Overview of Isometric Exercise

Isometric exercise is a type of muscle workout that involves isometric muscle contraction. When you exert muscle force without moving, you create an isometric muscle contraction. Muscle contraction, which usually produces muscle movement, is the shortening of a muscle. Unlike concentric (when the muscle shortens as it works) and eccentric (when the muscle lengthens when it works) types of contractions, isometric muscle contraction neither lengthens nor shortens the muscle fibers.

Woman touching neck, close-up, rear view
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Pros and Cons of Isometric Muscle Contraction

There are pros and cons to doing isometric exercise.

Advantages

Isometric exercises are convenient, don't require special equipment, and don't have to take much time.

Isometrics can be a way to slowly begin exercising after a period of immobility. And if physical movement could damage your muscles or joints due to a recent injury, your physical therapist or doctor may instruct you to do isometric exercises as you are healing.

And isometrics can be a way to strengthen specific muscle groups if you have limitations due to lung or heart disease.

Disadvantages

Because the muscle fibers don't actively move during an isometric contraction, you won't build strength all the way throughout the muscle's range of motion. Strength gains are limited to specific muscle groups that hold the position you're in when you do an isometric exercise.

These exercises are not helpful for weight loss or for improving your endurance or cardiac fitness.

Example

Neck problems often can be improved with muscle-strengthening activities that don't involve weights.

It's possible to strengthen the muscles at the back of your neck with isometric exercise.

  • Start with your head and neck in vertical alignment with your trunk.
  • Interlace your fingers and place your clasped hands behind your head. They should be placed at the bottom of your skull where it starts to curve down.
  • With your hands, pull your head forward, but resist that force by pulling back with your head.

NOTE: If you have neck pain or an injury, be sure to talk to your healthcare provider before doing this isometric exercise.

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