Isometric Exercises - History, Benefits and Programs

Isometric Exercises – History, Benefits and Programs

Isometric exercises are essentially anaerobic exercises that have many benefits to maintain your overall health such as enhanced strength in your muscles, ligaments, tendons and bones. The major difference between traditional anaerobic exercises and isometric exercise is that isometric exercise stimulates muscle action without joint movement or the lengthening of the muscle.

Established anaerobic exercises such as weight lifting, involves the lengthening of muscles known as contractions and joint movement. For instance, when practicing a biceps curl, the elbow joint is moving and the biceps brachii contracts to execute the exercise whereas in an isometrics biceps curl, entails holding the weighted resistance in one position without any movement of limb.

History of Isometrics

Isometric exercises go back thousands of years as they were practiced in ancient forms of martial arts. Additionally, they were also used in other forms of exercise like yoga. However, it wasn’t until the mid 1800s that these forms of static strength exercises took on the word “isometrics” which came from the Greek word “isometria” meaning quality of measure.

In the late 1800s, Eugen Sandow, widely considered the “father of modern bodybuilding”, brought isometrics to the forefront with his incredible physique, feats of strength and showmanship. He discovered that being an isometric exerciser could improve his strength and his world renown physique.

In the 1920s Charles Atlas took the world by storm with his physique and method of training. Atlas had created a new training modality called “dynamic tension”.

He’s considered the grandfather of isometrics because, although he would continue a hold throughout the range of motion, he held himself at positions throughout the range of motion for a duration of time. This would eventually lead the way for isometric training.

Training Benefits of Isometrics

  • Arthritis – Isometrics is a great form of exercise for individuals who may be suffering from arthritis. Since this condition impedes joint movement due to the pain and inflammation, arthritis sufferers are unable to regularly participate in weight lifting.
  • Physical Therapy – Isometric exercises are often used in physical therapy as individuals are recovering from an injury. These exercises are great for strengthening muscles to stabilize a joint or to improve overall structural support. They also relieve stress on connective tissues as there’s no movement and all of the stress is placed on a muscle. This is particularly important for those who might be suffering or recovering from a joint injury or an injury to cartilage, tendons and ligaments.
  • Sticking Points – Isometrics can help traditional weight lifters work through sticking points in a particular range of motion. For example, when performing a bench press, the sticking point (or point of maximum difficulty) is typically near the chest as you begin to push the barbell back up. A great way to work through this sticking point would be to perform an isometric bench press where you hold the weight bar at the sticking point. Eventually, this will help to increase strength at this point of weakness and improve your overall bench press motion.
  • Muscular Strength – Isometrics exercise improves overall muscular strength and can also stimulate muscular growth. Over time, individuals can actually get stronger when practicing isometric exercises.

How To Design An Isometrics Exercises Program

When designing an isometric exercise routine, the traditional methods of sets and repetitions are not used. Isometric exercises are based on time and number of actions.

  • Isometric exercises can be done for short periods of time (3-5 seconds) and longer periods of time (15-20 seconds)
  • Fewer number of actions (2 – 5) are recommended for longer durations and more number of actions (6 – 10) are recommended for shorter durations.
  • For those trying to build strength, it’s generally recommended to perform 15 – 20 actions with a duration of 3 to 5 seconds each.
  • It’s generally recommended to perform three sessions of isometric training per week for each muscle group.
  • When trying to improve overall strength throughout a specific range of motion, it’s generally recommended that you perform an isometric hold at roughly every 10 to 30 degrees.
  • Isometrics should be done according to the specific needs of each individual. For example, athletes should choose exercises that will help improve overall athletic performance related to their specific athletic endeavors.

Examples of Isometric Exercises

Isometric exercises can be performed for almost any body part or the entire body at once.

Full Body Isometrics

[ The Plank ]

  1. To begin, lay face down on the floor with your legs straight, together and fully extended.
  2. Next, place your elbows and forearms under your chest pointing straight forward.
  3. Prop yourself up on your toes, elbows and forearms so that the rest of your body is off the ground.
  4. Keep your body straight.
  5. Hold this position for roughly 15 to 20 seconds.
  6. Repeat 3 to 5 times.

[ Side Plank ]

  1. To begin, lay on your side with your elbow lined up underneath your shoulder and pointing perpendicular to your body.
  2. Make sure your legs are fully extended and on top of each other.
  3. Push yourself up so that your elbow and foot is holding all of your weight.
  4. Keep your body straight and hold for 15 to 20 seconds.
  5. Repeat this exercise 3 to 5 times and switch sides.

Upper Body Isometrics

[ Push-Up ]

  1. To begin, lay face first on the ground with your arms spread outward like a “T”.
  2. Keep your legs fully extended and together.
  3. Put your hands flat on the ground just outside of your shoulder width.
  4. Push yourself up onto your hands and toes.
  5. You can hold this position or lower yourself to the ground and hold at the position just before you hit the ground.
  6. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds.
  7. Repeat for 2 to 4 times.

[ Biceps Curl ]

  1. Using a weighted barbell or dumbbell, grab the weight with an underhand grip about shoulder width apart.
  2. Curl the weight up and hold it with a slight bend in your elbows, at the 90 degree mark, or just above 90 degrees.
  3. Hold the weight for roughly 10 to 15 seconds.
  4. Repeat 2 to 4 times.

[ Lateral Shoulder Raise ]

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder with apart with your arms down to your sides holding dumbbells in each hand.
  2. Raise your arms outward and upward until they become parallel with your shoulders, resembling a vertical “T”.
  3. Hold your arms there for 10 to 15 seconds.
  4. Repeat 2 to 4 times.

[ Superman ]

  1. Lay flat on your stomach with your arms pointed straight ahead and your legs fully extended and the tops of your feet flat on the ground.
  2. Next, lift your arms and legs off the ground so only your core section is on the ground.
  3. Keep your head and neck lined with your torso, do not let it hang down.
  4. Hold this exercise for 15 to 20 seconds.
  5. Repeat 3 to 5 times.

[ Triceps Dip ]

  1. Using the triceps dip bars, grab the bars and push yourself up so your weight is on your hands.
  2. Bend your knees, so your feet don’t touch the ground.
  3. Lower yourself until your elbows are bent at 90 degrees.
  4. Keep your torso upright at all times.
  5. Hold this position for 10 to 15 seconds.
  6. Repeat 2 to 4 times.

Lower Body Isometrics

[ Squat ]

This exercise can be done with weights or just your body weight.

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart.
  2. Start lowering your body by bending your knees almost if you are going to sit in a chair.
  3. Keep your torso upright and your hands out in front of you if you are just using your bodyweight.
  4. If using weight make sure you hold onto it tightly.
  5. Stop once you get to where your knees are bent at a 90 degree angle and your thighs are about parallel with the ground.
  6. Hold at this position for 10 to 20 seconds.
  7. Repeat for 2 to 4 times.

[ Calf Raise ]

This exercise can be done with or without added weight.

  1. Stand with your feet inside of your shoulder width.
  2. You can stand on a step or a flat surface.
  3. Push up on your toes and the balls of your feet so that you calves are completely flexed.
  4. Hold this position for 10 to 15 seconds.
  5. Repeat 2 to 4 times.

[ Leg Extension ]

This exercise is done by sitting on a chair or the edge of a bed.

  1. Sit with your torso upright and your abs tight.
  2. Place your hands to your sides, knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  3. Know lift both legs up until they are parallel to the floor.
  4. Hold this position for 10 to 20 seconds.
  5. Repeat 2 to 4 times.

Caution with Isometric Exercises !!

Like with all exercises, there are a few cautions that participants should be weary of:

  • Individuals with high blood pressure should seek medical advice before participating in isometric exercises because these types of exercises raise the blood pressure more than traditional weightlifting exercises.
  • Warm up for 10 minutes before performing isometric exercise to make sure your muscles are ready for the stress
  • Make sure you breathe during isometric exercises. Do not hold your breath as this could cause some individuals to experience light-headedness.

About Amy Irving

Amy Irving has an avid interest in anything and everything health related and writes extensively for this field. At one stage, her passion for the topic made her think about obtaining some type of certification in the field. However, she realized she was probably learning just as much by researching and writing her articles. And having a lot more fun whilst she was about it.