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What are isometric exercises?

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner

Isometric exercises are exercises that utilize pushing and pulling motions to keep muscles strong. Your athletic performance and speed will get no benefit from isometric exercises, so these exercises are often reserved for those with injuries or painful conditions like arthritis. Isometric exercises are often found in physical therapy situations to help maintain strength in a given muscle area.

Isometric exercises are exercises that produce a muscle contraction with little to no bodily movement, and are often held for a period of time (generally 30-60 seconds). Isometric type exercises are commonly used in rehabilitation conditioning programs.

An example of an isometric exercise is the wall sit.
Isometric exercises use muscle contractions without joint movement. The resistance should be very light at first, and then increased very gradually as pain allows and as strength increases.  You can use your hand or a rubber tube or elastic band as resistance with isometrics.
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Isometric exercises involve contractions that generate force against resistance. A common example is pressing your hands against a brick wall. However, any contraction of a muscle that is held for several seconds and then released follows the same principle as pushing against an outside force. This is how quadriceps repetitions work. You lie on your back and straighten one leg by contracting your front thigh muscle. Then you lift your leg slightly off the floor and stay there for a count of five or ten, and then relax.
Isometric exercises are those that generate internal tension but do not produce any movement. Any example would be pushing hard against a wall and producing tension but not moving the wall or a wrestler at a standstill with another wrestler in a match. Outside of rehabilitation settings isometric exercises are rarely used since they have very little application in real life or sports settings.

Isometric exercise is typically muscle activation without any movement either toward or away from resistance. Although there is no real movement, the muscles are still engaged. Isometric exercises are not the best method for gaining strength, as the muscles are not lengthening and shortening. 

Isometric exercises are often challenging and people tend to strain or hold their breath while holding the position. This straining can make blood pressure increase, so isometric exercises are generally not recommended for people with high blood pressure. Yoga often includes isometric exercises and it is very important to breath properly during yoga.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.