- Exercises like planks and squat holds that maintain tension in one position are called isometric movements.
- Isometrics can help you build strength and practice good form, according to a coach.
- They can help gym newbies learn an exercise, or increase the challenge for experienced athletes.
One type of muscle activation in planks, squat holds, and hangs can help you perfect your form and get the most out of your workouts, according to a coach.
Isometric exercises, which involve holding the body in a static position (like a plank), can help you build strength and stability, regardless of your experience or ability level, according to Chris Travis, owner and coach at Seattle Strength and Performance.
“Isometrics are just fun, in my opinion,” he told Insider. “Practically, isometrics are good for people who have injuries or limited range of motion because you can still train in a position they can get into and strengthen.”
But isometrics aren’t just for beginners or scaled exercises — they can also help ramp up the challenge (and potential gains) by adding tension and helping you develop better body awareness, Travis said.
Incorporating isometric exercises in a workout can help you master basic form to get the most out of each exercise, as well as provide a joint-friendly, low-impact way to build strength and muscle.
Build a stronger core with isometric exercises like planks and hollow body holds
Isometric exercises are a great way to train proper form, according to Travis. Learning how to properly activate your core, takes practice — but without good core activation, you’re likely wasting your time moving through exercises with momentum instead of control.
“People will rep through it without feeling what it should feel like, the amount of tension that you should have in your body,” Travis said.
In contrast, you’ll really feel the burn in exercises like planks when you’re doing them correctly, and can get more benefits in a shorter time period as a result.
Mastering an isometric hold helps create stability that can improve your form in the other two types of muscle activation, concentric and eccentric exercise, Travis said.
For example, practicing a hollow body hold leads to better body awareness and more benefits in moving variations such as the dead bug.
“It’s something people think is easy, but if they hold it for 15 seconds or 20 seconds, they are dead,” he said.
Adding an isometric hold to exercises like split squats can take your leg strength to the next level
Isometrics for lower body exercise can provide stability, or add a challenge.
For instance, pausing at the bottom of a split squat for a three second isometric hold can significantly ramp up the tension on your legs, even without adding weight.
“Try six to eight reps of that and people are just sweating,” Travis said.
Isometric holds can also help scale lower body exercises for people with mobility issues or injuries. One variation is a wall sit, resting your back against a wall as you bend your knees to 90 degrees as though you’re sitting in a chair to fire up your quads, glutes, hamstring, and calves.
Dead hangs and isometric push-ups target the upper body
You can also use isometric work to build upper body strength, do more push-ups, and get better at pull-ups, even if you can’t do any.
The dead hang involves grabbing a
and keeping your core and back tight as you hold your body off the ground with arms straight. It can help target the upper body and back muscles you need for pull-ups.
Similarly, practice isometric holds for better push-ups by starting in a plank position, lower slowly down until your elbows are bent to 90 degrees, and stay in the position for a few seconds.
Variations of these exercises can effectively strengthen your upper body without weights or a gym, trainers previously told Insider.