Within a typical gym setting, the vast majority of equipment available is designed to allow the individual to apply a force to move the chosen resistance. This is correct for both machine weights and free weights. If the target muscle is both contracting and shortening during any given exercise then this is known as a concentric movement and the target muscle is said to be working concentrically. A typical example of this would occur when the biceps are activated during the upward phase of a biceps curl.
In addition to the common concentric movement described above, you may also have experienced an eccentric movement. If the target muscle is both contracting and lengthening during any given exercise then it is said to be working eccentrically. Again, if we keep with the biceps curl example, during the downward phase of this curling action, if you were to slowly lower the dumbbell as opposed to simply letting it drop, then this would be considered an eccentric movement of the biceps.
So far we have contemplated two mechanisms by which muscles contract and bring about movement, those being concentric and eccentric. However, there is also a third contraction option which is known as isometric. But what is an isometric exercise?
“Isometric exercises are performed when the muscle contracts but remains the same length for the duration of the exercise. The resultant effect is no movement production” (Sports Medicine, 2009).
Think back to your weekly training regimes – do any of your prescribed exercises fall into the isometric category? The answer for the majority is probably not. Isometric exercise as a form of exercise prescription is not commonly utilised within many gym settings. Having said that, this doesn’t mean that it’s not worthwhile; there’s an array of benefits available to an individual who chooses to incorporate this form of exercise into their respective training regime.
Given that isometric exercise is still relatively unused and unexplored by the majority, the purpose of this article is to consider the practical application of isometric exercise. This will include the potential benefits on offer, research supporting these potential benefits and an isometric exercise example to get those creative juices flowing should you wish to include this alternative method of training in your future sessions.
The Benefits Of Isometric Exercise
When it comes to resistance training, most individuals look to enhance their muscle tone, size or strength – or a combination of these three variables. The effect of isometric exercise on the target muscle itself will be considered during the research section below.
There are numerous further benefits which isometric exercise offers over its popular movement orientated alternatives. For starters, isometric exercise can be performed almost anywhere and doesn’t rely heavily on expensive equipment or weights to be successful.
Furthermore, through isometric exercise, you are able to create a contraction within the target muscle without placing too much stress and strain through the joint in question. This is a strong criticism of traditional weight lifting, with both repetitive concentric and eccentric actions being associated with traumatic and overuse type injuries. This obstacle is removed with isometric exercise as there is no movement involved – consequently it is a great tool to use with both novices and those recovering from injuries.
Last but by no means least, the difficulty of isometric exercise can be easily varied to meet the needs and requirements of the individual performing the exercise. Often, this is simply done by extending the time period for which you are required to hold the isometric contraction; it’s simply a test of time, you against the clock.
Research Investigation Into The Benefits Of Isometric Exercise
In 1986, Jones and Rutherford carried out a research investigation titled ‘Human Muscle Strength Training: The Effects Of Three Different Regimes And The Nature Of The Resultant Changes’.
For this research investigation, twelve healthy adult participants were selected, none of whom had previously partaken in any regular weight training. Six of the participants were requested to perform unilateral isometric training, with their respective contralateral leg acting as a control. The remaining six participants trained one leg with concentric contractions and the other leg with eccentric contractions.
Each participant was required to train three times per week for a period of twelve weeks, with each session consisting of four sets of six repetitions. The quadriceps muscle was utilised as the target muscle throughout.
In relation to the isometric exercise group, results demonstrated significant increments in the muscular force of the quadriceps muscle following this method of training when comparisons were drawn against the control group. Significant differences were also noted in the cross sectional area of the trained quadriceps muscle.
In summary, the use of isometric training brought about significant increments in both the target muscle’s strength and size. Similar findings have also been echoed by Lindh (1979).
Practical Application Of Isometric Exercises
Are you impressed with the potential benefits on offer through the use of isometric exercise? Do you think it’s something you will be incorporating into your training regime in the near future?
One of the toughest parts of exercising isometrically is coming up with an array of exercises that will meet your unique needs and overall requirements, as the exercises are much less publicised.
Remember, when it comes to designing and implementing any exercise – whether it’s concentric, eccentric or isometric – the only thing holding you back is your imagination.
Not only can isometric exercise play a significant part in developing both muscular strength and size, but it also offers several other benefits – namely that it can be performed practically anywhere, is implemented and enhanced with little difficulty and also removes a great deal of the stresses and strains associated with both concentric and eccentric exercises.
If your sessions could do with a revamp and you’re looking for something a little different to spice up your monotonous training regime, then why not try working isometrically? This alternative training method might be just the thing you and your physique needs.
Before signing off, if you have any great isometric exercises that you personally use, share them in the comments section below and allow others to experience the potential gains on offer…