Isometric Training Offers an Unexpected Benefit, According to New Research

·3 min read
Photo credit: Lakota Gambill
Photo credit: Lakota Gambill


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  • Isometric resistance training may lead to significant positive changes in blood pressure overall, according to new research.

  • Isometric exercises include any move where you hold a static pose, such as a plank.

  • As with any kind of exercise if you have hypertension, check in with your doctor first. If you get the green light, consider consulting a trainer who’s familiar with high blood pressure and its effects on training.

Many forms of exercise have been associated with improving your blood pressure, but one that tends to be overlooked is isometric resistance training (IRT), according to a research review published in the journal Hypertension Research. But those researchers think that needs to change.

With this type of strength training, muscles produce force but don’t change length—unlike exercises like a push-up or squat where they shorten and lengthen as you move. Instead, you hold a static pose, such as a plank position, and your bodyweight provides the resistance. Historically, this type of training was advised against for those with hypertension because your blood pressure tends to increase during that hold.

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However, in looking at 24 trials on sedentary participants who did IRT two to three days a week, researchers found that the training caused significant positive changes in blood pressure overall—almost as much as they might get from being on blood pressure medications. (The “exercise” producing this effect was fairly minimal, since it just involved squeezing a handgrip device repeatedly for about 12 minutes per session.)

Isometric training is not new, and old-school muscle builder Charles Atlas promoted the technique widely, according to Rocky Snyder, C.S.C.S., trainer and author of Return to Center: Strength Training to Realign the Body, Recover from Pain, and Achieve Optimal Performance.

The approach can be helpful for an overall conditioning program based on the individual, he told Bicycling, and it relies on a principle known as SAID, or specific adaptation to imposed demands. That means the body will adapt to specific stimuli—or lack of it—so if you perform an isometric strength move in one position, the body responds by becoming strong in that specific pose. However, Snyder added, that doesn’t mean muscles will be strong through a range of motion.

In his experience as a strength coach, he’s found that people who are active, such as cyclists, are often more challenged by isometric exercises, but that there can be a place for it in a cross-training mix.

“Cyclists, as well as runners, have a tendency not to utilize the gluteal muscles to their optimal level,” he said. “Other muscles that fall into the same category are abdominals, middle trapezius, and rhomboids.”

With that in mind, he suggested doing the following isometric moves:

  • Static single-leg deadlift, with the hold when your body is straight and parallel to the floor.

  • Static sit-up, where you hold your torso at a 45-degree angle.

  • Static reverse fly, with the hold done when your arms are away from your body with a dumbbell in each hand.

Each move should be held for as long as it’s possible to maintain proper form, Snyder suggested. Not only could this have possible benefits for your blood pressure, but it can also fire up the muscles that aren’t utilized during cycling, he said.

As with any kind of exercise if you have hypertension, check in with your doctor first. If you get the green light, consider consulting a trainer who’s familiar with high blood pressure and its effects on training.

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