Fitness Articles

Isometrics Build Strength Anytime, Anywhere

How to Add Isometric Exercises to Your Strength Workouts

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Do you sometimes find yourself skipping the strength training you know you should be doing, just because it’s hard to squeeze it into your hectic schedule? Sure, it’s possible to do a very effective strength training routine at home with minimal equipment, but even that can take time and energy that, on some days, is pretty hard to find.

Well, there is a way to work your muscles effectively with no equipment at all, even while you’re busy taking care of other business at the same time. If you’ve got 10 seconds you can spare, you can squeeze in one exercise. And over the course of a day, you can get in a full body workout without interrupting your busy schedule.

This muscle training method is called isometrics, or isometric exercise. As you’ll soon find out, it’s not a complete substitute for more traditional forms of strength training, and for some people with specific medical concerns it may not be appropriate at all. But it could be just what you need when you can’t do your regular routine, or when you want to give your training a little boost by adding an additional element.

What Is Isometrics?
Isometric exercise is your body’s answer to the question, "What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?” The answer is that your muscles will get stronger without actually moving. If you’ve been doing your homework and reading up on strength training, then you already know that your muscles gain strength when you challenge them to produce more force than they're used to. This is typically done by forcing them to move against resistance or weight, like when you do a bicep curl while holding a dumbbell. As you gradually increase the weight or resistance, the muscle responds by getting stronger.

But muscles don’t actually have to move this added weight in order to get stronger. If the resistance is so high that they can’t make it move, they can still get stronger just by trying. There are three ways a muscle can contract to produce force (and eventually build strength):
  1. A concentric contraction occurs when a muscle is contracting while getting shorter. This is the contraction your biceps do, for example, when lifting a dumbbell up during a bicep curl.
  2. An eccentric contraction occurs when a muscle is contracting while getting longer. This is the contraction your biceps do, for example, when lowering a dumbbell back down during a bicep curl.
  3. An isometric contraction occurs when a muscle contracts without changing its length or causing any movement of the bones to which it is attached. The best example of this is pushing against a wall, or pulling up on a window that is stuck. This is the contraction your biceps do, for example, if you were to pause anywhere along the lifting or lowering phase of a bicep curl—your muscles are working without shortening or lengthening.
To see some examples of isometric exercises, check out these SparkPeople Exercise Demos:
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About The Author

Dean Anderson Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant. See all of Dean's articles.

Member Comments

  • Thanks for sharing. - 5/11/2013 7:21:03 AM
  • Thanks - I particularly like the core exercise where you lift your legs off the floor and press down on your knees - gonna give that one a try.

    - 5/5/2013 6:19:52 AM
  • These are some great tips - thanks! - 9/22/2012 6:35:10 PM
  • I love this! Thank you for giving me some ST tips that I can do from my own home. SP is awesome! - 3/3/2012 1:02:30 PM
  • I know nonisometric excercises are in a sense better for you to do, but I just canīt get myself motivated. But I can do these suggested isometric ones. Thannks for the additions.
    - 3/3/2012 9:43:39 AM
  • These are very gentle on joints, tendons, ligaments, and other moving parts. - 2/23/2012 9:57:33 AM
  • I like the way you always have that "sure you can" way of saying things in your articles. I really needed something to keep me motivated to do strength training. I know its good for me but sometimes I flake out because of boredom.

    Now, I have no excuse. This change with the Isometric excercise infused into my regular strength routine will surely take it up a notch. I even did the core strenthening at my desk. Thanks for you the article and your suggestions, spot on!

    Dee Dee
    2 Peter 3:9 - 8/30/2011 9:22:00 AM
  • I like what I am learning from this article. Holding the concentric contraction and alternating the count on the contraction as I am either midway in the exercise position or in the exercise position; this is effective and I can feel the intensity of the contraction and as the song goes "sure feels good". Makes me feel tighter. Only problem is, after I relax the contraction, the firm sensation disappears; I guess I got to keep working the concentrics. Thanks - 3/23/2011 7:15:34 AM
  • I can still remember doing stretches when taking karatedo and my sensei walking up to me and simultataneouly screaming at me to "BREATHE!! BREATHE!!" while driving nikites (open hand finger strikes) into my stomach. GREAT TIMES. - 11/2/2010 9:16:37 PM
  • INDIANAGAL1
    Since I sit at a desk for 8 hours a day, this article gave me some ideas that I can incorporate. Thanks! - 9/29/2009 12:27:32 PM
  • Just please add some pics for the "at desk" exercises please. - 2/20/2008 4:31:25 PM
  • With a new job, I need the extra exercise. I can count on SparkPeople to give me that help! - 12/9/2007 9:28:45 PM
  • Thank you, Coach Dean. I sit at a desk all day- I will definitely be trying these! - 12/5/2007 12:02:32 PM
  • LINMILL
    HI, I have been doing some "flatten your belly" exercises for a while now and I can really feel in my belly. It's called a "Knee-up" exercise. A. Stand up straight, feet hip-width apart. Lift your right knee up to your chest, lower; then lift your left knee to your chest. B. As you plant your left foot, lift your right knee again, this time turing it out to the side. Lower and repaet with your left knee. Continue, alternating front and sides with both legs for 1 minutes. This can really help "flatten your belly!

    linmill - 12/4/2007 7:27:28 PM
  • Great article. Have there been scientific studies done to show how much benefit isometric exercises really are? - 12/4/2007 12:16:48 PM
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