You may have asked, do isometrics work? The most significant breakthrough in fitness came when Dr. E.A. Muller and Dr. Th. Hettinger discovered maximum muscle growth can be attained by exerting 60% of existing muscle strength against a superior resistance for only 7 seconds once a day; a remarkable fitness technique known as isometrics or isometric strength training. The study at the Max Planck Institute consisted of over 200 experiments for a ten-year period. The thorough experiments showed optimum results are attained with 5 workouts per week, but impressively, even one single weekly workout is sufficient to maintain your improvements attained.
Professor James A. Baley put isometrics to the test with a class of college students at the University of Connecticut. The study resulted in the isometric training group improving three times faster than the sports training group on tests measuring increases in strength, endurance, coordination, and agility.
Interestingly, isometric strength training techniques cause your muscles to experience significantly more time under tension compared to free weights. This added time under tension results in engaging more muscle fibers and building strength up to 66% faster than lifting weights.
Do isometrics work you ask? The science not only proves isometric strength training techniques are effective but in addition, shows isometrics work more efficiently than other forms of exercise when it comes to strength gains.
Muscle Activation of Isometrics vs Lifting Weights
A recent study comparing the level of muscle activation during isometric, concentric, and eccentric muscle exercises found that you can activate over 5% more motor units and muscle fibers during a maximal isometric exercise compared to either a maximal eccentric (lowering) or maximal concentric (lifting) exercise; the results showed 95.2% muscle activation for isometric exercises compared to 88.3% muscle activation for the eccentric and 89.7% muscle activation for the concentric movement.
In addition to isometric exercise being an effective way to improve your strength, isometrics is also a great way to improve your performance in other forms of exercise. For example, when someone or yourself experiences a “plateau” or “sticking point” isometric strength training techniques can help you overcome these common challenges.
How Do Isometrics Help Overcome Plateaus?
Oftentimes people, or yourself, experience “plateaus” or “sticking points” because you are experiencing a point in your motion, a given joint angle, which is weaker than the rest of your movement. Isometrics will improve your strength at your trained joint angles giving you the extra strength to push or pull your way to overcoming your “plateau” or “sticking point”.
Another common reason for plateaus or sticking points is your tendons and ligaments. It is common for weight lifters or people focusing on isotonic exercises to experience muscle strength grow faster relative to the tendons and ligaments. The tendons and ligament’s inability to keep up can lead to plateaus or even injury. The good news is isometric exercises are proven to be more effective at improving your tendon and ligament strength – the foundation of your body.
How do isometrics strengthen my tendons and ligaments?
Isometrics, because of the time under load, gives your body more time to activate and train your tendons and ligaments resulting in the benefit of strengthening your tendons and ligaments more effectively than isotonic exercises. Enhancing your tendon and ligament strength is not only important to overcome your “plateaus” and “sticking points” but also plays a key role in injury prevention. Tendons and ligaments are common injuries that are painful, debilitating, and slow to heal. Luckily, isometric exercise reduces your risk of injury. But if you do experience an injury, isometrics can help there too.
Do Isometrics Work for Injuries?
There is a reason the best doctors and physical therapists prescribe isometric strength training techniques to their patients for rehab and physical therapy. Isometrics work. Many training programs will have isometric exercises as their first form of strength training for multiple reasons.
One reason for isometric strength training early on in your recovery is the fact your muscles, ligaments, and tendons are not “moving” during exercise. The act of putting a muscle under load and moving through eccentric and concentric tension creates a higher risk for re-injury. Therefore, strengthening your muscles without the movement begins the process of recovering your strength while reducing your risk of re-injury.
Another reason physical therapists and doctors tend to use isometrics early on in your recovery process is the fact that isometrics are the fastest way to build strength. When you are rehabbing, you want to improve as fast as you safely can to ensure the best recovery you can have. So when you wonder do isometrics work, ask the next doctor, trainer, or physical therapist you encounter how they incorporate isometric exercises in their programs.
How do Isometrics Compare to Cross-Training?
The idea of cross-training is to exercise in a variety of different shapes, forms, and movements to confuse and expose your muscles to different exertions. Therefore, by the definition of cross-training, if you are not incorporating isometric strength training techniques into your workout you are shortchanging your training by leaving out a beneficial aspect to thoroughly cross-train.
Do isometrics work for functional fitness?
The term functional fitness is indeed a great term and an idea the fitness industry created to create a buzz. However, my question is, can you name a time when increasing your strength, regardless of how, is not functional to life activities? I cannot.
The bottom line is more strength gives you more functionality and performance. Yes, there are specific techniques athletes exercise to improve certain biomechanics, motions, or moves to achieve peak performance at a specific action but for the person who wants to perform at life’s demands, improved strength and flexibility are highly functional. When performed correctly with an emphasis on concentrating on your muscles engaged, intentional flexation, you are also developing neuro pathways to your muscles resulting in improved muscle coordination and pathways.
Do Performance Athletes Incorporate Isometrics as a Primary Training Technique?
How many people are more built, athletic, and demonstrate incredible movements of what the human body is capable of than gymnasts, ballerinas, and yogis? That is right, when you ask or doubt if isometrics work, think about the performances and incredible poses, shapes, and explosive acrobatics from a yogi, ballerina, and gymnast. All three of the arts are loaded with isometric exercises during both their performances and training.
Benefits of Isometric Strength Training and Exercise
- No need for expensive equipment or a gym membership. I am sure you have been exposed to isometrics many times and didn’t even realize it. Some examples of effective isometric exercises commonly performed without equipment are planks, wall-sits, wall-presses, pull-ups/hanging, prayer pose, wall triceps extensions, and any other exercise performed without changing your joint angle – no movement. If you have tried any of these exercises, you know from your own experience, isometrics work.
- Relieve Depression. Studies show physical exercise helps to relieve depression and tension, the same goes for isometric exercise.
- Lower blood pressure. Yes, the act of strength training temporarily increases blood pressure and everyone should consult with their physician prior to engaging in physical activity to ensure they are healthy enough for exercise, but the result and benefit after exercise is a reduction in blood pressure.
Doctors, physical therapists, and martial artists are a few practices that have proven through many training programs, results, and performances that isometrics do indeed work and should be incorporated into your exercise routines.
Isometric strength training techniques are proven to be the fastest way to build strength and deliver a plethora of advantages such as, affordability, convenience, efficiency, combatting age-related muscle loss, improved mental health, options for people with arthritis, and rehabilitation.
Give it a try for a week and see for yourself if isometrics really do work. You will not regret your decision and may find adding isometric strength training to your routine gives you more time for doing what you love by making your routine more efficient.
Bullworker’s mission is to improve quality of life with simple fitness. If you enjoyed this article or have any questions, please leave a comment below and share with your friends and family the benefits of isometrics.
Stay tuned for more articles on how you can benefit and incorporate isometric strength training techniques in your routine.
*The article above is based on the author’s findings through research and opinions and is not responsible for your decision to engage in exercise. Always consult your physician prior to engaging in exercise to ensure you are suited and healthy enough for physical exertion.