Fitness Education: How to Incorporate Isometric Exercises

How to Incorporate Isometric Exercises

If you’re looking for a simple, yet highly effective way to add corrective strength to your exercise plan, isometric exercises could be the way to go. Isometric exercise can be described as a strong contraction of your muscle with or without resistance as your joint(s) stay still. Traditionally used for rehabilitation, isometric exercises can be used for a variety of different goals such as warm up and muscle activation, corrective and accessory exercise, or increasing strength at the “sticking point.” Here are a few reasons why isometric exercises could be beneficial to you and how to easily incorporate them into your own programming.

Safe for Restricted Motions

Since isometric exercises are performed in one specific position at a time, they are a great way to increase strength without moving into painful ranges of motion, making them excellent exercises for rehabilitation, warm-ups, and injury prevention. Just about anyone can safely perform pain-free isometric exercises for example: if bending your knees causes pain, you can still train your quadriceps without standing up by straightening your knee and tightening your thighs. This can be done for every muscle in your body which means you can get stronger regardless of what your mobility is like. This is also good to keep in mind on days that you’re feeling sore or on days where your joints hurt more than usual; isometrics can be a good substitution for your usual resistance training routine even if you’re feeling limited on any given day.

Joint Angle Specific

Isometric exercises facilitate strength gains at the angles that you perform them, so if you have your elbow at a 90 degree angle and hold a bicep curl with resistance, your bicep will get stronger but it gets stronger in that 90 degree position. If you hold a bicep curl at 20 degrees, 45 degrees, 90 degrees, and 120 degrees, your bicep will get stronger in all of those positions. This makes isometric training useful for training specific ranges of motion, so it is also important to remember to train isometrics at a variety of angles, otherwise you will only get strong in one position.

Creates Time Under Tension

Time under tension is the amount of time that your muscles are under stress in an exercise. This is the period of time where your muscles are working the hardest, which is where we see increases in strength or endurance. Putting your muscles under periods of stress increases muscle strength and size. Isometric exercises ensure that your muscles are under tension the entire time the exercise is being performed, because you are holding one position, making them great exercises for improving strength or endurance depending on how long you maintain the position.

Helps You Pass the Sticking Point

The sticking point is the point in your lift where the weight feels the heaviest, there’s an increase in the resistance and you feel “stuck”. This point is typically found after the transition from the descending movement to the ascending movement. Because training isometrically is joint angle specific, you can train your muscles at the angle where they get stuck and get stronger in that weak spot. Incorporating isometric holds will help make your weaknesses become your strengths.

How to Incorporate Into Your Current Program

Isometric exercises are great additions to any program. They can be used as a singular workout for your active recovery day or on a lighter training day. They can also be plugged in on your normal training days to work on your accessory movements or to build symmetrical strength. One of the easiest ways to incorporate isometrics is to add them to your warm up routine: add 1-3 isometric exercises (related to your training goal for that day) of 2-5 sets of 10-20 second contractions. This way you activate and “wake up” the muscles that you plan on training for that session. For inspiration on isometric exercises, check out our Operation Health at Home Isometric Exercise Workouts!

By Ali Barahona BS and Christopher Manzano MPS, ATC, CSCS, TSAC-F