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What is isometric exercise? Fitness trainers explain the benefits of static training

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It turns out there are benefits to staying still. Here, the Strong Women ambassadors explain all about isometric training. 

So far, working out at home has been all jumping and pressing and running. In other words, our workouts have been all about moving as much as possible. It sounds silly to point out – how else can you get in a training session if you’re not moving your body?

But sometimes staying still is just as important if you want to feel the burn and get stronger. That’s the idea behind isometric training, the benefits of which are huge and wide ranging, from lowering blood pressure to protecting tendons and ligaments.

Sound like something you want to try? Each week, Stylist’s Strong Women ambassadors answer some of the most asked questions from women who want to get into lifting. Today, they’re explaining what isometric training is and how to do it to build strength.

What is isometric training?

Alice Miller, Strong Women ambassador:

“Isometric is a static contraction, which means that the length of the muscle and angle of the joint don’t change, but the muscles are working. If your muscle lengthens it’s eccentrics, when it shortens it’s concentric. Training all three is important.” 

Emma Obayuvana, Strong Women ambassador:

“There are three different movements that the muscle can go through. You’ve got the concentric contraction when the muscle is shortening, for example when you’re lifting in a bicep curl. The eccentric contraction when the muscle is lengthening, eg the lowering phase of a bicep curl. Then isometric, which we can imagine as holding a curl at 90 degrees, so the muscle is undergoing tension, but it’s not lengthening or shortening.”

What are the best isometric exercises?

What are the best isometric exercises?

Alice Miller, Strong Women ambassador 

“It doesn’t have to be complicated: you’ve probably already been doing isometric training without realising. Planks, side planks, or anything where we’re not moving but muscle is contracting and holding one position is isometric training. 

“Isometric exercise is often about finding your sticking point. For example, if you’re finding it hard to move fully through a press-up, you could do an isometric hold at the bottom of the move. It’s the same with weighted moves when we do pause reps. For example, you might hold at the bottom of a back squat for a few seconds before you come out.”

Emma Obayuvana, Strong Women ambassador

“Doing planks, a wall sit, a side plank, a squat hold – all of these things in which you’re in a static position. Another example that is so, so valuable is pausing within the movement. For example, holding in the lowering phase of your press-up for a few seconds. 

“You can also utilise isometric training by statically pushing or pulling. For example, if there’s a deadlift bar that’s too heavy to lift you can pull against it and it will work the muscles even if it’s not coming up off the floor.”

Will isometric training make you stronger?

Alice Miller, Strong Women ambassador

“It will benefit your strength and performance. Generally, it’s about spending time under tension to build strength through the muscle. In pause reps, you are getting stronger because you’re increasing your power out of the bottom of a position. That has obvious benefits in your workout, but also in the real world. For example, it sounds so basic, but you have to be able to generate power to get up from a chair. That’s what you’re practicing with this.”

Emma Obayuvana, Strong Women ambassador

“Isometric training helps with muscle maintenance and muscle gain, but it also helps to increase the control you have over multiple muscle groups. By that I mean the mind-to-body connection, so you’re actually able to understand and feel the muscle groups you’re working and you’re able to self correct as well. It also helps you to activate all of the possible muscle groups for full body strengthening.”

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Chloe Gray

Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).