term “isometric” derives from the Greek words, isos, which means “equal, identical” and metron, which means “a measure.” Put together, you’ve got “of equal measure.” 

As it relates to fitness, when we’re talking about isometric exercises, we’re referring to holding positions in which muscle length and the angle of the joint in use do not change. The only change that can be made in an isometric workout is the amount of weight you use.  

Applications

Next comes the important question: what are isometric exercises for? 

These exercises are a fantastic supplement (we’ll get back to that) for strength training regimens. 

When we perform a weighted movement—let’s say a back squat (a squat with a barbell on the shoulders)—we start in a standing position, bend our knees until we reach the desired form, and stand back up. 

While every second of the movement is important, our strength is tested and pushed the most in that very low-to-the-ground position where our knees are bent to 90-degrees and we have to resist the weight of the bar to stand back up. This moment of extreme challenge, where you feel weakest, is called a sticking point. It happens when the external weight has a greater mechanical advantage than the body. 

In order to get stronger at that moment of truth in the bottom of the squat and overcome the mechanical advantage of the weight, we can incorporate isometric holds into our fitness routine. In the case of a squat, it may look something like holding that bottom-of-the-squat position to fail or pushing against an immovable weight in that position, like a barbell against pins on a rack. Overcoming the mechanical advantage of the weight is where isometric exercises are most useful. 

Examples

There are three types of isometric exercises: presses, pulls, and holds. While pulls and holds definitely add to your strength, pressing exercises are what support explosive movements. It’s basically supporting the preloading of a muscle so your body is prepared to spring out of it. 

For example, a swimmer on the block waiting for the bell to sound is holding an isometric position that is loaded and ready to explode so they can dive as far as they can off the block. As far as everyday movements go, having a little explosive power can be helpful for everyday activities as small as standing up out of a chair. 

In order to get the benefits of isometric exercises, you don’t have to change your fitness regimen very much. Incorporating one or two isometric exercises to any workout routine is a small way to  make a big difference. 

Here are a few isometric movement holds to get you started:

Plank

There are many variations of the plank, but we’re going to focus on the classic high plank. This isometric position is a full-body exercise that is guaranteed to strengthen your core. 

To do a high plank, get into the top of a push-up position: hands on the floor directly under your shoulders, toes curled under your feet, and your back completely  flat as if a stick stretched from the back of your head to your heels. 

Squat hold 

We mentioned the squat hold to support a weighted squat, but let’s go over the form.

Stand with your feet hip-width apart and bend your knees until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Keep your knees over your feet, your chest up, and your spine neutral. Engage your core to stay upright and all of the muscles in your legs to maintain the position.

Pull-up hold

The pull-up hold is a fantastic strength training exercise if you can’t quite do a pull-up yet and you need to build the muscles to support it. 

All you have to do is find a pull-up bar, get into the top of a pull-up position (chin at the bar) with your fingers facing away from you, slightly wider than shoulder-width, and hold. 

No matter what you’re training for—whether it’s muscle strength or just overall health and fitness—incorporating isometric strength training exercises into your routine is a surefire way to improve. Visit us at one of over 30 locations for all of the tools and equipment you could possibly need!

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