Isometric Workout Programs

Holding your body in a plank position is probably tougher than you think.
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If you’re tired of all those reps, isometric exercise may be just what you’ve been looking for. Isometric exercise is like doing one long repetition, but that doesn’t mean it’s easier than traditional exercise – to the contrary, in many cases. Before you set sail on a new isometric workout program, it’s important to know all the facts to see if it’s right for you.

How It Works

An isometric exercise is one in which you hold your muscles and associated joints in the same position for a specified period. So instead of doing traditional dumbbell biceps curls, you would hold the dumbbell in the halfway, or any other, position of the biceps curl movement. The benefit of isometric exercise is that you can put lots of stress directly on your muscles, which in turn builds strength and muscle in an efficient manner. In fact, isometric exercise can promote nearly all of the muscle fibers to “join in” while traditional up-down, push-pull reps don’t recruit quite as many muscle fibers during the movement.


Although isometric workout programs are efficient strength-builders, they come with risks and limitations. Using the previous example of an isometric dumbbell biceps curl, this exercise only builds strength in the bicep at the angle in which you’re holding the weight. So you would have to do several reps at various angles to really build strength in the entire range of motion of the biceps. Another drawback of isometric workouts is that it’s not a good choice if you have heart problems or high blood pressure because the extreme stress you place on your muscles shoots your blood pressure up.

Examples of Isometric Exercises

Full-body isometric programs are available, but you can also create your own using several of the most common isometric exercises. A short list of some effective isometric exercises includes isometric pushups, planks, side bridges, wall squats, isometric calf raises, isometric crunches and pushing against the wall. For strength-building purposes, hold each contraction for three to five seconds and do each exercise 15 to 20 times up to three times per week.

Who Isometric Exercises Are For

Isometric exercise isn’t the best choice for all-around strength building, so if that’s your goal, you may be better off with traditional resistance training. However, isometric training does benefit athletes in certain sports – judo, rock climbing, motocross racing, skiers -- or anyone rehabilitating an injury. Any time the full range of motion of an exercise is uncomfortable, painful or not sport-specific, an isometric exercise program may be the answer.

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