Fitness Articles

The Perks and Pitfalls of Isometrics

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

  • I prefer not using weights during exercise. I love doing planks and isometric type exercises. This is an article well worth saving! I can do most of the exercises and already do some of them!

    Thanks so much SP.

    Nola - 3/24/2016 3:18:44 PM
  • Don't forget balance: if you push in one direction pull in the opposite direction also. This principle applies to all strength exercises, including these. Your muscles hold your bones in place, and if you make those that pull in one direction stronger but not the ones that pull in the opposite direction, the stronger muscles will pull your bones into an unnatural position and it will result in chronic pain. (I learned this the hard way, and it was easy to fix after an orthopedic doctor explained to me what I just explained above).

    Basic self defense movements can be done about anywhere without any equipment and provide a good range of motion. If you do them right, they work the entire body, they are very intense and concentrate a lot of exercise in a very short time, and they give you more for your time, because you get the ability to defend yourself along with excellent exercise. - 3/24/2016 10:19:13 AM
  • For some reason this article was spread across the info on the left and right side. The info on the right side still showed but it was over top of the article. It made it very difficult to read. - 10/19/2015 9:29:06 AM
  • I pressed my palms together as hard as I could for 1 minute only and I couldn't believe how many muscles I could feel engaged in my neck, back, shoulders, biceps and probably more. Amazing! - 9/10/2015 8:39:58 AM
  • 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
    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

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