What Are the Benefits of Isometric Exercise?

Although it may appear somewhat insignificant at first, there are many important isometric exercise benefits that make this activity appealing. Whether you've just had surgery or you're simply looking to vary your fitness routine, isometric training is worth a second look.

Isometric exercise benefits include improved joint stability, lower blood pressure and decreased overall pain, just to mention a few. Credit: FatCamera/E+/GettyImages

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Isometric exercise benefits include improved joint stability, lower blood pressure and decreased overall pain, just to mention a few. This training method can improve your health and overall fitness.

What Is Isometric Exercise?

According to the Mayo Clinic, isometric exercises involve turning on or contracting your muscle without actually changing the position of the joint that the muscle typically moves. During an isometric exercise, tension is created in the muscle's tendon that is activated, but the muscle itself does not shorten or lengthen.

Putting your palms under a heavy tabletop and lightly lifting upwards is an example of a biceps isometric exercise. Because your elbow doesn't move as you do this, you're not shortening or lengthening the muscle fibers. However, you are still activating the biceps muscle and thus creating some load through the muscle's tendon.

Read more: Isometric Exercises for Lower Back

This differentiates isometric strengthening from other forms of exercise. With concentric training, the muscle shortens as the exercise is performed. One example of this would be doing a biceps curl with a dumbbell.

Conversely, eccentric training involves muscle lengthening (such as holding a dumbbell in your hand with your elbow bent and slowly letting the arm straighten). While each type of contraction has its specific purpose, there are many different advantages of isometric exercises.

Improving Joint Stability

Because your joint stays in one particular position while your muscle contracts, isometric exercise alone isn't a great way to build strength. However, one of the important advantages of isometric contractions is the role they can play in improving joint stability.

Your muscles frequently contract and relax throughout the day to keep your joints secure. Performing isometric exercises on an unstable or injured joint can help improve the overall stability of the affected area by teaching your muscles to fire effectively once again.

This can be particularly useful for several groups of people. Individuals whose joints are afflicted with arthritis may want to try shoulder isometric exercises to improve stability in the affected area without causing unnecessary strain. In this situation, it can be painful to move a particular joint through its full range of motion. Instead, isometric exercises allow you to turn on the muscles without moving the joint itself.

Furthermore, people with an acute injury, such as a rotator cuff strain, may also want to try shoulder isometric exercises to improve joint stability without further irritating the injured muscle. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons offers several isometric exercise examples, including the following movement:

  1. Stand next to a wall with your elbow bent at a 90-degree angle.
  2. Move your arm away from your body and into the wall, keeping your elbow bent.
  3. Push with an intensity that does not cause pain and hold for five seconds before relaxing.
  4. Repeat the exercise 10 times each session and up to three times per day.

Lowering Your Blood Pressure

One of the biggest advantages of isometric resistance training lies in its ability to lower blood pressure. According to a March 2014 systematic review and meta-analysis published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, healthy adults aged 18 and over who participated in regular isometric strengthening for longer than eight weeks saw clinically meaningful decreases in systolic and diastolic blood pressures as well as in arterial pressure.

Read more: Raised Blood Pressure and Bodybuilding

To reap these benefits, start with a handgrip isometric exercise and then gradually add new movements to your routine. Follow the steps below to try this technique. As always, it's a good idea to speak to your doctor about your blood pressure prior to beginning a new fitness regimen.

  1. Use your dominant arm to hold a firm object (like a baseball or the handle of a hammer) in your palm.
  2. Attempt to clench the item for two minutes straight using about 30 percent of your total effort.
  3. Complete this squeeze four times in a session and at least three times each week.

Decreasing Your Pain

Another potential benefit of isometric training is its ability to decrease the severity of pain you are experiencing. As reported in a December 2012 systematic review in the_ Journal of Pain_, individuals who engaged in isometric training experienced less pain during and after performing the contraction. Aerobic and dynamic resistance exercises produced similar results in some participants.

Ideally, try to hold an isometric contraction for two to five minutes and perform it at 40 to 50 percent of the maximum effort. This can be done daily to help relieve pain. Try the exercise below if you're experiencing pain in the front of your knee.

  1. Sit in a chair with a belt looped around your lower leg and one of the chair's legs.
  2. Kick into the belt with 40 to 50 percent of your effort as though you were trying to extend your leg.
  3. Hold the contraction for two to five minutes and then relax your knee.

As with all types of exercise, consistency is the key. Perform this movement regularly to fully reap its benefits.

Warnings and Precautions

While there are many other isometric exercise benefits, this type of training isn't for everyone. Isometric exercises generally focus on muscle activation in one particular range. Because of this, they're unlikely to help people looking to increase their overall muscular strength or build mass.

Additionally, individuals with uncontrolled systolic or diastolic blood pressure or with a recent elevation in blood pressure should speak to their physician about any new exercise before trying it. The same is true for people with a recent worsening of their arthritis in a particular joint.

Read more: Why Are My Muscles Sore If I Did Not Exercise?

It's important to speak to your doctor before trying isometric exercises if you've experienced a new injury or trauma or if you've undergone surgery recently. Healthcare professionals may have a specific protocol that they want you to follow, and deviating from this could jeopardize the outcome of surgical interventions or put you at risk for further injuries and complications.

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