5 Isometric Hold Exercises for Home Workouts

Have your home workouts gotten boring? If you're looking to add a challenge to any bodyweight exercise try Isometric holds. Give these exercises a try to see how you might incorporate pauses into your training.

Skip down the page to get to the exercises.

While you're here, I want to answer some common questions:

  • What is an isometric hold?
  • What are isometric holds good for?
  • Do isometric holds build muscle?
  • What is an example of an isometric exercise?
Brunette woman performing an isometric hold push-up on a blue yoga mat at home

What is an Isometric Hold?

An isometric sometimes called an "iso hold" is when a muscle contracts but, there is no change in its length.

Examples of an isometric exercise:

  • Bracing, holding a plank.
  • Holding the bottom of a push-up.
  • Pausing at the top of a pull-up.
  • Stopping at the bottom of your squat for a 1-3 count.

There are three phases of a muscular contraction, (an isometric might be in the middle):

  1. Eccentric - the lowering phase of a lunge.
  2. Concentric - the phase of a lunge where you push up and (hopefully) overcome gravity.
  3. Amortization - a pause between eccentric and concentric. Where we find isometrics.

You can add isometrics to an exercise, at the end of regular sets or perform them on their own.

Adding a 3 count pause to the middle of an exercise allows energy generated from the stretch reflex to dissipate. The result of trying to move after a pause is a more difficult concentric phase.

There are a few ways to perform isometric exercises. The variations included in this article are holding for a time at the end of an exercise.

You can also perform the inverse of this idea by pausing at the beginning.⁣

What Are Isometric Holds Good For?

Isometric holds are good for learning proper form and adding challenges to exercises.

You can use these as a tool in your toolbox:

  • Some people use isometrics to become more comfortable bracing (or relaxing) under load.
  • When you want to focus on a perceived weak point in an exercise, you can pause just before there.
  • To get more comfortable controlling the transition between lowering and pressing.

It's difficult to nail down a "weak point" in an exercise. Is it where you seem to get stuck or is that point the place you stop at after passing it?

Isometrics on their own are not very stressful so I wouldn’t recommend using them as a standalone training method.⁣

Do Isometric holds build muscle?

Yes, isometric holds build muscle.

A recent study highlights evidence for increased muscle thickness after performing iso holds.

Neuromuscular adaptations following 12-week maximal voluntary co-contraction training1

Maeo et al. worked with nine untrained men for 12 weeks. Each of the men performed a 4-second maximal voluntary contraction of elbow flexors and extensors by simultaneously contracting both muscle groups at 90° of the elbow joint. No external resistance was used. The contraction was followed by 4 seconds of muscle relaxation.

The entire routine consisted of 10 repetitions per set, 5 sets per day for 12 weeks.

They found that isometric actions were enough to show muscle thickness growth of the elbow flexors and extensors by +4% for both when compared to the control group.

5 Isometric Exercises You Can Use in Your Home Workouts

  1. Bodyweight Squat + Iso Hold - 3x10-20+, 20-30+ sec hold.
  2. Bodyweight Reverse Lunge + Iso Hold - 3x10-15+, 20-30+ sec hold.
  3. Bodyweight Glute Bridge + Iso Hold - 3x15-25+, 20-45+ sec hold.
  4. Push-up + Iso Hold - 3x5-12+, 20-30+ sec hold.
  5. Back Plank + Glute March - 3x20-30+ sec hold.

In a weeklong feature on my Instagram, I demonstrated five exercises that you can incorporate isometric contractions into.

Ex. Iso hold push-ups.

If you have questions on how to get started with your workout routine, I suggest you read Strength Training for Beginners.

Bodyweight Squat + Isometric Hold

To perform the bodyweight squat:

  • Place your weight over your feet evenly, feeling your heels, big toes, and pinky toes in the ground.⁣⁣
  • Before each rep, take a 3/4 breath into your stomach and tense your stomach. ⁣
  • Bend your knees first or your hips and knees at the same time and allow your knees to travel forward and out. ⁣
  • Go as low as you can maintain a good back position.⁣
  • Squeeze your glutes and press yourself away from the ground to return to your starting position.
  • Breathe in on the way down or, take a breath in at the top as instructed above. Breathe out as you reach the top and lock your hips out.

To perform the isometric contraction:⁣

  • Squat as low as you can while maintaining a good back position.⁣
  • Try to stay tight at the bottom, squeeze your glutes and take deep breaths into your stomach throughout the exercise.⁣

Try 3 sets of 10-20+ repetitions with a 20-30+ sec hold.

Bodyweight Reverse Lunge + Isometric Hold

To perform the reverse lunge:

  • All reps should be performed on the weaker leg first before switching sides.
  • Try to lower yourself down to your full depth as you are stepping backward (a range where you can maintain proper form), then push back up and return to the starting position.
  • Your front leg should be doing most of the work. Make sure that you engage your quad, hamstring, and glute of the front leg and push up, versus pushing backward and transferring your weight to your back leg. Your body should travel in a relatively vertical path the entire time.
  • As you are pushing up and are completing the rep, exhale.

To perform the isometric pause:⁣

  • Set up in the bottom of a lunge, shin roughly vertical, weight distributed over your heel, big toe, and pinky toe.⁣ Brace your core and draw a breath into your stomach, sides, and lower back.
  • Squeeze your glutes and hold for time.⁣ Throughout the isometric, create tension by pulling your front heel towards you and keep that glute squeezed on your back leg.⁣
  • Flip and match your total time on the opposite leg.⁣

Try 3 sets of 10-15+ repetitions with a 20-30+ sec hold.

Bodyweight Glute Bridge + Isometric Hold

To perform the bodyweight glute bridge:

  • Start by finding a foot placement that feels comfortable to you. For most people, this will be an angle where your feet are at about 90 degrees when your hips are fully extended.
  • Before each rep, take a 3/4 breath into your stomach and tense your stomach.
  • Squeeze your glutes and lift your hips, locking your glutes out, not your back. Tilt your pelvis or tuck your butt underneath you at the top.
  • Be sure to drive your knees outward and try to keep your weight over the middle of your foot.
  • If you're not sure what it feels like to lock your hips out, push your lower back into the ground and then squeeze and lift. You will not go as high but, this is what it feels like to lock your hips out.

To perform the isometric contraction:⁣

  • Reach full hip extension either by performing a rep or, holding the top of the last rep in your set.
  • Hold for time.⁣
  • Take deep breaths into your stomach throughout the exercise.⁣⁣

Try 3 sets of 15-25+ repetitions with a 20-45+ sec hold.

Bodyweight Push-up + Isometric Hold

To perform the bodyweight push-up:

  • Place your hands beneath your shoulders and turn them out slightly.
  • Try to keep yourself straight from your head to your toes.
  • Squeeze your glutes, brace your core and tuck your elbows in slightly to your sides.
  • Breathe in as you lower yourself, and out as you press yourself away from the ground.
  • You can adjust your hands onto a higher or lower surface to make this exercise easier or more difficult.

To perform the isometric pause:⁣

  • Lower yourself to the weakest point of your push-up.⁣
  • hold there for a time.⁣
  • Take deep breaths into your stomach throughout the exercise.⁣

Try 3 sets of 5-12+ repetitions with a 20-30+ sec hold.

Back Plank + Glute March

To start, find two chairs or benches of equal height and sit between them. I used boxes in this video.

Dig your elbows into the surface and lift your hips to the top of a bridge position with your body straight from shoulder to knee. Your hands should be pointed directly towards the ceiling. Keep your glutes squeezed, brace your core and keep your chest up.

Your shoulder blades should be retracted towards your spine and you should begin to feel the muscles in your upper back after some time.

Holding this position, begin your march, pressing your whole foot into the ground.

Do not allow your pelvis to tilt or rotate throughout your march.

To make this move easier - hold for shorter lengths of time or move the chairs closer to your body.

To make this more challenging - hold for greater lengths of time, move your chairs further away from you.

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References:

  1. Maeo, S., Yoshitake, Y., Takai, Y. et al. Neuromuscular adaptations following 12-week maximal voluntary co-contraction training. Eur J Appl Physiol 114, 663–673 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421...

This article was originally published on 5/3/2020

Last updated: 2/20/21