How to Use Isometric Exercises in Your at-Home Workouts

If you're feeling uninspired about your training routine and you're getting a bit bored with just lifting weights, then isometric exercises may be the thing to take your stamina to the next level.

Isometric workouts are a fantastic way to complement your strength training, increase flexibility, encourage muscle growth, and lower high blood pressure. In fact, specific isometric exercises are often recommended during physical therapy and rehab after an injury.

They're a great addition to any fitness program, and one of their best perks is you can do them from the comfort of your home.

Here, you'll learn about isometric training, why you should consider integrating it into your routine, and the core exercises of this type of workout. 

What Is Isometric Training?

Isometric exercises date back to 5,000 years ago in the ancient far East. 

Early martial artists and Buddhist monks created postures to honor the deities of their respective cultures. These have evolved over time in the form of activities such as kung-fu and yoga.

Nowadays, isometric training is a popular routine among MMA fighters and Olympic-level gymnasts.

Basically, isometric training consists of increasing the time your muscles are under tension. This causes your muscle fibers to contract without changing their length and joint angles.

This training style has virtually zero impact on your body's structure while leading to improved balance, more strength, and increased flexibility.

The most well-known — and also feared — isometric exercise is undoubtedly the plank pose. Considered a full-body workout, it engages all muscle groups in your body and strengthens both your core and your back muscles.

This style of static strength training now has thousands of followers due to its simplicity and versatility. Most exercises don't require any kind of equipment, yet they engage your entire body and help increase muscular range of motion

This is helpful not only when you're hitting the gym for a workout session but also to complete other everyday activities, like lifting heavy grocery bags or moving boxes

Why You Should Include Isometric Exercises in Your Fitness Program 

Isometric exercises: Man drinking water

The benefits of isometric exercises go far beyond those of your typical fitness workout. There is a reason why many sports physicians and personal trainers recommend them. 

If your training sessions revolve mainly around weight lifting, you'll certainly benefit from having a couple of isometric moves in your workouts. 

Here are a few good reasons:

1. Isometric Exercises Help Build Strength and Muscle Mass

If your goal is to become stronger, but you seem to have reached a plateau, then isometrics can help.

You can do this type of training before your weight-lifting session to pre-exhaust your muscles. In reality, isometric exercises are very useful when combined with bodybuilding workouts, as they help increase time under tension (TUT).

TUT refers to the amount of time your muscles are under strain during an exercise set — which in the isometric world are aptly called isometric contractions

When you contract your muscles, you stimulate them to work harder, which leads to enhanced muscle strength and higher endurance.

By combining these two types of training, you'll also hit your muscle groups from new angles, something that cannot be achieved by simply lifting weights.

In a study published in the Journal of Sports Sciences, researchers compared dynamic training with isometric training in terms of strength gains. 

They asked 33 individuals to perform isometric exercises with one of their legs and conventional dynamic training with their other leg. The isometrically trained leg was 5% stronger than the dynamically trained leg after nine weeks.

2. They Can Help Prevent Injury

Even though well-rounded isometric training will activate all your muscle groups, most isometric movements focus on core strength

When most of us think about core, we often forget your core muscles include your lower back and glutes. When you think about it, it's the muscle group connecting your upper body with your lower body.

If you're lifting heavy weights, a strong core is vital to ensure you can lift more and prevent potential injury.

Isometric exercises like planks and isometric pull-ups make your core and back muscles stronger, so the next time you're picking up your heavy barbell for a weight-lifting session, you don't end up with terrible low-back pain.

But isometrics are not only useful for those who love the gym. If you love playing team sports, they can also be incredibly helpful in avoiding future problems. The low-impact of isometric training puts less strain on your spine and, in the long-term, can help to increase bone density, physical endurance, and muscle strength.

According to the Journal of Physical Education and Sport, isometric training has proven to be very useful for preventing injuries in basketball players.

If you struggle with injury and want to stay active, talk to your personal trainer or gym personnel so they can create a specific isometrics protocol for you.

3. Isometric Training Speeds up Post-Workout Recovery

If you're one of those people with tons of energy who don't enjoy "rest day," then isometrics are an excellent addition. 

This type of training is gentle enough to give your muscles a break, as it involves a lot of strength-building stretching. When you hold a particular position for some time, you still activate your muscles, but at a lower intensity level.

When you add isometric exercises to your less intense or rest days, you promote good circulation that helps your muscles recover faster. The blood then carries essential nutrients to the areas of your body that need it the most, so you're adequately powered-up for your next high-intensity session.

Simple Isometric Exercises to Add to Your Workout Routine

Now that we've explored the benefits of isometric training, it's time to learn about some of the best and simplest exercises you can incorporate into your fitness program.

If you're new to this type of training, it's best to perform the exercises with only your body weight. Once you develop strength and stability, you can upgrade them with some equipment, such as dumbbells and resistance bands.

But for now, just focus on proper form. Make sure you tighten your muscles and hold the isometric contractions for as long as you can.

Low Plank

Isometric exercises: Man doing low plank

Low plank activates abs, arms, chest, glutes, lower back, and shoulders.

  1. Start by kneeling on the floor and bending your elbows. 
  2. Place your forearms on the floor and curl your hands into fists. 
  3. Extend your legs into a plank position, one at a time.
  4. Keep your hips, neck, and back in a straight line. Engage your core and keep your shoulders rolled back.
  5. Hold it for 15-30 seconds. You can increase the time as you become stronger.

Side Plank

Isometric exercises: Man doing sideplank

Side planks engage the back muscles, glutes, quads, shoulder, and traps.

  1. Lie on your side and bring your feet together.
  2. Bend your elbow and rest your forearm on the ground. 
  3. Raise your body from the floor, engaging your core and squeezing your glutes.
  4. Stay in that position for at least 10-15 seconds.
  5. Lower your body, take a few seconds to rest, and go again. 
  6. Swap sides.

Calf Raise Hold

Isometric exercises: Man doing calf raise hold

It doesn't get easier than calf raises. They strengthen the lower leg muscles and stretch your hamstrings.

  1. Start in an upright standing position, with your back straight. If you struggle with balance, stand close to a wall and place your hand on it.
  2. Push through the balls of your feet and raise your heels until you can stand on your toes.
  3. Stay in this position for about 5-10 seconds.
  4. Slowly lower your heels and repeat.

Isometric Biceps Curls

This static exercise works both biceps and triceps.

  1. Start by bending your right arm at a 90-degree angle.
  2. Grab your right hand with your left, interlocking your fingers.
  3. Push your hands together as hard as you can. Relax your shoulders.
  4. Release and repeat on the other side.

Isometric Push-Up

Isometric exercises: Man doing isometric push up

Isometric push-ups are the most challenging exercise on this list, but the rewards are also the best. They work chest, shoulders, triceps, abs, arms, lower back, and glutes.

  1. Get into a standard push-up position (if you're just starting, put your knees on the floor), with your hands shoulder-width apart.
  2. Lower your body by bending your elbows until your chest almost touches the ground.
  3. Hold the position 10-15 seconds. Once you are stronger, increase the time.
  4. Push up and go back into plank. Repeat.

Wall Sit

Woman doing wall sit

Wall sits seem deceptively easy, but stay against that wall long enough and you'll start to feel the burn in your legs. They engage calves, glutes, and quadriceps.

  1. Lean your back flat against a wall and bend your knees until you reach a 90-degree angle.
  2. Make sure your feet are firmly planted on the ground at shoulder-width. Engage your core.
  3. Hold the position for 20-40 seconds.
  4. Stand up and relax for a few seconds. Repeat.

Isometric Squat

Man doing isometric squat

This static variation of squats makes this exercise a lot more challenging than the original. It works your quads, glutes, core, and adductors.

  1. Start in an upright-standing position, with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Bend your knees into a squatting position until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Make sure your back is straight.
  3. While holding the position, engage your core, and squeeze your glutes. Stay there for 10-30 seconds.
  4. Stand up, relax a few seconds, and repeat.

Add Isometric Exercises to Your Workout Routine for Increased Strength and Flexibility

Isometric exercises are underrated in the fitness world. This might be because of their slower pace and lower impact. But don't let this deceive you.

This static strength training has plenty of benefits, and it's an excellent adjunct for your weight-lifting sessions. Add isometrics to the beginning of your workout to get your muscles going or dedicate one of your rest days to isometric exercises.

No matter how you integrate them, you'll surely reap the benefits of this old-as-time method. And if you're stuck at home without access to a bunch of gym equipment, isometrics are a great way to stay in shape.

If you're interested in home workouts, check out this essential guide with a detailed program you can easily do from the comfort of your living room.

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