What is Isometric Training / Exercise?
| EnFuse Staff
Category: Strength & Rehabilitation
What is Isometric Training / Exercise?
Isometric exercise or isometrics are a type of strength training in which the joint angle and muscle length do not change while contracting (static exercise). The joint is fixed at a specific angle in a specific plane of motion.
The plank is one of the more common isometric exercises.
To view a detailed step-by-step video breakdown of how to perform a plank properly, please click here- Mastering The Plank
Also, as the graphic illustrates, simply pressing your hands together in front of you serves as another great example of an isometric exercise.
Anatomy and Physiology- a quick lesson.
Muscles attach to bones through tendons. Tendons are tensile fibrous tissue that aid in the transfer of force from a contracting muscle to a corresponding bone. This relay allows for the human body to provide both mobility and stability. During an isometric contraction, the sarcomere (contractile unit of muscle fiber) essentially does not noticeably shorten or lengthen. However, a sizable amount of force can still be generated.
It is important to understand the difference between isometric contractions and traditional concentric or eccentric contractions.
Concentric contractions involve the sarcomere shortening in order to create muscle tension.
Example (concentric contraction): a basic example of this would be the lifting phase of a biceps curl.
Eccentric contractions are just the opposite. Basically, the muscle generates tension by lengthening.
Example (eccentric contraction): a basic example of this would be the lowering phase of a biceps curl.
Did you know? Isometric contractions generate the second strongest force production only to eccentric contractions. Believe it or not, the type of contraction that most people focus on, concentric, generates the least amount of force production!
For optimal results, it is important to vary your training and to deliberately program various contraction types into your workouts.
Benefits of Isometric Training
Isometric training can serve many purposes. Plus, being that isometrics can be performed with or without weight, this type of training is quite flexible and is easy to incorporate at home or in the office. Isometric programming can be used for warm-ups at the gym before a heavy lift, as part of a traditional rehabilitation program, or to simply maintain strength. Since the joint is not moving during the contraction, it can be useful to warm-up the muscle while minimizing the risk of injury. Also, as mentioned above, isometric exercises can be extremely simple to perform and requires little to no equipment.
For the purposes of physical rehabilitation, isometrics can serve as a low intensity approach to improving people on a functional basis. Physical therapists often incorporate isometric exercises when working with patients that present with shoulder instability issues, low back pain, and or are recovering from any number of joint related surgeries. Patients tend to perform isometric exercises during the early stages of their rehab in order to achieve stability at a joint. Also, isometric exercises do not cause as much compression within the joints, which can be useful if you are working with an arthritic patient.
Isometric exercises can also help maintain strength. This contraction will not lead to explosive gains in overall strength; however, it can help sustain the muscle’s current condition. One important aspect to remember when using isometric exercises is that the joint is fixed at a certain angle. Ideally, in the strength and conditioning world, along with physical therapy realm, you strengthen your muscles throughout their entire range of motion. This means that isometric exercises should be performed with the joint in varied positions. Angles and resistance can vary in order to progress these exercises to achieve a more complex goal.
A population varying in age, profession, and fitness goals can all effectively use isometric training as part of their fitness & wellness protocols. Upcoming articles will cover specific joints and examples of isometric exercises to use both in the gym and at home.
NOTE: High blood pressure is a significant comorbidity that can prove to be dangerous with any type of exercise; specifically, isometric exercises as they can elevate your blood pressure to dangerous levels due to the ‘Valsalva Principle / Maneuver’. In strength & fitness training, the Valsalva Maneuver is demonstrated when a trainee exhales against a closed glottis (the glottis is a structure in the windpipe that allows air to pass when open and prevents air from passing when closed. In traditional weight training, incorporating this maneuver can elevate intra-abdominal pressure, protect the spine, and increase power output during a lift.
We hope that you found this article helpful! If you would like guidance on how best to incorporate isometric training into your current fitness program, or you simply want to take your training to the next level, we encourage you to set-up a consult with one our licensed trainers- support@EnFuseFitness.com
EnFuse Fitness, located in Enfield, Connecticut, is a veteran and family owned private personal training studio that offers pilates, massage, meal prep, and nutritional counseling services.
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Rice DA, Mcnair PJ, Lewis GN, Mannion J. Experimental knee pain impairs submaximal force steadiness in isometric, eccentric, and concentric muscle actions. Arthritis Research & Therapy. 2015;17(1). doi:10.1186/s13075-015-0768-1.
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