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These exercises are designed to hold your body in a position for a set period of time, which can help build muscular strength and endurance.
They’re ideal as low-impact exercise, need limited space, and may help recovery from certain injuries.

If you’ve ever held a plank, then you’ve also done an isometric exercise.

Simply put, isometric exercise is any type of exercise that holds the body in one position. The muscles are contracted but do not change length as you hold the position.

For example, when you hold a plank, you’re contracting the muscles in your core, legs, and upper body to hold you up while remaining in the same position.

However, isometric exercises remain controversial for their strength and muscle building benefits. This may have you wondering if they’re worth adding to your workout routine.

This article tells you all you need to know about isometric exercises and lists eight exercises for you to try.

Isometric exercises are exercises in which your muscles are engaged, but they are not changing length.

Contrarily, in an exercise like a biceps curl, where you lift and lower your hand as the elbow bends, the biceps muscle gets shorter when your hand moves toward your shoulder and longer as you straighten your arm back out.

Isometric training is a way to categorize exercises that recruit muscles and exert tension without actually lengthening (eccentric contraction) or shortening (concentric contraction) the muscle. In an isometric contraction, your muscle is engaged, but it’s not changing size (1, 2).

This form of exercise involves no movement and instead focuses on holding your body in a position for a set period of time. It’s a static way of placing a demand on a desired muscle or group of muscles without muscle or joint movement (1, 2, 3).

The type of resistance can come from your own body weight (gravity), holding an object, or weighted exercise equipment. Isometric exercises are ideal for those with limited workout space, people recovering from an injury, or anyone simply needing a change in their typical fitness routine (1, 2, 3).

In fact, isometric exercises are commonly added to rehabilitation programs, since they can add tension to the muscles with limited joint and muscle movement. This allows a person to rebuild strength and muscular endurance in an injured area while protecting it from further damage (1, 2, 3).

Though, since the muscular contractions in these moves are limited, they should only serve as a complement to a more dynamic exercise regimen, unless your physical trainer has advised otherwise.

Summary

Isometric exercises involve holding the body in a position with no muscle or joint movement. They help build muscular strength and endurance and are popular rehabilitation exercises.

The process of building muscle is known as muscular hypertrophy. It occurs when a muscle undergoes mechanical and metabolic stress, which leads to increases in muscle size and strength. This stimulates a rebuilding process to make more muscle cells and create bigger muscles (4, 5).

Most research suggests that the type of muscle contraction matters when it comes to building muscle (6, 7, 8, 9).

In particular, eccentric (muscle lengthening) and concentric (muscle shortening) exercises appear to stimulate muscle hypertrophy most effectively, as they put more demand and stress on the muscles (6, 7, 8, 9).

While isometric exercises do put stress on working muscles that can promote gains in muscle strength, some research suggests they’re not as effective at building muscle size compared with eccentric and concentric training (10).

This is easy to visualize if you think of exercise modalities. A body builder who regularly lifts and moves heavy weights will likely have larger muscles compared with a yoga enthusiast who holds fixed poses during their yoga routine.

While you might not bulk up with isometric exercises, they’re an excellent way to build muscular endurance, the ability to sustain exercise for a period of time. They can also promote muscular strength, defined as the muscle’s ability to exert force against resistance (10, 11).

Isometric exercises are also great for establishing better mind-body connection, allowing you to recruit your muscles more efficiently (10).

What’s more, isometric exercise may be a better option for people who wish to avoid delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS), since less muscle damage occurs. Further, isometric exercise puts less strain on the joints, which may be beneficial for those recovering from injury (2, 10).

Also, isometric exercises usually require little to no equipment and can be performed almost anywhere, making them easy to add to your workout routine.

If your goal is to build muscle, it’s probably better to focus primarily on eccentric and concentric training. But, you can still incorporate isometric exercises at the end of your workout to promote muscular endurance and build strength.

Summary

While you can encourage muscle growth with isometric exercises, they’re not the most efficient or effective way to build muscle size. Isometric exercises are best for building muscular strength and endurance.

If you’re looking to add some isometric exercises to your workout routine, give these a try.

1. Wall sit

Wall sits focus on improving the strength in your thighs, specifically your quadriceps muscles.

Equipment needed: none

Muscles worked: quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes

  1. Stand about 2 feet away from a sturdy wall, leaning your back against it.
  2. Bend your knees and lower your bottom down so that your knee joints form a 90-degree angle. Your body position should resemble the same posture you have when sitting in a chair.
  3. Hold this position for 15 seconds or longer. Be sure to keep your hips and shoulders in contact with the wall and keep your knees over your ankles.
  4. Perform 2–3 rounds.

To maintain this position, you’ll feel your thighs becoming tighter and more fatigued.

Experiment with going back and forth between driving your weight down through your toes and your heels. Driving down through your heels will target your glutes, while driving down your toes will target your quadriceps.

Just be sure not to let your knees go out past your toes, and when you put weight on your toes, don’t put too much pressure on the knees.

2. High plank hold

The high plank hold is an effective way to engage many muscles in your body.

Equipment needed: none; yoga mat optional

Muscles worked: abdominals, quadriceps, glutes, muscles of the arms, chest, and shoulders

  1. Start in a kneeling pushup with your hands shoulder-distance apart.
  2. Push your hands into the ground and straighten your knees, pushing down into the balls of your feet to raise your body into a high plank position. Your body should look as if you’re in the upward position of a pushup. Ensure your hands and shoulders are aligned, legs are straight, and your core is engaged.
  3. Hold this position 20 to 60 seconds, or as long as you can maintain proper form. Repeat two more times.

3. Side plank

The side plank is excellent for engaging your obliques, located on the sides of your midsection.

Equipment needed: none; yoga mat optional

Muscles worked: obliques, spinal stabilizers, quadriceps, glutes, serratus anterior, shoulder stabilizers, hip abductors

  1. Lie on your left side with your legs straight, keeping your hips, knees, and feet stacked. Bend your left elbow and place your forearm on the ground under your shoulder.
  2. Push your left forearm into the ground to lift your torso and hips off the ground. Keep your core tight and ensure you’re making a straight line from head to heel.
  3. Lift your right arm straight into the air, or keep it by your side.
  4. Hold this position for 10 or more seconds. Then, switch sides.

If you’d like a bigger challenge, try the side plank on with the bottom arm straight.

4. Low squat

Technically, you can make most exercises isometric exercises by holding your body still during the the contraction. Here’s what we mean, using the squat as an example.

Equipment needed: none

Muscles worked: quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings

  1. Stand with your feet slightly more than hip-width apart. Your toes may be pointed slightly out, if it’s more comfortable, with your hands on your hips or held straight out in front of you.
  2. Slowly push your hips back into a sitting position while bending your knees. Avoid driving your knees forward.
  3. Continue to lower yourself until your butt is slightly below knee level. If you can’t go further, lower yourself until your thighs are parallel with the floor. Keep your feet planted with heels down, and your spine long without rounding forward.
  4. Hold this position for 10–30 seconds. Then, return to the starting position.
  5. Perform 3–5 rounds.

5. Overhead hold

Overhead holds challenge the muscular endurance of your shoulder girdle.

Equipment needed: light to medium weight required (Start with a 5 to 10-pound plate, dumbbell, or kettlebell, or even just two cans of soup. Increase the weight as needed.)

Muscles worked: upper trapezius, shoulder girdle muscles, triceps, core

  1. Extend your arms above your head and hold the weight steady. Be sure to engage your core.
  2. Make sure to keep your arms fully extended and in line with your shoulders. Bending your arms will engage different muscles (your biceps and triceps).
  3. Hold the weight over your head for 20–30 second intervals. However, stop before this if you’re concerned you may drop the weight.
  4. Perform 2–3 rounds.

Increase the challenge by standing on one leg while holding the weight.

6. Glute bridge

This exercise will quickly become a favorite for anyone looking to improve the strength of their backside.

Equipment needed: none; yoga mat optional

Muscles worked: hamstrings and glutes, core muscles

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your arms by your sides. Your heels should be 12–16 inches from your butt.
  2. Press into your heels, brace your core, and push your pelvis upwards by squeezing your glutes. Ensure your ribs do not flare during this movement. Keep your tail bone slightly tucked, abdominals engaged, and your feet flat on the floor.
  3. You will feel your glutes and hamstrings starting to fatigue. Resist the urge to let your hips sink or your back arch.
  4. Complete 2–3 rounds of a 30-second hold.

7. V-sit

The V-sit helps you work on your core stability while also developing core strength.

Equipment needed: none; yoga mat optional

Muscles worked: abdominals and hip flexors

  1. Sit on your bottom with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  2. While engaging your core, straighten your legs to take your feet off the floor, creating a “V” shape with your body and legs. You can keep your arms by your side to make the exercise easier, or reach them straight overhead to make it harder. Keep your back straight, and avoid rounding your shoulders. Continue breathing throughout the exercise.
  3. If maintaining a straight-leg position makes it hard to keep your spine long or makes your hip flexors work overtime, bend your knees slightly in order to lengthen your back and engage the abdominals more.
  4. Hold this position for 15 seconds, or as long as you can while maintaining proper form.
  5. Perform 2–3 rounds.

8. Calf raise and hold

The calves are commonly forgotten, but are important to keep strong. Instead of doing normal calf raises, moving up and down, in this exercise you’ll hold the top position of the calf raise.

Equipment needed: none, a wall for support optional

Muscles worked: calves (gastrocnemius, soleus)

  1. Stand with your feet hip-distance apart. You may wish to stand about 2 feet from a wall for support.
  2. With your hands on your hips (or resting lightly against a wall for support), push into the balls of your feet and lift your heels off the ground.
  3. Hold this position for 20–30 seconds.
  4. Perform 2–3 rounds.

For an added challenge, try doing this on one foot. Then switch sides.

Summary

There are many isometric exercises that target different muscles in the body. For best results, try adding a few different ones to your exercise regimen.

Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your isometric exercises:

  • Focus on good form. To prevent injury and target your muscles effectively, pay attention to your form. Once you can no longer perform the exercise with proper form, the exercise is done.
  • Actively contract your muscles. As you perform the exercise, pay special attention to your muscles contracting. This will help ensure proper form and better activate the muscles, allowing for greater strength and endurance gains.
  • Breathe. It’s common to forget to breathe during isometric exercise. Make sure you’re breathing throughout the entire exercise.
  • Don’t overdo it. It may be tempting to hold a position for as long as you can, especially if you’re new. However, this can be very taxing on the body and may lead to injury. Instead, it’s better to prioritize proper form.

If an exercise doesn’t feel right for you, then it’s probably best to skip it. If you’re recovering from an injury, always listen to the advice from your physical therapist, doctor, trainer, or other healthcare professional.

Summary

For best results, prioritize good form, engaging your muscles, and breathing. This will lead to better results over time and help you progress to longer holds.

If you’re looking for variety in your workouts, you may want to try adding in some isometric exercises. These exercises are designed to hold your body in a position for a set period of time, which can help build muscular strength and endurance.

They’re ideal for people who are seeking low-impact exercise, have limited space, are recovering from an injury (under the advisement of a healthcare professional), or are looking for a different kind of fitness challenge.

Always remember that these exercises can be adjusted to suit your current level of fitness. For example, if 20-second planks are too challenging, bump it down to 10 seconds and then build up as you get stronger over time.

If you’ve been bored with your exercise routine, isometric exercises might be just what you need.

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