There are many different habits and workouts you can do to improve your life. What about doing isometric exercises, what benefits can you expect?
Isometric exercises are a form of strength training exercises where you contract muscles in a static way. The opposite is isotonic exercises where you engage your muscles in a dynamic way.
In simpler terms with isometric exercises, you keep a pose, with just bodyweight or extra weights, for a period of time. The opposite would be doing an exercise like squats where you move up and down.
Some typical examples of isometric exercises are planks and wall sits but with most strength training you can stop and hold somewhere throughout the movement to do an “isometric exercise”.
Keep in mind that like with all types of exercise, isometric exercises involve some injury risk, especially with external weights. Make sure you can do the isometric exercise you have in mind with good technique. If needed search for expert guidance.
Also give the muscle group you worked out enough rest to repair before your next strength training session.
Some people question how useful a workout like this can be but adding isometric exercises to your routine can offer you some of the following amazing benefits.
1. Stronger muscles
Isometric exercises are mostly for improving muscular endurance, and some muscular strength. Extra muscle is not only beneficial for your health in many ways but it is also considered to be visually appealing.
What muscles you will work with isometric exercises depends a lot on the specific exercises you do. Generally speaking, you can work out muscles over your entire body with isometric exercises.
As a strength training beginner, simple isometric bodyweight exercises can be a good way to build some extra muscle mass.
That being said, at some point your body weight may stop being enough resistance to build extra muscle mass. When this is the case bodyweight exercises with external weights or strength training exercises where you use external weights are the next step if you want to keep building extra muscle.
One thing you have to keep in mind is that isotonic exercises, exercises where you go through a motion, are generally more useful for building muscle than isometric exercises.
2. Stronger immune system
Your immune system is a collection of biological processes that protects you from diseases.
You do have to keep in mind that at some point working out can turn into overtraining which can weaken immune function. However, most people don’t come close to this point, especially with a shorter duration exercises like isometric exercises.
3. Can help with losing weight
Losing weight is about using up body fat, which is basically energy stored. To do this you want to make sure that you require more energy throughout the day than there is coming in from food.
One way to try to make this happen is by doing a workout. By increasing the intensity of your movements for a period of time you use up more energy than usual. Doing isometric exercises can help with weight loss since doing a workout with them generally requires more energy than most of your usual daily activities.
The actual number of calories you burn doing isometric exercises will again depend a lot on the specific exercises in the workout. How much external weight you use will also influence the numbers a lot.
Someone doing bodyweight planks will burn fewer calories than someone doing planks with a 33-pound (15 kg) weighted vest. Here are some general estimations for a typical isometric exercise to give you a better idea:
30 minutes of planks, can help you burn around 133-229+ calories depending on weight, intensity, and much more.
Another way workouts, mainly strength training exercises, help you lose weight is by increasing your muscle mass which in turn helps with burning more energy with everything you do.
Isometric exercises generally don’t burn that many calories during the workout. However, they can be a good workout for building extra muscle mass. This can make isometric exercises a time-efficient type of exercise for long-term calorie burning. If you want to see fast results other exercises than isometric exercises can be better for calorie burning.
Isotonic exercises will also generally help you build more muscle and thus benefit long-term calories burning more than isometric exercises.
Keep in mind that other lifestyle habits like what you eat are important when trying to lose weight no matter what exercise you do. You can work out and gain weight at the same time if your other lifestyle habits are not good.
4. Improved mood
Most people are not always completely aware of it but the physical health of the human body has a big influence on the mood and thoughts of the individual.
Doing isometric exercises doesn’t just help with this by improving general health. There are inevitably many different reasons involved but one reason why workouts like isometric exercises benefit mental health is that they promote the release of endorphins, “feel-good” hormones (6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11).
Besides the actual physiological changes doing isometric exercises will cause, you will likely also have positive feelings about having done something challenging that’s good for you.
5. Builds muscle endurance
Not all muscle is the same, it can be made of different types of muscle fibers. These different types have different properties with accompanying advantages and disadvantages.
A common categorization of these muscle fibers is “type 1, slow-twitch muscle” and “type 2, fast-twitch muscle”. Your muscle groups are not made of one or the other, they are made of a certain ratio of type 1 vs type 2 fibers. The way you train can influence this ratio (12).
The type 1, slow-twitch muscle fibers are generally more useful for longer duration workouts like jogging, swimming at a low tempo, cycling at a low tempo,… Basically activities at intensities you can do for an extended period of time.
The type 2, fast-twitch muscle fibers are generally more useful for short duration, fast body movement workouts like sprints, powerlifting, javelin throwing,…Basically activities at intensities you can only do for a short period of time.
As a strength training beginner, isometric exercises may initially help you build some type 2 muscle fibers. But in general, they will help you build more type 1 muscle fibers since you can generally hold isometric exercises for an extended period of time.
If you want to keep building fast-twitch muscle fibers you want to make your isometric exercises more challenging by doing them with extra weights.
6. Improved cardiovascular health
Your cardiovascular system is the circulatory system inside of your body and includes heart and blood vessels. These transport many types of important nutrients, oxygen, and waste throughout your body.
When you move more intensely your body needs to transport these things, which means using your heart, at a higher rate.
Your heart is a muscle that can be trained by using it more intensely. While isometric exercises mainly focus on other muscles, this workout also makes your heart beat faster and thus helps you strengthen your cardiovascular system. This in turn leads to a wide variety of other benefits (13, 14, 15, 16, 17).
Do keep in mind that muscles can get injured. If you have not done any physical activity in a long time you may want to start out with low-intensity movements and build up from there.
7. Relatively low injury risk
Isometric exercises are still a form of exercise which means there is some amount of injury risk involved. However, because isometric exercises are more static your injury risk is likely lower compared to other forms of exercise.
First of all the technique of isometric exercises is generally more simple compared to other strength training workouts.
Moving around more also increases the possibility of making a wrong move. Especially for people with a lot of joint pain isometric exercises may be helpful since there is less joint movement.
In any case, even with isometric exercises, you want to use the right technique and not overdo it with external weights to avoid injuries.
8. You can do isometric exercises at home
A downside of many exercises is that they need you to be in a specific location, or use specific equipment that you generally don’t have at home.
This makes it so you often have to drive, cycle, or walk somewhere for a while. Let’s say you exercise twice a week and going to your workout takes 10 minutes to get there and 10 minutes to go back. That’s 40 minutes less free time per week.
This extra transportation also makes it easier to say no to your workout. Being able to be consistent is key for a good workout plan.
However, with isometric exercises, you don’t necessarily have to worry about these things. There is a wide variety of isometric exercises you can do as good as anywhere. All you need is a few blocks of free time throughout the day and you can get in an isometric workout.
This benefit of isometric exercises is mostly for strength training beginners and intermediates. At some point, you will likely need a lot of external weights. This requires going to the gym or getting your own weights at home.
9. Low-impact workout
If you exercise a lot, or you plan to, potential injuries are a very relevant concern.
Consistency is a big part of working out. The effectiveness of your workout plan will go down drastically if you can’t exercise for 2 weeks every month because of injuries.
Some exercises like running can be rough on body parts like knees and back. Especially if it is the case that you’re carrying around a few extra pounds.
Luckily most isometric exercises are low-impact workouts, the shocks your body will experience are often relatively soft. If you are injury-sensitive you do want to be careful about doing isometric exercises with very heavy weights. If you are in this situation it may be smart to start with low weights and to slowly build up from there.
10. Reduces injury risk
Even if you don’t plan on doing a lot of workouts, injuries can happen in your daily life and restrict your movements. If you do exercise regularly an injury can reduce the amount of time you can exercise to 0 in the worst case.
Consistency is an important factor when improving your health. Doing one big workout is often not as effective as three medium ones. That means that avoiding periods of injury in which you do no exercise at all can be very beneficial for your health.
11. Can improve posture
When doing the right isometric exercises with the right technique you train muscles that are important for a good posture.
Improving your posture will help you avoid related injuries. One small study even suggests that open non-verbal displays, which a good posture helps with, are attractive (21).
12. Improved cognitive function
Another benefit of workouts like isometric exercises is that they can help you improve your cognitive function in a few ways. First of all, they can help with the prevention of diseases like Alzheimer’s disease (22).
Another way working out benefits cognitive function is by improving brain plasticity (23, 24, 25). Better brain plasticity basically means that you are able to learn things faster, see the connection between things faster, and remember things better.
That means that adding isometric exercises to your routine can benefit you by improving areas like your academic performance, job performance, and much more.
13. Lowers LDL
LDL, also known as low-density lipoproteins, is considered to be “bad” cholesterol since there are negative side effects associated with having high levels of LDL in your blood.
14. Slows down aging
Most people think of age as the number of days, months, and years that have passed since the day they were born, this is usually referred to as their chronological age. There are also many other ways to measure “age” based on physiological factors (30).
Workouts like isometric exercises obviously won’t have an influence on the number of days that have passed since you were born. However, physical activity can slow down the aging in terms of how fast other measurement methods progress (31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36).
In general these other age measurements are more accurate methods than chronological age for assessing risk on age-related diseases. Slowing these down can be a huge benefit for your health.
15. Helps against type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is a disease that involves consequences like high blood sugar, insulin resistance, and lack of insulin. These things in turn can have really bad consequences so type 2 diabetes is definitely something you want to avoid.
16. Improves sleep
Good quality and duration sleep are extremely important for your physical health and cognitive function. Unfortunately, many people can do a lot better with both quality and duration.
A lot of the things you do throughout the day influence the quality and duration in some way. One of the things that can benefit sleep a relatively high amount is doing a workout like isometric exercises (42, 43, 44).
You do want to keep in mind that exercising too close to bedtime can have the reverse effect and mess with your sleep. Make sure you give your body time enough time to calm down after a workout. For most people this comes down to avoiding exercises at least an hour or two before going to sleep.
17. Regulates blood pressure
Your blood pressure is how much pressure the blood circulating in your blood vessels pushes against the walls of these vessels. This measurement is a popular way to determine how healthy your heart is.
Another benefit of working out, and thus doing isometric exercises, is that it can help you regulate blood pressure (45, 46, 47). This happens because of the influence of a variety of consequences you get from doing isometric exercises including a stronger heart, less stress, expected weight loss, and more.
One review of studies specifically about the relation between isometric exercises and blood pressure concluded that isometric exercises can be useful for lowering blood pressure (48).
18. Improves balance and coordination
This benefit varies between exercises but generally you will likely challenge your balance and coordination skills while doing isometric exercises. By doing this frequently you get better at it like with most skills. Many people forget to implement balance training into their workout routine but it is a helpful fitness component.
The benefits of improved coordination don’t just show up in other technical sports. Daily activities as simple as walking the stairs require coordination.
While inevitably some workouts are better for some of these benefits than isometric exercises, it is amazing that you can get so many important benefits from adding one activity to your routine.
One thing you need to remember is that doing isometric exercises with a suboptimal technique can be hard on body parts like your knees, shoulders, and back, especially if you have a lot of pounds to lose. If you are in a situation like that, walking, the elliptical trainer, or swimming may be better workout choices to start with.
Another thing to remember is that you generally want to give the muscle group you just worked out enough rest to repair itself before doing isometric exercises for that muscle group again.
Also keep in mind that consistency is a big factor for a workout plan. The more you love the exercise you do the easier it becomes to do it consistently. If doing isometric exercises is a workout you love, great. If not there are plenty of other exercises to consider that can also offer a lot of benefits.