Get More Lean Muscle With Isometric Training

Did you know that you can boost your cardiovascular fitness, strength, muscle tone, and more without ever stepping foot into a gym? Check out Get-Fit guy's tips on isometric training.

Ben Greenfield
4-minute read
Episode #150

How to Get a Flat Stomach

In the episode Does Super Slow Training Work?, we learned that when you do a type of weight lifting called “super slow training” you can actually increase tension in your muscles by decreasing the speed of movement, and this can help you gain strength and lean muscle more quickly (but only if you actually have the time to go to the gym and do all your weight lifting at half-speed).

Later, in the episode Is Weightlifting Bad For Your Heart?, we discovered how slow and controlled weight lifting can not only make you strong and lean, but can actually give you a significant increase in cardiovascular fitness – without requiring you to hit the bike or treadmill.

But today, you’re going to learn how to boost your cardiovascular fitness, strength, muscle building, and more without ever stepping foot into a fancy gym by using a technique called isometric training. 


What Is Isometric Exercise?

On my personal blog, in a podcast episode titled How Underground Russian Techniques From Old Soviet Training Journals Can Turn You Into An Endurance Beast, I interview a coach named Jay Schroeder, who works with professional athletes from around the world. Jay uses isometric exercise to enhance the results that his athletes get – and even if you’re not, say, a professional football player, you can still take advantage of these same training techniques.

The term "isometrics," which combines the Greek words “isos” (“equal” or “same”) and “metron” (“distance” or “measure”), refers to a muscle contraction without any visible movement in the angle of the joint.  This is in contrast to traditional moving “isotonic” contractions, in which your muscle length and joint angle change throughout the exercise.

If you’ve ever performed a wall squat, in which you sit in an imaginary chair with your back against the wall for as long as you possibly can, then you’re familiar with isometric exercising! Your legs are certainly burning – but you’re not budging an inch. Other popular examples of isometric exercise are the front plank, side plank, and the “boat” abdominal hold in Yoga and Pilates.

If you really want to take isometric exercises to the next level, you can use a technique called “extreme isometrics,” in which you do indeed move your muscles, but you move them very, very slowly – taking as long as 5-10 minutes to complete a single repetition. As you can imagine, this takes intense focus. Go ahead and just try and do a 10 minute push-up and see what happens to your entire body!

Why Isometric Exercises Work

In addition to all of the cardiovascular and strength benefits that I explain in Does Super Slow Training Work?, such as increased cardiac output, better training of your muscles to pump lactic acid, and increased ability to withstand an external force, isometric exercises also result in better muscle utilization and coordinaton.

Think about it this way: whether you’re running a marathon, shoveling snow, or lifting a piece of furniture, if the wrong muscles are turning on for any given movement, then you have poor technique and this means you increase your risk of injury, and you produce less-than-ideal force.

But your body can learn how to utilize the correct muscles, and just like any movement, it’s easier to learn how to use the right muscles when you train slowly or you hold a position, with an emphasis on maximally activating the specific muscle groups you want to work. When you hold a position or move through it more slowly...


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.