Regardless of whether you are a beginner or a more advanced runner, if you want to include strength exercises into your training then considering isometric exercises can make a lot of sense. But what are they? How do they work, and which should you do?
In this blog, you will learn what isometric exercises are all about, find the best 5 isometric exercises for runners as well as workouts which would be appropriate to include in your periodised training plan.
What exactly is an isometric exercises?
Isometric exercises contract (tension) a muscle or group of muscles without changing length or altering the position of the connected joint (for instance a plank, or a wall sit are perfect examples of isometric exercises).
When performing an exercise, there are three different phases: concentric (shortening), isometric, and eccentric (lengthening). The isometric phase is the middle phase—after your muscle contracts but before it lengthens.
It therefore follows that pretty much any exercise pattern will have an isometric phase, but in an isometric exercise this phase is by far the most dominant. (Again think about the plank; yes there is an element of getting into position and then standing; but the nature of the exercise is holding that classic plank posture.
So Isometric exercises are a form of strength exercises during which the length of the muscle and the angle of the joint do not change. They are performed in a static position and require muscle tension without the use of movement. As such they are used to develop strength, prevent injury, and also frequently used for rehabilitation.
5 Benefits of Isometric Exercises For Endurance Runners
1. They build muscular endurance.
Although your muscles aren’t lengthening or shortening during isometric exercise, they are very much still firing. Which means that they are actually working and therefore building foundational strength potential, which will greatly aid your running.
Muscular endurance is important to developing your ability to maintain performance over longer distance runs without losing form or getting too fatigued too quickly. Therefore a core foundational ability. Consider long training runs early in your programme, where your posture might start to collapse, and you start to rotate at the hips and shoulders, leading to your foot placement becoming less consistent. The natural result of muscle fatigue. Isometric exercises can help you counteract that, and certainly delay the onset, keeping you running stronger for longer.
2. You will run faster
Whether you are doing a 5k Park Run a Marathon, the biomechanics of running demands core and hip stability in order to maintain your proper running form. The nature of running means that you are recruiting your abdomen, lower back, and hips to stabilize your trunk and spine and keep the knees tracking forward. Because isometric exercises emphasize stability and form, they’re especially helpful in building core and hip strength, and therefore of value to runners.
US Research has shown that doing core- and pelvic-strengthening exercises regularly can help improve race times and overall strength. Which is of course no great surprise as good form is required firstly to stop us injuring ourselves, but secondly to maximise our efficiency (which translates to speed). Therefore anything we do to improve form, be that technical coaching or building core stability, will mean a runner will go faster.
3. Reduced risk of injury.
By strengthening your core and lower-body muscles with isometric exercises, you’ll naturally improve the way your feet, ankles, knees, and hips function which can help you avoid injury, through better joint stability and lower incidence of incorrect joint loading.
Beyond imporoved stabilisation, isometric exercises can also support your tendons (the tissues that connect bone to muscle). Thinking about the phases of the run stride quickly makes it obvious that a runner will be loading and relying upon their tendons A LOT! Therefore anything we can do to strength our tendons and try to avoid injury through strains will be a positive. You won’t stop all tendon injuries, but you should lower your risk.
4. Training Format that does not involve Joint Wear
While plyometric training is very helpful for building power in runners, it comes at a relatively high cost to muscles, joints, and tendons. Because isometric exercises don’t involve any movement at the joint, they are inherently low impact and therefore do not carry the same ‘training cost’. That’s why isometric training can be beneficial for those coming back from injury, those who have mild forms of conditions like arthritis. Isometric exercises can also be very helpful for runners that are new to running and or strength and conditioning, by helping to ease muscles into more activity, develop tendon strength and not load joints.
5. Reduced Blood Pressure
Whist any type of exercise can help lower high blood pressure, there is an increasing thought that isometric resistance training can be particularly effective in this regard. Although more trials, and evidence, is needed to support these theories, it’s safe to say that adding some planks and squat holds into your routine will do the body good in more ways than one.
If you are using running as a way of reducing a diagnosed high blood pressure condition then make sure you check with your doctor first before starting this, or any other, exercise program, Particularly if you have hypertension.
5 of the Best Isometric Exercises for Runners
- Forearm plank
- Split squat hold
- Isometric calf raise.
- Bridge on Heels
- Side Plank
How to use these exercises to form an Isometric Workout for a Runner
To complete this workout, you will need a stopwatch or a timer and an exercise mat. If you want to make the workout more difficult, you will also need dumbbells or a resistance band. But if you are just starting out, then keep it simple!
Before start your workout, do a warm-up routine for at least 5 to 10 minutes.
Perform each exercise for 30 to 60 seconds, and then working up to 90 to 180+ seconds over several weeks. Keep rests between each exercise for as short a time as possible.
Form is everything! Check your form during every exercise frequently. If you aren’t able to do an exercise properly, shorten the duration of the exercise, and increase the duration of recovery. You may wish to experiment with practicing some exercises on their own so you can master the correct form.
After you finish all five exercises, rest for approximately 60 seconds before starting the next set. Depending on your current level of fitness and fatigue will determine how many sets would be appropriate. A beginner may well start with one set per workout, and gradually working up to two. More advanced runners and those with more experience can target three sets with a view to increasing to five.
Once you can achieve five sets there is little point adding more sets, it would be more effective to stay at five sets but increase the duration of each exercise.
Getting Started with Isometric Training – BitFitter.app
You can find this workout (5 by 5 Isometric for Runners) on my free fitness platform https://bitfitter.app – create your account for free and then look in the workouts. This will give you an easy way to record / track your progress as well as uploading your completed workout to Strava (if you use it!). You will find a handy built timer and also instructions on how to perform each exercise (should you need assistance).
Photo by Elina Fairytale