Updated: Aug 10
Harnessing the Power of Isometric Exercises for Peak Performance
By Coach Patrick Marques
Isometric exercises are the most highly under-utilized form of fitness exercise, but they can exponentially affect your performance. This three-part blog series will discuss what isometrics are, why they are so good, and how you can use them.
In Part 1 of the series, let’s define what we are discussing!
What are isometric exercises?
Isometric exercises utilize an isometric contraction of the muscle, which is a contraction in which the muscle is neither shortening nor lengthening as the muscle contracts. A concentric contraction is when the muscle belly is shortening as the muscle contracts (e.g., flexing the elbow as you raise the weight during a biceps curl). An eccentric contraction is when the muscle belly is lengthening as the muscle contracts (e.g., extending the elbow as you lower the weight during a biceps curl).
With isometrics, we are contracting/flexing the muscle, but there is no muscle movement (shortening or lengthening).
What are the types of isometric exercises?
There are many ways to do isometrics, but they all essentially fall into two broad categories:
Yielding isometrics – Yielding isometrics are when you are trying to resist a force, weight, or gravity. These are sometimes called “holding” isometrics. If you were a disruptive student in gym class as a kid, like me, you might fondly remember wall sits… a great example of a yielding isometric exercise.
With yielding isometrics, think deceleration. You are essentially fighting the eccentric (lengthening) contraction. Other examples include:
Holding the top position of a chin-up for the back and biceps
Holding the top position of a push-up for the chest and triceps
You do not have to be fully contracted like the two examples above. Holding a mid-range position, like the wall sits example, or holding a weight halfway through a rep range, would also be a yielding isometric.
Overcoming isometrics – Overcoming isometrics is when you are trying to produce force against an object that will not move. These are sometimes called “pushing” isometrics.
With overcoming isometrics, think acceleration. You are engaging the concentric (shortening) contraction, but the shortening of the muscle is blocked by the immovable object (i.e., bar, strap, etc.). Using a hip belt connected to a strap you are standing on would be an example of a squat pattern. Other examples include:
Pressing an unloaded barbell into the safety pins in the rack (i.e., for bench press, squat, deadlift, etc.)
Use an ankle cuff on the wrist or ankle attached to a strap (NOT a resistance band) and set up a push or pull direction so the strap resists your contraction.
An easy isometric exercise you can do at home or the gym:
The Hip Stability Isometric is one of our favorite isometric exercises to improve squat mechanics. This is an example of overcoming isometrics. Check out this video on how to do it:
Be on the lookout for Part 2 in this blog series on isometrics, where we’ll discuss all the benefits of this type of training!
Consider incorporating isometrics training into your routine to optimize stability, strength, and pain-free movement. It will pay off now and as you age!
Some of Our Favorite Products to Help You Train Isometrics