Isometric Exercises: Why Are They Important?

Isometric Exercises: Why Are They Important?

What Are Isometric Exercises?

     “Isometric exercise involved sustained contraction against an immovable load or resistance with no or minimal change in length of the involved muscle group” (Carlson et al. 2014). In other words, isometric exercise is holding a steady position by activating your muscles without moving from the position. For example, imaging squatting down and holding the squat at the bottom position for 30 seconds without moving up or down. We have provided examples of isometric exercises we like using at the end of the post!

Why Are Isometric Exercises Important To Do?

1. Decrease Pain

     Isometrics for tendon pain, especially very painful tendons, can give immediate and sustained pain relief. The exact science behind why it works is still under research. However, they have shown that it works on the cortical representation via the brain, which helps change the view of what is and is not painful. If the isometrics do not work on decreasing the pain there is a high probability that the tendon is not the issue or the source of pain. Therefore, it is a great way to ensure that your symptoms are truly from the tendon.

     Research has shown that when performing these isometric exercises that there is a pain relief window of up to 45 minutes to 8 hours following the exercise. As a result, this is a great option for those athletes who have pain and want to continue to play sports.

2. Improve Vertical Jump & Speed

Improving Voluntary Muscle Contraction

     One of the issues athletes have is their inability to activate certain muscles. In other words, you may be compensating by not activating the proper muscles or activating them enough. Therefore, the muscle sometimes is not being used correctly or at 100% of the muscle’s capacity. Isometrics will help facilitate the encoding in the brain pathway, which allows the person to create a motor pathway. In other words, this will allow the athlete the use his muscle better and more efficiently. As a result, the athlete will move better, produce more force, and potentially jump higher and improve speed.

Improving Tendon Stiffness

    Isometrics help improve tendon stiffness which at first sounds counterintuitive; however we want your joints to be mobile and tendons to be stiff. The reason we want stiffness is that it allows your tendon to withstand high loads. The stiffness allows for proper energy storage, and the contract-relax portion of jump to occur. For example, think of the act of jumping as a spring. If the spring is too loose, it won’t store energy well and the rebound effect will be minimal. However, if the spring is tight when it is loaded, it will store more energy, create more force and lead to a greater vertical jump.

Improving Strength & Motor Control in Various Positions

    Another great benefit of isometric training is that it allows you to train muscles in specific angles. We can teach the athlete to learn how to activate muscles anbe be comfortable in different positions.  This is a great way to work on areas that you feel like you have weakness in. Furthermore, it is great for rehab because certain positions can stress certain tissues, joints, or bones that you may need to avoid for now. We can build the strength around the specific angle until your body is ready for it.

3. Safely Decrease Blood Pressure

     For many of you high blood pressure isn’t an issue; however, an added benefit is always a plus. Research has shown that isometric exercises actually decreases your systolic and diastolic blood pressure, as well as, your mean arterial pressure. Traditionally, doctors recommend medication or aerobic (walking, running, biking) or resistance training to decrease your blood pressure. Those exercises do decrease your blood pressure, but research has demonstrated that isometric exercises actually decreases the blood pressure more significantly.

     We recommend that you don’t replace traditional methods, but you consider adding isometric exercises as well. Furthermore, these isometric exercises can be upper or lower body exercises.

Recommended Sets, Holds, & Intensity

     When performing isometric exercise, you should follow correct guidelines to get the maximal benefit. The goal is to perform heavy and sustained holds for more than 30 seconds for 5 reps. The way we measure heavy is a 6-7/10 using the RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) Scale. In other words, 0 being the easiest exercise in the world and 10 being the hardest exercise you ever done, the goal is to be at 6-7. The goal is long and heavy sustained holds, not short holds of less than 30 seconds and lower loads.

    We do not want you to be thinking about what you are having for dinner while performing these exercises. We want you to be challenged to get the benefits. As a result, our recommendations are to perform 5 sets of 45 second holds with 2 minute rest in between each set. We want you to find this challenging; if not, then increase the intensity by adding weight via external weight.

Isometric Exercises:

Some of our favorites for basketball athletes that are geared toward specific tendons.

1. Isometric Heel Raise: Achilles' Tendon

Coaching Cues:

  • Maintain most of your weight between your 1st and 2nd toe.
  • Do not shift your weight to the outside part of foot/ankle
  • Actively contract your muscles

Progression

  • Slowly lower your heel to the ground to make it more difficult.
  • Switch to only performing this exercise on one leg

Parameters 

  • 5 sets of 30 seconds with 2 minute rest between
  • Increase set of 30 seconds up to 45 seconds
  •  

2. Iso Long Arc Quad: Patellar Tendon

Coaching Cues:

  • Squeeze your quad as hard as you can
  • Perform at several positions between 90 degrees up to 30 degrees.
  • Do not perform this at angles less than 30 degrees as it places more strain on the patellofemoral joint.
      •  

Progression

  • Increase tension of band

Parameters 

  • 5 sets of 30 seconds with 2 minute rest between
  • Increase set of 30 seconds up to 45 seconds
  •  

3. Iso Split Squat: Quadriceps Tendon

Coaching Cues:

  • Maintain knee aligned over 2nd and 3rd toe
  • Keep your trunk neutral not allowing it to move side to side
  • Actively contract your muscles
      •  

Progression

  • Start at 30 degrees of knee flexion
  • Gradually lower to parallel or 90 degrees

Parameters 

  • 5 sets of 30 seconds with 2 minute rest between
  • Increase set of 30 seconds up to 45 seconds
  •  

4. Iso Heel Elevated Straight Leg Bridge: Hamstring Tendon

Coaching Cues:

  • Maintain neutral spine
  • Actively squeeze your glutes and hamstrings
  • Keep your hips off the ground as high as you can
  •  

Variations

  • Try at different knee positions from 90 degree knee bend to full extension
  • 2 legs to 1 leg

Parameters 

  • 5 sets of 30 seconds with 2 minute rest between
  • Increase set of 30 seconds up to 45 seconds
  •  

Sources

Ark et al. Do isometric and isotonic exercise programs reduce pain in athletes with patellar tendinopathy in-season? A randomised clinical trial. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. 2016
Carlson et al. Isometric exercise training for blood pressure management: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. 2014
Jil Cook “Rehabilitation will increase the capacity of your..insert musculoskeletal tissue here..Defining tissue capacity: core concept for the clinician.
Rio et al. Isometric exercise induces analgesia and reduces inhibition in patellar tendinopathy. J Sports Med. 2015
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