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The 8 Best Isometric Exercises To Prevent Injury And Get Stronger

Cardio may get you fit, but to stay off the bench, you need strength and stability. Start here, with these isometric moves.

Originally Published: 
A man sitting down in workout clothing after doing isomectric exercises
Ariela Basson/Fatherly; Getty Images

Maybe it was during mile 8 of your Sunday long run when your calf totally gave out. Or maybe you were shooting hoops when you felt a pop in your hamstring. Whatever the circumstance, you likely cursed yourself for not stretching more. Except, that’s not necessarily why you got hurt. Despite athletic lore, stretching is not the cure-all for sports injuries. It might help you limber up in the morning and ease back pain, but preventing injuries? Not so much. If you’re looking for an honest to God cure-all, instead turn to isometric strength training.

If you’ve never heard of it, here’s the quick version: Isometric exercises are moves you perform without, well, moving. Planks are a quintessential isometric exercise. So are wall sits and vertical hangs. “Isometric exercises force you to hold your body in a fixed position for a period of time,” explains Adam Rosante, a personal trainer in New York City. “That can be done with bodyweight alone or with equipment like weights and bands.”

Isometric moves are one of three ways a muscle contracts. The other two include concentric moves, which shorten your muscle fibers, and eccentric moves, which lengthen your muscle. “When you think about the three phases of a muscular contraction, the isometric is sort of the intermediary between them,” he says. “If you can train your muscles to handle the sudden change in contractions, you can help prevent injury.”

The beauty of isometric moves is that research shows they build strength and stability in your body — key for avoiding injury when you’re playing your sport. Because the moves are static, they, too, are a low risk for injury.

So, how to get started? “A good plan is to pick one upper body, one lower body, and one core exercise, then program then into your weekly workouts,” says Rosante. Because of the nature of these moves (i.e., they’re static) you’ll be going for time here, not reps.

The 8 Best Isometric Exercises

The Move: Reverse Lunge

Targets: Quads, glutes, hamstrings, and transverse abdominis

How to: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Step backward with your right foot and bend right knee, lowering into a reverse lunge. Hold for 30 seconds (or as long as you can), contracting your muscles. Relax and repeat. Try to meet or beat your time next time.

The Move: Isometric Squat

Targets: Glutes, quads, hamstrings

How to: Stand with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, toes slightly turned out. Lower into a squat, knees over toes, and hold for 30 to 60 seconds.

The Move: Wall Sit

Targets: Quads

How to: Stand about a foot away from a wall, back to the wall. Lean back until your back comes in contact with the wall. Keeping your spine pressed flat against the wall, bend your knees and lower until quads are parallel to the floor, knees are over toes, and you are in a sitting position. Hold 30 to 60 seconds.

The Move: Dumbbell Bench Press

Targets: Pecs, shoulders, triceps, and transverse abdominis

How to: Start lying back on a bench, dumbbell in either hand. Extend arms, then bend elbows and lower dumbbells to just above your chest. Hold for 3 seconds, maintaining a tight contraction in your arms, chest, shoulders, and abs. Press back up explosively to start.

The Move: Isometric Push-up

Targets: Pecs, shoulders, triceps, and transverse abdominis

How to: Start in an extended plank position. Bend elbows and lower your body until your chest hovers above the floor. Hold for 5 seconds. Press back up. Repeat.

The Move: Dead Hang

Targets: Triceps, lats

How to: Stand below a pull-up bar. Reach up with an overhand grip and grab the bar, lifting your feet off the floor. Hang as long as you can (aim for 30 seconds).

The Move: YWT Hold

Targets: Traps, lats, rhomboids, backs of shoulders and erector spinae

How to: Lie facedown with arms extended in a Y. Squeeze your upper back muscles and raise your arms up off the floor. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Bend elbows and bring them in toward your torso to form a W. Hold for 20 to 30 more seconds. Extend arms out to the sides to form a T. Hold for another 20 to 30 seconds.

The Move: Plank

Targets: Full body

How to: Start on all fours. Lower yourself to your elbows and stretch your legs out behind you, forming a long line from your head to your feet. The key is maintaining tension in your entire body. Brace like you’re anticipating something running into you. Once you can hold with that level of tension for 90 seconds, take one limb off the ground.

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