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Isometric exercises

What are isometric exercises? What are the benefits? Isometric exercise and blood pressure. Examples of isometric exercises.

What are isometric exercises?

Isometric exercises (also called static exercises) are the tightening (contraction) of a specific muscle or muscle group, during which the length of the muscle does not noticeably change, and the joints involved do not move.

Since isometric exercises are performed in a stationary (static) position, they do not help to improve speed. They aim to improve stability – helping to improve joint stability, strengthen the core muscles and increase endurance.

Isometric exercises can be performed with or without weights and can be done by anyone, anywhere, regardless of their fitness level. In most cases, resistance is provided by using your body weight or strength when performing isometric exercises.

 

One of the most popular isometric exercises is the plank, where we resist gravity by tensing the leg, upper body and core muscles.

This and other isometric exercise postures are rarely seen in everyday life.

However.

Isometric muscle action is a key component of human movement and postural control, and isometric exercises are the best way to train it.

The ability to maintain a stable posture is essential for everyone – whether an elite athlete or any of us.

 

Isometric exercises are also commonly used in rehabilitation programmes as they can increase muscle strength with limited joint and muscle movement. This allows a person to rebuild strength and muscular endurance at the point of injury while protecting it from further damage.

 

Benefits of isometric exercises

Improves muscle endurance – reduces fatigue during physical activities;

  1. Improves joint stability – reduces the risk of injury.
  2. Suitable for people with joint problems or injuries – low-intensity exercises reduce the stress on joints while providing an effective strength workout.
  3. Improves posture – reduces the risk of musculoskeletal problems associated with poor posture, such as back pain, etc.
  4. Can help regulate blood pressure – isometric exercises can cause a temporary increase in blood pressure, which improves vascular health (makes arteries more flexible, improves blood flow, etc.).
  5. Isometric exercises can be performed almost anywhere as they do not require any equipment.
  6. Isometric exercises can help to overcome plateaus in traditional strength training.
 

Application of isometric exercises

Isometric exercises are most often used as part of a comprehensive training program.

The ability to control speed, stop and change direction is essential. This applies to both – athletes (e.g. sprinting on the football pitch) and simple activities such as drinking water or moving shopping bags.

Isometric exercises are not the most effective way to develop strength but are usually used to strengthen the core muscles (Isometric exercises are performed in one position without movement, so they only improve strength in one specific position. To improve muscular strength over the full range of movement of the limbs, a large number of exercises should be performed over the full range of movement).

In other words, their goal is to develop an optimal level of stability to minimize unwanted spinal movements, maintain spinal and lumbar stability, and promote joint efficiency.

 

We can test our ability to control our posture when we finish one movement and start the next. For example, when doing a squat, there is a moment when the downward movement stops before we return to a standing position.

Regardless of fitness level, by performing a series of increasingly deeper squats, everyone will eventually discover a threshold at which they can no longer maintain stability at the lowest point of the squat.

The reasons may range from movement disorders and poor neuromuscular control to fatigue and exhaustion.

Isometric exercises are ideal for increasing our ability to minimise movement and stabilise our posture at these critical moments.

 

Isometric exercises are also widely used in physical rehabilitation, where they are used to benefit various neuromuscular and musculoskeletal conditions, such as acute and chronic pain.

Isometric exercises also help to improve stability and strength in those who cannot move fully, such as people who are too unstable or in pain during movement and, therefore, cannot exercise in traditional ways.

 

Isometric exercise can lower blood pressure

According to a systematic review published in 2024, which looked at 270 studies (involving almost 16,000 participants with and without medical conditions), isometric exercise was better than other forms of exercise at lowering blood pressure.

The study compared how much the participants’ resting blood pressure dropped after different exercise programmes:

  1. Aerobic exercise (e.g. cycling, walking and jogging).
  2. Resistance/strength training (e.g. weight lifting).
  3. Combined training (strength and aerobic exercises).
  4. High-intensity interval training (HIIT).
  5. Isometric exercises (e.g. plank, wall sit).
 

Although all five exercise programmes lowered blood pressure, isometric exercise was the most effective, followed by combined training, resistance training, aerobic exercise and HIIT.

The most effective exercise was wall sit (static sitting posture – back against the wall and thighs parallel to the floor).

The effectiveness of isometric exercises was explained by the stress they put on the body – relaxing the muscles after several minutes of tension causes a sudden rush of blood, increasing blood flow.

 

Examples of isometric exercises

 

1 Wall sit

The wall sit is aimed at increasing the strength of the thighs, particularly the quadriceps femoris.

The exercise engages the quadriceps (front of the thigh), hamstrings and glutes:

  1. Stand approximately 60cm from a wall.
  2. Support your back against the wall.
  3. Bend your knees and lower your bottom down so that your knee joints form a 90-degree angle. Your body position should be similar to that of sitting in a chair.
  4. Hold this position for at least 20 seconds or more. Make sure that your hips and shoulders are in contact with the wall and that your knees are above your ankles at all times.
  5. Repeat the exercise 3 to 6 times.
 

Experiment with shifting the weight back and forth, moving the weight towards the toes and heels. If you shift the weight towards the heels, you will engage the gluteal muscles more, and if you shift the weight towards the toes, the front of the thighs.

 

2 High plank

This exercise effectively engages the abdominals, quadriceps, glutes, arms, chest and shoulders:

  1. Stand on all fours with your hands on the floor at shoulder width.
  2. Straighten your body. The position of the body is the same as when doing a push-up from the floor at the moment when the arms are straightened. Make sure your legs are straight and in line with your stomach and shoulders.
  3. Hold this position for 20 to 60 seconds or as long as you can keep your body straight.
  4. Repeat 2 to 4 times.
 

3 Side plank

The side plank is an excellent exercise for training the obliques, spinal stabilizers, quadriceps, glutes, serratus anterior, shoulder stabilizers, and hip abductors:

  1. Lie on your side, legs placed on top of each other.
  2. Place the elbow directly under the shoulder, forming a 90-degree angle with the forearm. Your body, viewed from above, should be in a straight line from head to toe.
  3. Lift your hips off the ground, keeping your body in a straight line. Make sure your shoulder is directly above your elbow.
  4. Place your free hand on your hip or extend it towards the ceiling.
  5. Hold this position for 20 to 60 seconds or as long as you can keep your body straight.
  6. Repeat 2 to 4 times on each side.
 

4 Low squat

This exercise works the front of the thighs, hamstrings and glutes:

  1. Stand upright, feet slightly wider than hip-width apart. The toes can be turned slightly outwards. Hands on hips or straight ahead.
  2. Slowly move the hips down and back into a sitting position while bending the knees, but do not move the knees forward.
  3. Continue to move your hips downwards until your bottom is slightly below knee level. If you cannot squat that far, try to squat until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Keep your heels close to the floor and your back straight (do not lean forward).
  4. Hold this position for 10-30 seconds and then return to the starting position.
  5. Repeat 3 to 5 times.
 

5 Overhead weight hold

Equipment required – light to medium weight (5 to 10 kg dumbbells or water bottles, etc.)

The exercise works the upper trapezius, shoulder muscles, triceps and core muscles:

  1. Stand up straight, stretch your arms above your head and hold the weight steady. Make sure your arms are fully extended and in line with your shoulders.
  2. Hold the weight above your head for 20 to 30 seconds or longer.
  3. Try the exercise standing on one leg.
  4. Repeat 2 to 5 times.
 

6 Glute bridge

This exercise improves the strength of the back muscles.

During the exercise, the hamstrings, glutes and core muscles are engaged:

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent. Hands at sides, heels 30 to 40 cm from buttocks.
  2. Supporting on the heels, move the hips upwards. Make sure that your ribs do not flare during this movement. The tailbone should be slightly tucked, the abdominal muscles tight, and the feet flat on the floor. When you feel your glutes and hamstrings starting to tire, try not to relax your hips or arch your back.
  3. Hold the position for at least 30 seconds.
  4. Repeat 3 to 5 times.
 

7 V-sit

The V-sit helps to improve the stability of the mid-body while also developing core strength.

During the exercise, the abdominal muscles and hip flexors are engaged:

  1. Sit on your bottom with your legs bent and feet flat on the floor.
  2. Straighten your legs by lifting them off the floor so that they form a ‘V’ shape with your body. Keep your arms at your sides, stretched over your head or forward. Keep your back straight and continue to breathe calmly. If you cannot keep your legs straight, bend them slightly at the knees.
  3. Hold the position for at least 20 seconds or as long as you can.
  4. Repeat 3 to 5 times.
 

8 Calf raise and hold

Calves are commonly forgotten, but their strength and endurance are very important to us.

During the exercise, the calves (gastrocnemius, soleus) are engaged:

  1. Stand facing the wall about 60cm away. Feet hip-width apart.
  2. With hands on hips (or lightly leaning against the wall), lift your heels off the ground.
  3. Try alternating the exercise with one leg and the other.
  4. Hold the position for at least 30 to 40 seconds or longer.
  5. Repeat 3 to 5 times.
 

A few tips

For maximum benefit:

  • Focus on the correct execution of the exercises. To prevent injury – the exercise is finished when you can no longer hold your body in the correct position.
  • When performing the exercise, try to maximise the tension of the muscles involved. This will help to ensure the correct execution of the exercise and better activate the muscles, leading to greater strength and endurance.
  • Many people hold their breath during isometric exercises. This is not correct – breathe throughout the exercise.
  • Don’t overexert yourself. You may be tempted to hold a position for as long as possible, but this can overload the body and cause injury. It is better to concentrate on performing the exercise correctly.
  • If an exercise doesn’t seem right for you, it may be better to skip it. If you are recovering from an injury, always listen to the advice of your physiotherapist, doctor or trainer.
 

Key takeaways

There are a lot of isometric exercises – everyone can find the ones that suit them best and incorporate them into their workout routine to get the best results.

But.

For best results, focus on correct execution, muscle engagement and breathing.

Isometric exercises are ideal for those limited in space, recovering from injury or looking for a new challenge.

Always remember that these exercises can be adapted to your current fitness level. For example, if a 20-second plank is too challenging, reduce the time to 15 or 10 seconds and then increase the time as you get stronger.

If you are bored with your current training routine, isometric exercises might be just what you need.

 

Exercise, eat a balanced diet and – stay healthy!                                    

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