Examples of Isometric Exercises

The Versatility of Still Exercise

By Paul "Batman" O'Brien 

B.A., N.C.E.H.S., Dip. Acu., Cert Clin. IMed., Dip. Adv. OBB, Dip. CHM, Pn1, PN-SSR, PN-NCA, M.AFPA., M.C.Th.A.

"Examples of Isometric Exercises, that's all I'm looking for!" This was a question I got from my Facebook page a while back (and you should check out that Page - I post daily tips, articles and content AND I answer YOUR questions). It's a simple question and I'll give you the answer and several examples of Isometric Exercise that you can right now and get started building leaner, stronger muscles and fantastic body with just minutes of exercise by activating your muscles by as much as 95.2% far higher than any other form of training!  (“Activation of Human Quadriceps Femoris During Isometric, Concentric, and Eccentric Contractions” by Nicholas Babault et al, 2001)

Isometric Exercises are where there is NO moving of the joint. As such they are also called static contraction. An isometric contraction is

“a type of strength training in which the joint angle and muscle length do not change during contraction (compared to concentric or eccentric contractions, called isotonic movements). Isometrics are done in static positions, rather than being dynamic through a range of motion. The joint and muscle are either worked against an immovable force or are held in a static position while opposed by resistance”.

You can therefore perform Isometric Exercise in any number of ways. I'm going to give you 5 Examples of Isometric Exercises; each one is a different application of an isometric contraction. 

Examples of Isometric Exercises - Overcoming Isometrics

Door Frame Shoulder PressDoor Frame Shoulder Press

In this form of Isometrics you press or pull and object you can't move; for instance trying to performing a shoulder press on the lintel of a doorway or against the floor or a wall. Ultimately you are contracting your muscles against an immovable force. I'm a big fan of these and I often use floor's, wall's, and door frames to challenge myself. Here's an example that you can try right now.:

Door Frame Shoulder Press

1.       Stand beneath an open doorway

2.       Raise your arms up shoulder width apart

3.       Press upwards on the door frame as hard as you can

4.       Hold this Position for 30 seconds.

5.       Slowly release – this is important, after intense contraction your body needs time to unwind.

I do NOT use weights for these types of Isometric Contractions - the reason being that I can often lift impossibly high numbers and as such they are not true isometrics - just very heavy partial repetitions. (If you want to learn more about why this isn't an isometric contraction check out this series - The Dangers of Static Contraction)

Examples of Isometric Exercises - The Paused Isometric Contraction

The Paused Isometric is used a lot in conventional bodybuilding circles. Essentially at a specific point in the movement, often between the 90-120 degree range you pause and simply hold the weight in this position for time before continuing on with the movement. This can be useful for sticking point training - a weak point in your range of motion, or to exhaust the glycogen supplies in the muscle tissue. 

Examples of Isometric Exercises - Yielding Isometric Exercise

In this example an isometric contraction is performed against a weight or resistance that slowly forces an eccentric contraction. This is resisted as much as possible to maintain the isometric contraction. This was an absolute favourite finisher of mine when I used to train people with conventional methods like full range lifting. I thought the gains being produced were from the combination of full range lifts and Isometrics - I was wrong. It turned out the Iso's on their own where more than sufficient to produce the incredible results that we saw in size and strength in my clients.

This can be done in a number of ways - at the end of your workout, say on a biceps curl select the heaviest weight you can and hold that at a 90 degree angle. Hold for as long as you can. Your muscles will fatigue, resist as hard as you can. Ultimately you'll be unable to sustain the isometric contraction and will yield to the weight.

You can perform killer eccentric ladders in this manner. Select the next lowest weight and repeat. Your arms will be on fire and by the time you reach the bottom of the weight static you won't be able to use your arms for a few days! The burn from this is something else.

If you're an avid weight lifter, add this little technique into your workout as a finisher to really make some inroads into muscle building. . This technique on its own has been shown to increase muscle volume and mass by 12.4% over the course of just 10 weeks! (Effects of Equivolume Isometric Training Programs Comprising Medium or High Resistance on Muscle Size and Strength by Kanehisa et al. 2002)

These can also be effectively performed using gravity - for instance maintaining a 90 degree angle of the elbow during a pull up or chin up for example...which neatly leads onto the next Isometric contraction style - 

Examples of Isometric Exercises - Isometrics for Time and Intensity 

Time affects Intensity and Intensity affects time so I'll examine both methods briefly here - 

Different authors will recommend different times under isometric tension. Pete Sisco and John Little (who wrote art of expressing the human body on Lee’s training methods) recommend as little as 5 seconds. Mueller and Hettinger recommend upwards of 10. Steve Justa advocates isometric holds for longer than three minutes, as does Matt Furey, and Shroeder. And Bruce Lee varied between 7 seconds and 8 hours. (Yes, he performed an 8 hour isometric hold).

The reason for this is intensity level and fiber stimulation. You can hold an isometric contraction with anything from 1% -100% intensity. Justa advised holds of 35% of max for long periods of time. (Similar to martial arts). Sisco and Little advocate a max contraction approx 90-100% for 5-7 seconds. I recommend a 7-12 second contraction because the majority of people starting these exercises cannot produce a full muscular contraction, even with the best of intentions and trying their hardest most will only produce an 80% contraction so a few additional seconds are recommended. Studies now show that as little as a 1/4 of a second in needed to stimulate growth and strength increases.

Examples of Isometric Exercises - Combined Isometrics 

As we've seen with both the Paused and Yielding Isometrics - you can easily integrate these into a workout and in fact combine and add on Isometrics in variety of manners, including ballistic Isometrics (common in Martial arts), Alternating Max lifts (Isometric Contraction, followed by full range lift, followed by Max Iso etc). These can of course be integrated into any workout - bodyweight, machine and free weight - and can completely revolutionise your workout and supercharge your results.

What to do next -

What to do next...

1. Bookmark this page - the links in the side nav bar act as an index to free Isometric Exercises you can use for every body part. Come back here and just select the workout you want to do today. I've written exercises for every part of the body, simply click the link to do the workouts.

2. Sign up for my Isometric-Training newsletter, there's weekly tips, tricks and exercise guides to get you in great shape fast.

3. Sign up to the Facebook fan page. Daily motivation, Q&A's, workouts, nutrition and more.

4. If you really want to get great at Isometrics check out my beginners program - 7 Seconds to a Perfect Body program. It has everything you need to do equipment free, hassle free 5 minute and less workouts that will get your the body of your dreams and near superhuman strength.

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