Isometric Exercises – Build Muscle Without Movement

Isometric Exercises – Build Muscle Without Movement

Imagine increasing your muscle strength, improving your posture, and doing it all without moving and the risk of joint strain or expensive equipment. Isometric exercises make exactly that possible. They are an efficient and safe training method designed to build muscle strength by tensing and holding the muscles in a fixed position. CARE introduces you to simple but powerful isometric exercises. Isometric training offers many benefits for beginners, advanced athletes, and even people in rehabilitation.

Blog Author Elena Health Coach at CARE
Elena Iagovitina

Health Coach

Published in Activity
8 min read · Apr 29, 2024

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What Are Isometric Exercises?

Isometric exercises are a form of strength training in which the muscles are tensed through static strength exercises without changing the length of the muscles and without any visible movement in the joints. A classic example is the “plank” position. [1]

In isometric exercises, the muscle works against an immovable resistance, such as a wall or your body weight. This type of exercise is often used for rehabilitation, muscle building, and strengthening, as it strengthens the muscles without stressing the joints.

Isometric training can be particularly useful for increasing muscle strength in a specific body region or rehabilitating a muscle without using the full range of motion. In addition, isometric exercises are a safe and effective way to improve fitness, as they can be performed without special equipment and require little space. They are ideal for people who want to optimize their fitness and quality of life through targeted strength training.

Can You Build Muscle Mass With Isometric Exercises?

You can build muscle with isometric fitness! An isometric workout is effective for increasing muscle strength and building muscle, especially if you are just starting out with strength training or want to get back into it after an injury or break. [2]

Isometric exercises create an intense muscle contraction that stimulates the muscle fibers to adapt to the load. This adaptation can lead to an increase in muscle mass. As the muscle is under tension for longer during these exercises, the blood flow to the muscle increases, leading to an improved metabolism in the muscle tissue. [3]

You should hold the isometric tension long enough to achieve effective muscle building through isometric exercises. Experts recommend holding each position for 20 to 30 seconds and integrating the exercises into your training plan on a regular basis. It is also helpful to gradually increase the intensity by extending the holding time or increasing the resistance, for example, by using weights, dumbbells, or stretch bands/elastic bands.

Combine isometric exercises with other forms of training to develop a comprehensive fitness program that supports all aspects of muscle development. This way, you can improve strength and endurance and build muscle effectively.

Who Is Isometric Training Suitable For?

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Isometric training is suitable for a wide range of people and can be particularly useful in different contexts:

  • Fitness beginners: For people who are new to strength training, isometric exercises offer a safe and easy way to start building muscle. Because there is no movement in the joints, there is less risk of injury, making it a good introduction to the world of strength training.
  • People with injuries: Isometric training is ideal for those recovering from an injury or having limited physical ability to exercise. Because the joints remain stable and are not stressed by movement, isometric exercises can help restore muscle strength without interfering with the healing process or engaging your full range of motion. [3]
  • Advanced athletes: Isometric training can also benefit experienced athletes, significantly strengthening specific muscle groups and improving holding power in certain positions, which is helpful in many sports disciplines. [1] [2]
  • Older adults: Older people also benefit from isometric exercises as they can increase muscle strength without putting a lot of strain on their joints. This can help maintain mobility and velocity and reduce the risk of falls and injuries. [4]
  • People with limited space or equipment: Isometric training usually requires no special equipment and can be performed in a small space, making it ideal for people who want to exercise at home or do not have access to a gym.
  • People who want to reduce stress: Isometric training, like all physical exercise, can also have a meditative quality as it requires concentration on muscle contraction and helps to distract from other thoughts, which can contribute to stress reduction and mental health. [5]

Would you like to know whether isometric exercises would be useful for you? Your health coach can help you evaluate which training methods are best for you.

Isometric Exercises – 5 Examples

Isometric exercises are a great way to build strength without putting a lot of stress on your joints.

CARE has curated some classic examples of isometric exercises, including detailed instructions:

The Plank – Core Strength

  1. Start in a push-up position with your hands directly under your shoulders. Alternatively, you can rest on your forearms if this is more comfortable for your wrists and align your elbows with your shoulders.
  2. Extend your legs back so that you are standing on your toes.
  3. Engage your abs by pulling your belly button towards your spine, keeping your body in a straight line from your head to your heels.
  4. Make sure your hips are not sagging or too high in the air.
  5. Hold the plank for 20 to 30 seconds or longer, depending on your ability.

The Wall Sit – Quadriceps & Upper Thighs

  1. Lean your back straight against a wall and move your feet about two feet away from the wall.
  2. Slowly slide your back down the wall until your knees are bent at a 90-degree angle.
  3. Ensure your knees are directly above your ankles and your back is completely against the wall.
  4. Hold this position for as long as possible, ideally 20–30 seconds to a minute, to strengthen your upper thigh and core muscles.

The Hand Press – Chest, Shoulders & Arms

  1. Stretch your arms out in front of you to level your palms with your chest.
  2. Now press your palms firmly together and hold this isometric contraction without moving your hands and arms.
  3. Hold this contraction for 20 to 30 seconds, then relax and repeat the exercise.

The Isometric Bicep Curl – Entire Brachii (Biceps)

  1. Stand or sit with one arm bent at a 90-degree angle as if you were curling a weight.
  2. Use the other hand to provide resistance by placing it on your wrist or hand and pressing it down.
  3. Try to curl the arm while the other hand maintains the resistance.
  4. Hold the tension for 20 to 30 seconds, then switch sides to strengthen all biceps muscles.

Bridge Pose – Back Muscles

  1. Lie on your back, place your feet flat on the floor, and bend your knees.
  2. Engage your glutes and core to lift your hips until your shoulders, hips, and knees form a straight line.
  3. Hold this position for 20 to 30 seconds before lowering your hips again. Make sure you don't make a hollow back.

How Long Should You Hold Isometric Exercises?

The optimal duration for holding isometric contractions depends on your fitness level and training goals. It is generally recommended to hold each isometric exercise for around 20 to 30 seconds to achieve muscle growth and gain muscle strength. However, exercises can

be successful for as little as holding 3–10 seconds of isometric contraction. [6] For advanced exercisers, this time can be extended up to 60 seconds or longer to increase muscle strength and build muscle mass and endurance.

It is also important to pay attention to your body's signals. If you are new to isometric exercises, start with shorter intervals and gradually increase the duration as you get stronger and more enduring.

The regularity of the training also plays a role, as more frequent, shorter sessions can be helpful, especially in the early stages, to get the muscles used to the strain without risking muscle fatigue or tremors.

What Are the Benefits of Isometric Exercises?

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Isometric exercises are good strength exercises that offer a variety of benefits that make them a valuable addition to any fitness program:

  • Improve muscle strength: Isometric exercises can effectively increase the strength of individual muscle groups by forcing the muscles to maintain a constant isometric tension for a prolonged period. [1]
  • Low risk of injury: As there is no joint movement in isometric exercises, there is less risk of injury from excessive strain or incorrect movements, making them particularly suitable for beginners or people in rehabilitation. [4]
  • Flexibility in training: Isometric exercises require little to no equipment and can be performed almost anywhere, making them a very accessible training method.
  • Efficiency: They allow for a quick and effective workout as each isometric exercise only needs to be held for a short time and is still effective.
  • Improving muscle control and posture: These exercises help to improve posture and raise awareness of body alignment, as they often require good alignment and muscle control. [1] [2]
  • Increase muscle tone and density: Isometric exercise can help increase muscle tone definition and density, which improves overall physical appearance and functionality. [1] [2]
  • Reducing stress: Isometric exercise can help reduce stress, as physical exercise generally requires a high concentration level, minimizing distracting thoughts and initiating physical processes that improve overall health. [5]
  • Applicability in therapeutic and rehabilitative settings: They are particularly valuable for rehabilitation as they can strengthen specific muscles without straining potentially impaired areas. [4]

What Are the Potential Disadvantages of Isometric Exercises?

Although isometric training offers many advantages, it also has some limitations. CARE has summarized the potential disadvantages for you:

  • Limited range of motion: Isometric exercises only improve muscle strength in the specific muscle groups that they engage. This means that the gained muscle strength is not transferred to the full range of motion.
  • Less functional benefits: Because dynamic movements are required in everyday life and many sports, isometric exercises may not provide the same functional benefits as forms of exercise that take you through full ranges of motion.
  • Increase in blood pressure: Isometric exercises can lead to a significant increase in blood pressure during execution. This may pose a risk to people with cardiovascular disease or high blood pressure. [3]
  • Monotony: Some people find isometric exercise less motivating or interesting because there is little variation in movement and the exercises are static. To maximize training success, combine isometric exercises with other forms of exercise, such as endurance training and HIIT.
  • Require regular adaptation: To achieve continuous progress, the intensity of isometric exercises must be regularly increased, which can be achieved through longer holding times or the use of aids such as resistance bands. These adjustments are necessary for progress to continue.
  • Risk of muscle fatigue: Holding the muscles in constant tension over a longer period of time can lead to muscle fatigue, which can cause tremors or muscle strains, especially if your recovery times are insufficient.
  • Difficulty measuring progress: Unlike dynamic exercises, where progress is easily measurable through increased weights or more repetitions, isometric exercises can be more difficult to quantify actual progress.

Optimize Your Fitness & Muscle Strength With CARE

With CARE, you can take your preventative healthcare and fitness into your own hands. CARE gives you access to state-of-the-art medical technology and experts in the fields of medicine, nutrition, and sports.

Discuss your individual fitness and health goals with your CARE health coach and improve your blood values with customized supplements, lifestyle changes, and personal workout plans.

Unlock your full health potential with CARE because how you live today will largely determine how fit and healthy you will be when you are of age.

Take your health into your own hands and book your health check-up now.

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Blog Author Elena Health Coach at CARE

Elena Iagovitina

Health Coach at CARE Zurich

About the author

Elena is an enthusiastic Health Coach and blog writer at CARE, with a passion for holistic medicine and health. Previously, Elena worked for almost five years as a coach leading retreats, workshops, and seminars. These included mind-body therapy: breath work, meditation, and massage; as well as energy force therapy: reiki, and qi gong; and third expressive therapy: movement, writing and support groups. Elena shares exciting articles on the blog, on the topic of where the alternative and traditional medicine intersect with Western Medicine. Elena is also the driving force behind the CARE community. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, traveling to remote locations and dancing. You might also see her on the lake of Zurich as a coast guard. Join her on her journey to learn more about health and discover the world of preventive medicine! Visit all articles written by Elena!