7 Isometric Exercises to Strengthen and Tone

7 Isometric Exercises to Strengthen and Tone

Looking to mix up your at-home workout routine? Today, I’m going to give you a perfect at-home strength training workout made of isometric exercises, which are guaranteed to get your heart pumping and your muscles burning!

The best thing about these seven moves is that they are intense without being high-impact – they are isometric, which means that they are held (think a plank). So if you are just not feeling running, jumping, or any other high-impact activity, this workout will inject some challenge into your routine without too much demand on your joints.

In addition to being low-impact, how do the benefits of isometric exercise differ from the rewards you reap from other types of strength training?

Better focus on form (especially if you use a mirror)

When an exercise has a prescribed number of reps, something that I work on with clients is not “flinging” or “flopping” through the movement. The goal isn’t to get through an exercise as quickly as possible – the goal is to get stronger, build lean muscle, and teach your body how to move well.

Isometric exercises take any mechanical movement issues out of the picture by “freezing” you, and we can work on subtle form improvements while holding the “right” position.

Easy ability to measure personal progress

If you don’t have any weights, you don’t need to worry. All you have to do is use a timer and watch as your times improve. If you go from holding a squat hold for 15 seconds to 60 seconds, clearly your quadriceps (the muscles in the fronts of your thighs) and all the stabilizing muscles around your hips and knees are getting stronger!

Higher level of strengthening and recruitment at the spots where many people have weak links

I especially see the benefit of this for people who struggle with pain or mobility issues, or are recovering from an injury. If your glutes and hips are weak (which often contributes to conditions like lower back pain or sciatica), then maximizing the tension of one excellent bridge position is better than doing 50 sloppy floppy bridge reps.

I mix isometric exercises into almost every workout, but for this workout, you’re going to be focusing exclusively on holds.

So get your mirror and your timer, and let’s get started!

The Workout

For all of the following exercises, I would play it by ear in terms of how long you hold each one. It will depend on your personal level of physical fitness and your relative strength in each posture.

But what I would recommend for everyone is keeping track. Use a notebook or a spreadsheet to note how long you’re holding each position, and that way you can track improvement over time!

If you’re new to exercise, you may want to try each exercise only once or twice and make your challenge to try each one. But if you’re a seasoned exerciser, you can feel free to push yourself to do 3-4 sets of each exercise.

Exercise #1: Hollow Hold

What I love about this exercise is that it’s a great way to work your abs without too much spinal flexion (which can irritate back pain for some people). The hollow hold helps to build a strong and steady core – in fact, gymnasts use it as part of their workouts!

Flex your abs and keep your lower back pressed firmly against the ground. Keep your neck and chin in neutral alignment, and think especially of drawing your belly button down to your spine with every exhale. Make sure your shoulder blades, and not just your arms, come off the ground.

I’m showing you the knees bent version, but you can click here to see the intermediate and advanced versions.

Exercise #2: Single Leg Adducted Bridge

This is a fantastic exercise for glute strength, as well as hip stability. It can help to reduce lower back… and help you look better in your jeans, too!

Think about rolling your shoulders back to the ground while you’re in this position – the tension should be focused in your butt, not in your head, face, or shoulders. Pay special attention to keeping your hip points level – don’t drag down on one side.

Exercise #3: Plank (Feet Elevated)

You can use a couch, chair, or bench for this one. Watch yourself in a mirror and pay special attention to your lower back and hips – they should stay nice and level with the rest of your body, without dipping down.

Is this too easy? Try a wall walk instead if you’re an advanced exerciser.

Exercise #4: Side Plank with Leg Raise

Make sure your elbow is right under your shoulder (so your weight is stacked neatly on your arm), and pay special attention to not letting your hips dip down.

Too hard? Let your bottom leg rest on the ground at the knee while you hold.

Exercise #5: Squat Hold

Focus on keeping your torso upright, activating your core. Make sure that your hips hinge backward rather than your knees crowding forward.

If you really want to work on your form and don’t feel in control of where your knee go, you can try a wall sit instead.

Exercise #6: Split Squat Hold

Tip: it’s easier to start this exercise correctly coming up from a half kneeling position, rather than trying to come down into it from a standing position. Your form is more likely to be better if you start with the half kneel.

Think about leaning (or “hinging”) forward slightly at the hips while you hold this position. That doesn’t mean hunching forward – it means your torso stays straight but the waist is the hinge.

Exercise #7: Warrior III

Stolen from yoga, this isometric exercise is great for the glutes.

In terms of form, check yourself in a mirror and make sure that the lifted leg and hip aren’t spinning your hips out of alignment. There will be a tendency to “roll” the lifted hip upward (rolling the other down). Focus intensely on keeping your hips equal, which will feel like you’re rolling your top butt cheek (the lifted leg) down and your bottom butt cheek (the standing leg) up.

Try this at home, as well as these other home workouts:

I also have tips for navigating your relationship with your refrigerator:

Finally, if you’re ready to deep-dive into your fitness goals remotely, I have virtual sessions available for new clients!