The Ultimate Guide to Isometrics

March 1, 2018

 

Have you ever found yourself skipping the strength training you have planned on doing, simply because it’s hard to fit it into your tight schedule? Sure, it’s possible to do a very efficient strength training routine at home with almost no equipment. However, even that can take up time and energy that, on some days, is pretty tough to find.

 

Nonetheless, there is a way to train your muscles effectively with or without equipment at all. This muscle training method is called isometrics, or isometric exercise. As you will soon find out, this workout regime is not a complete substitute for more traditional forms of strength training, but it could be just what you need when you’re feed up with your regular routine, or when you want to give your training a little boost by adding an additional factor.

 

What are Isometrics?

 

Isometric exercises take place in a motionless mode (static exercises). The length of the muscle in this form of work does not change, however, the toning is changed and a significantly larger number of motor units is activate compared to the concentric contractions.

Isometric training mostly focuses on concentric contractions, while isometric contractions are often unfairly ignored.

 

The rule that every strength training consists of 75% of exercises focusing on concentric contraction, 15% of exercises with the emphasis on eccentric contraction and 10% of exercises with the emphasis on isometric contraction, have been used by Russian athletes for decades who recognized the value of isometric exercises.

 

 

Benefits of Isometrics

 

The great benefit of isometric training is that it generates greater activation of the motor units than the concentric and eccentric contraction.

 

Isometric exercises or isometrics are a form of strength training in which the angle of joint and muscle length don’t change, or in other words the activity itself looks static as opposed to eccentric or concentric contractions in which there is a movement in the joint and the length of the muscles themselves.

 

Rehabilitation and Injury Prevention

 

The proper use and performance of static exercises helps in the development of strength, muscle mass, endurance, and prevention of injuries (1).

 

We have mentioned that static contraction activates a large number of muscle fibers. Studies have shown that such muscle enjoyment allows the development of maximum strength, which could even break plateaus that occur during various exercises.

 

If you noticed a lack of power in one segment of any given exercise, use isometrics. For example, the lowest position in the “bench press” or the end position of a pull up are often moments in which the power is lacking. By using static support, such issues are easily corrected.

 

Due to the absence of movement, isometric exercises are an indispensable part of rehabilitation protocols. A lack of movement in such cases is an advantage, since isometric exercises do not burden the injured wrist, while maintaining muscular tone and preventing the loss of muscle, atrophy (2).

 

By performing isometric exercises, we have an effect on the strengthening of the connective tissue, the mediator between the muscle and the bones, which is especially important in sport such as climbing, gymnastics, judo, motocross, bodybuilding, etc.

 

Isometrics Lower Blood Pressure

 

If you suffer from elevated blood pressure that you are trying to control with lifestyle modifications, such as diet and physical activity, you might consider adding isometrics such as the hand grip exercise to the mix. A review paper from the American Heart Association (AHA), published in Hypertension in April, concluded that the isometric hand grip exercise can produce significant reductions in blood pressure. The exercise, which simply involves squeezing a device, is isometric since it keeps your muscle contracted without moving your hand (3).

 

How to Perform Isometrics?

 

Isometric training can be performed with sub-maximal intensity (i.e. holding a moderately heavy weight in a fixed motion), and with maximum contraction, when we try to move a force that is absolutely impossible to move (i.e. pushing a building or lifting weights that are past our physical capabilities).

 

Both sub-maximal and maximum static contraction training will increase strength and stimulate muscular hypertrophy but only to a certain extent. The strength gained in this way will be tied exclusively to the angle in which the exercise is performed, more precisely +/- 10% above and below the angle.

 

Therefore you still want to include exercises that go through a complete range of motion. Generally you only need three compound exercises, the squat, the deadlift, and the bench press.

 

These three movements involve the greatest amount of muscle tissue, and thus they generate the greatest deal of stress on the body. Progressively increasing the weight in each movement, combined with isometrics will result in optimal development of the whole body.

 

 

Isometric Workout Example

 

The following examples represent exercises that are performed in a static matter of execution. They can be also used as a preparation for basic push, pull, and squatting movements or even for assessing body stability and correcting muscle imbalances.

 

Plank

 

This exercise will develop the true static strength of the whole body, with an emphasis on core muscles. By activating the abdominal muscles we learn how to keep the neutral position of the body. All variations of the plank (front, back, and side) are desirable for muscular imbalances and back pain.


Time under tension: 1 minute

 

When performing, be aware:

  • The head is in the extension of the body

  • Keep your body elongated and the back flat

  • Avoid hyperextension in the lower (thinning of the hips)

 

Push Up Hold

 

The push up hold is an excellent exercise for developing the true static power of pushing. This exercise is generally performed against the wall.

 

Time under tension: 1 minute

 

When performing, be aware:

  • Your shoulder take most of the stress (push against the floor)

  • Stretch the body and active the core muscles as much as you can

  • The elbows should be elongated

 

Straight-Leg Raises to the Front

 

This static exercise will strengthen your gluteus and back. In addition to the gluteus activation, this exercise also strengthens the core muscles that stabilize the spine.

 

Time under tension: 1 minute

 

When performing, be aware:

  • The hips should be elevated at the same height

  • The body needs to be straight

  • The hands are slight bent, the elbows are grounded

 

Wall Sit

 

The Wall Sit will develop the static force of the legs. It is a seemingly easy exercise, however for most people it is a real challenge to keep the position in just one minute.

 

Time under tension: 1 minute

 

When performing, be aware:

  • The back is firmly leaning against the wall

  • The hands are close to the body

  • The body is in a 90° angle

 

Before you start training, we advise you to determine the maximum time under tension for each exercise we listed. Each static exercise where you notice a weakness should be repeated multiple times until you improve your performance. Between each set take a break, till fully recovered.

 

Now that you know all about isometrics, get out there, do your best, and be in great shape!

 

References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6706740

  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4675187/

  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24582191

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

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