Isometric vs Isotonic Exercise: What’s the Difference?
If you’ve made it to this blog, there’s a good chance that you recognize the importance of taking care of your body and being active.
Fitness doesn’t come in one size and it’s about so much more than having a 6-pack. Fitness is about giving our bodies the tools they need to help us live our best lives.
When it comes down to it, it’s important to tailor our exercise programs to your dream lifestyle. Whether that lifestyle includes running ultramarathons, having an easier time at a labor-intensive job, or being able to keep up with your grandkids on the playground, there is almost always a way to improve your health in the gym.
What are isotonic exercise vs isometric exercises, and their benefits? In this article, we’re going to compare isometric vs isotonic exercise and discuss what they can do to support you. Read on to dig into what they are, what they can do for you, and how you can incorporate them into your workout routine!
Isometric exercise is all about stillness.
The word “isometric” is Greek and roughly translates to “of equal measure.” It earned that name because when performing isometric contraction exercises, the angle of your joints and muscle length do not change. The only metric you can change in an isometric movement is weight (you can add more and more over time).
So now comes the necessary question, “what are isometric training exercises good for?”
Isometric exercises are necessary for any strength training regimen.
A great example of isometric exercise in action is in the classic bench press. When you lower the bar to your chest, you reach what is called a sticking point, which is a point in an exercise in which an external force has the mechanical advantage over your muscles. Basically, it’s your breaking point—meaning this is the point where it’s easiest to fail.
When you incorporate an isometric bench press—in which you hold a bar over your chest, letting it hover for some time before pressing back up—you build muscle strength at that point where it’s easy to fail. Basically, isometric exercises are a guaranteed strength builder and a valuable tool to have in your arsenal.
Another example is yoga. In fact, many yoga poses, like the bridge or side plank, are isometric exercises.1 Does yoga build muscle? Of course it does.
Injury Prevention & Support
Isometric strength training exercises are often used by physical therapists to help patients get back to normal after injury. They allow you to use a muscle, tightening it (muscle contraction) without harming the joint(s) around it. It supports neuromuscular input to an area of the body that’s being exercised, so if you have any joint concerns, isometric exercises can be a great, safe way to add more strength training to your workout routine (but make sure to consult your doctor first).
When we put physical stress on our bones, they get stronger. Even a bodyweight workout can put enough stress on your bones to help prevent issues like osteoporosis down the line.
Heart Attack Prevention
According to a review published by the Mayo Clinic, isometric exercise “has the potential to produce significant and clinically meaningful blood pressure reductions and could serve as an adjunctive exercise modality.” Basically, it’s so good for you that it can prevent heart attacks. Amazing, isn’t it?
If we were to make an analogy to food, isometric training exercises aren’t the main course of a meal; they’re more like a delicious side dish or a warm basket of bread to supplement that primary plate. Every type of exercise has its limitations, and the limitations of isometric exercises are exactly why you only need to incorporate them a little bit into your fitness routine.
Range of Motion
When you work a limited amount of muscles at a time (as you do with respective isometric exercises), you’re not going to get the full range of motion that every part of your body needs to perform a whole movement in a full exercise and/or in real life. Too much isometric exercise leads to limited range of motion, which, if overdone, could eventually do more damage to your overall health than good.
Isometric exercises are great, but they’re very specific. Holding a pull-up position, for example, is fantastic to help you get the muscles you need to do a pull-up, but actually doing full pull-ups works a whole lot more of your body at once.
Isometric exercise refers to “equal length,” whereas isotonic exercise refers to “equal tension.”
Basically, isotonic training exercises are similar to isometric exercises in that they support strength, however they involve the expansion and contraction of muscles and therefore have a wider range of motion than isometric exercises do.
There are two types of isotonic muscle contraction exercises. These are concentric contraction and eccentric contraction exercises.2
Because isotonic contraction exercises have the same benefits of exercising in general, it’s challenging to narrow down solely isotonic-specific benefits. We’ll name a few to give you an idea:
Isotonic movement training is what we normally picture when we think about strength training exercise. A bicep curl, squats, deadlifts, bench press, push-ups, pull-ups, kettlebell swings, and any exercise using circuit training equipment—these are a few of many isotonic training exercises that you’ve probably already done before. Isometric contraction exercises are a tool for strength training, developing muscle tone, and building muscular endurance; isotonic muscular contraction exercises and performing them well are the end goal.
Like isometric exercises, isotonic exercises are great for making our bones stronger. Since the dynamic movements associated with isometric exercises generally put more stress on our bones, they actually protect those bones even better.
Isotonic exercises are the movements that are ultimately going to make it easier to perform your day-to-day activities like picking up groceries, staying on your feet at work, and bending over to tie your shoes. That large range of motion associated with these movements is something that we need to move with ease!
Because isotonic movements require your full body, they can really get your heart rate going. This results in a stronger cardiovascular system which, again, makes it easier to perform daily tasks like running to the bus stop or climbing stairs.
There’s only one key drawback with isotonic exercises:
Because isotonic exercises are dynamic, there’s more room for mistakes in form, such as overloading too heavily, and a higher risk for small injuries like twisting an ankle. As long as you are mindful of your form and don’t push too hard at once, it’s easy to prevent injured muscles.
We’re not going to say that isometric or isotonic exercises are better than the other, because in order to build a healthy, happy body, you need both! For hands-on training, advice, and all the space and equipment you could possibly need for physical activity, we at Chuze are here to help!
Ani is the Vice President of Fitness at Chuze Fitness and oversees the group fitness and team training departments. She’s had a 25+ year career in club management, personal training, group exercise and instructor training. Ani lives with her husband and son in San Diego, CA and loves hot yoga, snowboarding and all things wellness.
- NIH. Concentric and Eccentric: Muscle Contraction or Exercise? https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3899915/
- American Sports & Fitness Association. Isometric Vs. Isotonic Exercises. https://www.americansportandfitness.com/blogs/fitness-blog/isometric-vs-isotonic-exercises