It turns out there are benefits to staying still. We get a bunch of PTs to explain all about isometric training. 

Head to most gym classes or YouTube workouts, and even in a strength session, you’ll be made to jump squat, press up or doing burpees in the finisher. Everything’s about raising that heart rate. Workouts seem to be about moving as much as possible.

But not everyone wants to have a sweaty sesh. So, how can you build muscle if you’re not up for doing a load of movement? The answer lies in isometric training – the benefits of which are huge and wide ranging, from lowering blood pressure to protecting tendons and ligaments.

Sound like something you want to try? We’ve grabbed a bunch of PTs to explain exactly what isometric training is and how to do it to build strength.

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What is isometric training?  

“Isometric is a static contraction,” explains PT Alice Miller, “which means that the length of the muscle and angle of the joint don’t change, but the muscles are working. If your muscle lengthens it’s eccentrics, when it shortens it’s concentric. Training all three is important.” 

There are three different movements that the muscle can go through, explains Emma Obayuvana. These include:

  1. Concentric contraction – when the muscle is shortening, for example when you’re lifting in a bicep curl Eccentric contraction – when the muscle is lengthening, eg the lowering phase of a bicep curl
  2. Isometric – imagine you’re holding a curl at 90 degrees, so the muscle is undergoing tension, but it’s not lengthening or shortening

What are the best isometric exercises?

What are the best isometric exercises?

Planks

“It doesn’t have to be complicated: you’ve probably already been doing isometric training without realising,” Miller explains. 

Think: planks, side planks, or anything where you’re not moving but muscle is contracting and holding one position is isometric training. 

“Isometric exercise is often about finding your sticking point,” she continues. “For example, if you’re finding it hard to move fully through a press-up, you could do an isometric hold at the bottom of the move. It’s the same with weighted moves when we do pause reps. For example, you might hold at the bottom of a back squat for a few seconds before you come out.”

Holding

Obayuvana flags the following moves:

  • Wall sit
  • Squat hold
  • Lower press-up hold (holding an inch off the floor)

“You can also utilise isometric training by statically pushing or pulling. For example, if there’s a deadlift bar that’s too heavy to lift you can pull against it and it will work the muscles even if it’s not coming up off the floor,” Obayuvana explains.

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Will isometric training make you stronger?

Improved muscle strength

“It will benefit your strength and performance. Generally, it’s about spending time under tension to build strength through the muscle,” says Miller. “In pause reps, you are getting stronger because you’re increasing your power out of the bottom of a position.”

Better functional fitness

Miller flags that while isometric training might have obvious benefits to your workouts in general, it also has real benefits in the real world. “For example, it sounds so basic, but you have to be able to generate power to get up from a chair. That’s what you’re practicing with this.”

Muscle maintenance

“Isometric training helps with muscle maintenance and muscle gain,” Obayuvana explains. That means avoiding losing any muscle as you age – which is hugely important for health and longevity. 

More muscle control

“It helps to increase the control you have over multiple muscle groups,” Obayuvana says. “By that I mean the mind-to-body connection, so you’re actually able to understand and feel the muscle groups you’re working and you’re able to self correct as well.”

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Images: Getty

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