How to Make the Most of Isometric Exercises: A Quick Guide

These days, most people have very little time to commit to a lengthy workout. Very few people have hours to spend on a grueling, demanding regimen at the gym. Fortunately, getting the most out of your workout doesn’t have to take a ton of equipment or even require a gym membership.

Isometric exercises are exercises where the muscle length does not change, nor the angle of the joint—the muscle contracts in a static position. For this reason, these exercises are sometimes described as static strength training. Isometric holds, pulls, and presses target specific muscles, training them to hold a position for a long period of time or apply power from the held position. Isometric exercises require only bodyweight; there’s no need to invest in weights or other equipment if you don’t want to. Planks, static lunges, wall sits, and some yoga poses are all examples of isometric exercises.

Isometric exercises are great for those looking to change up their fitness routines and build stamina, balance, and strength. While not typically considered “high-intensity,” isometrics can deliver results when performed correctly, in combination with other forms of exercise. Here are a few of the most effective isometric movements you can incorporate into your routine.

Static Squats

Squats have long been considered one of the most effective lower body exercises. Squats target the glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings, while also engaging the core. To make this exercise an isometric one, hold the lower position for a few seconds. You can perform an isometric squat with just your body weight or add free weights for an added challenge.

To avoid injury, it is important not to allow the knees to extend past the toes when lowering. Start at a standing position. Then, while holding arms straight out for balance, slowly lower your body to as close to a 90-degree angle as possible, as if you’re sitting down in a chair. Hold that movement for five seconds, and then slowly raise back up to starting position. Work up to a series of 10 to 12 repetitions.

Planks

Plenty of people think planks are easy until they attempt them. This exercise may not seem like much; however, it is one of the most effective movements and engages every muscle group from the shoulders down to the hamstrings. Because of this, planks are one of the most effective ways to build a strong core.

Start by lying face down on the ground. Then, push up onto your elbows, keeping them at a 90-degree angle, and lift the lower body until it is supported by the toes and forearms. The goal is to keep your body as parallel to the floor as possible, just like a plank of wood. Hold the plank position for at least 30 seconds, then slowly lower back to starting position. Repeat for a set of five. Over time, you can increase the length of time holding the plank position.

Calf Raises

Many people have heard of the dreaded “cankles”—ankles that aren’t defined from the calf. Calf raises are a great way to create more definition in the lower leg. Start in a standing position, with hands on a chair or a wall for balance. Slowly rise up to stand on your tiptoes, as if you’re reaching for something on a high shelf. Slowly lower your feet until they’re flat down again and repeat for a set of 15 to 20. To make this move more challenging, try balancing on a curb or a step so that your heels are hanging off.

Dumbbell Curls

Dumbbell curls are one of the simplest ways to build strength in the biceps. While dumbbell curls do require more than just your own bodyweight, and they aren’t technically an isometric exercise, you can incorporate an isometric hold in between the action of raising and lowering the weight.

When performing this move, start with relatively smaller weights and stand in front of a mirror to ensure proper technique and posture. Once this is established, you can start working with larger, more challenging weights.

Begin by standing straight up, with dumbbells gripped at your side, palms upward. Slowly raise one weight, keeping the elbow tucked in close to the side until the dumbbell is nearly at shoulder height. Maintain this position for a few seconds to incorporate an isometric hold. Slowly lower. Alternate from your right arm to your left for a set of 20.

Static Lunges

If you’re interested in improving lower body strength, static lunges are one of the top isometric exercises to try. They engage the entire lower body and the abdominals.

When doing static lunges, make sure not to overextend your knee to prevent injury. Starting from a standing position with your hands on your hips, extend one leg approximately 15 inches out in front. Slowly lower until the back leg, as well as the front leg, nears a 90-degree angle. Hold this pose for five seconds, and slowly raise back to starting position. To maximize the benefits of a static lunge, perform this movement slowly, and hold the position at the bottom of the lunge. If balance is an issue, hold onto a chair for stability.

Final Thoughts

Isometric routines are a great addition to any fitness regimen. They’re some of the most effective movements to build strength and improve balance using primarily your own bodyweight. Incorporating isometric exercises into your regular workout routine is also a fantastic way to switch things up and incorporate some variety into your regimen.

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