Hold it Right There! A Guide to Isometric Exercises

By Lindsey Johnson

Hold it right there! Just a few more seconds!

If you’ve ever heard a trainer say this, you know that holding that position just a few more seconds can feel like an eternity. Why do we hold in place? What are we gaining from this other than some sweat and cursing under the breath?

Because they target only a small group of muscles at a time, they are not the most effective option for building strength but help stabilize joints by building up muscles in that area.

Isometric exercises can be part of a physical therapy rehabilitation routine after an injury. For example, a rotator cuff injury may benefit from isometric holds in the shoulder region to help build stability and improve range of motion.

Those with arthritis may benefit from isometric exercises while they enhance stability around joints. This can help alleviate pain and allow the person to later advance to other exercises.

Isometric exercises are a great addition to a comprehensive workout routine. They are also good options for those with physical injuries or medical conditions that require low-impact activities. For the average athlete, isometric holds can be included daily as a supplement to a routine that involves high intensity cardiovascular training as well as strength training that targets larger muscle groups. Take special care to keep proper form to avoid injury. Consult your physician for any major changes to your exercise routine, particularly if you have injuries or existing medical conditions.



Using a wall or object for balance if necessary, stand on your toes with calves flexed. Hold until failure.


With your back against a wall, get into a seated position with knees at a 90 degree angle. Hold in this position until failure. Start aiming for a 30 second hold and work on increasing by 10 seconds at a time.


With elbows directly under shoulders and body positioned in a straight line with a flat back and straight neck, brace the core and hold glutes tight. Hold until failure. Start aiming for a 30 second hold and work on increasing by 10 seconds at a time.


With chest up, sit into a deep squat, below parallel, with knees out. Keep your weight in your heels and hold until failure.
PRO TIP: Try this as a finisher after performing regular squat reps!


Get into the top of a pull-up position, with chin over the bar. With shoulders and upper back engaged, hold this position until failure. If chin falls below the bar, end the repetition.


Lying at on the floor, sit up into a V shape, engaging the core. Arms will be extended overhead and legs stretched out and lifted.The higher you bring the arms and legs, the more difficult the movement. Hold as long as possible, even if the core starts shaking.


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