5 Isometric Exercises to Help Build Strength and Balance

Add isometric exercises to your fitness program for even more bang for your buck.

woman with dumbbells doing isometric exercises
Photo: Getty Images

When was the last time you did isometric exercises? If never is your answer (although you've likely done them before without knowing it), then it's time for a change. Isometric exercises can be key to boosting your fitness as well as helping improve normal functioning and movement in everyday life.

First, it helps to understand what isometric means. If you consult Webster's Dictionary, you'll find this definition: "Of, relating to, involving, or being muscular contraction against resistance, without significant shortening of muscle fibers, and with marked increase in muscle tone." Here's a simpler way to explain it. "It's a muscle contraction where the length of the muscle is relatively unchanged," says Mike Ranfone, CSCS, certified trainer and founder of Ranfone Training Systems and Ranfone Personal Consulting in Hamden, Conn.

In other words, isometric movement involves either holding a certain position of an exercise (e.g., trying not to lower a weight), or pushing against an immovable object (e.g., pressing against the floor in a glute bridge). This type of exercise works very particular muscles without actually changing the length of the muscle and without moving the surrounding joints.

It's very possible that you've already been doing isometric exercises without knowing it, as common isometric exercises include familiar moves like planks, wall sits, and glute bridges. "For the most part, they're a safe and effective training stimulus, especially if you're undertrained, older, or injured," Ranfone says. On the flip side, "they can also be used with advanced athletes looking to maximize results."

Numerous reasons should prompt you to add isometrics into your weekly activity, regardless of your age or fitness level. For starters, isometric exercises can enhance sensory-motor feedback, he says, which means you'll improve the connection between your mind and muscles. Isometric exercises can also aid with muscle damage you may have incurred from your fitness program, making it an effective solution for recovery and restoration. In fact, if you have issues with irritated joints, isometric exercises can help reduce what's called joint shear forces, essentially wear and tear. This is especially beneficial if you have acute or chronic issues like arthritis, Ranfone says. What's more, they can offer variety not only for the body, but also the mind. "Isometric training checks a lot of boxes physiologically and, maybe even more importantly, psychologically, for those looking to break up the monotony and discover some novel challenges without compromising results," Ranfone says.

If you're already doing traditional strength training workouts, you can easily add isometrics without changing the exercises. Ranfone does note, however, that because isometric exercises are more fatiguing, you'll need to decrease the weight you're using.

Below are five exercises with isometric variations. If you already know and do these moves, incorporate the variations (i.e., the part where you hold the exercise in a certain position) so you can benefit from isometric training, Ranfone says. Or complete all five moves in one workout, repeating each one once or twice.

01 of 05

Weighted Squats

Isometric Exercises Illustration: weighted squat
Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong

Stand with feet hip-width apart, a weight in each hand, and arms down by your sides. Keeping knees behind toes, bend your knees and lower your body toward the floor until your thighs are almost parallel with the floor. Hold for three seconds, then push hard through the floor as you return to standing. Repeat 12 times.

RELATED: If You Get Knee Pain Doing Squats, Here Are 8 Smart Modifications to Try

02 of 05

Dumbbell Floor Press

Isometric Exercises Illustration: dumbbell floor press
Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong

Lie face up on the floor with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place a weight in each hand and—keeping your elbows on the floor, slightly below shoulder height—lift your hands until your forearms form 90-degree angles with floor, palms facing forward. From this position, press the weights up, without letting them touch, until your arms are fully extended above you. Pause for a second at the top; slowly lower your elbows to the floor for a count of five seconds. Repeat 12 times.

03 of 05


Isometric Exercises Illustration: deadlift
Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong

Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a weight in each hand, arms extended down toward the front of your body, palms facing body. Keeping your back flat, hinge forward from the hips and lower your torso until it's almost parallel with the floor, letting your arms hang in front of your shins. Hold for five seconds. From this position, return to standing, squeezing the glutes as you do. Repeat 12 times.

RELATED: 5 Simple Hamstring Exercises (Plus 2 Great Stretches) to Strengthen and Lengthen the Backs of Your Legs

04 of 05

Bicep curl


Stand with feet hip-width apart, weights in each hand, arms down by your sides with palms facing forward. Keeping your elbows glued into your body, lift your hands up toward your shoulders. Hold here for three seconds. Release to start and repeat 12 times.

05 of 05


IsometricExercises-08 (1)
Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong

Get on the floor on your hands and knees with your wrists aligned under your shoulders. Extend your legs behind you so your body forms one long line from head to toes (if this is too difficult, modify the plank by dropping to your knees). Hold the plank for 30 seconds, take a quick break and repeat for another 30 seconds.

RELATED: 6 Unexpected Benefits of Doing Planks (Beyond Building Core Strength), According to Personal Trainers

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