All too often, people dive into workouts without gaining the necessary knowledge on what works for them and what doesn’t. This is often the case when it comes to anything with a complicated name: isometric vs isotonic exercise? That’s a whole lot of ancient Greek. Enough to make the keenest athletes overwhelmed with the science and language of fitness.
Nevertheless, you don’t need to be an academic to boost functional health and wellbeing. Mainly because we’re always here (along with our personal trainers) to make it simple, playful, and progressive for you. So, isometric vs isotonic exercise: they sure sound similar, but there are some key differences. Let’s take a look at them side by side, then see which is most helpful for you.
Coming from the Greek ‘iso-’ meaning ‘equal’ and ‘metron’ meaning ‘measure’, isometric exercise is where your muscles contract but you hold a static position.
The classic plank is a perfect example of an isometric exercise. It doesn’t require you to move or bend any joints, but muscular tendons are activated. This low-impact move is perfect for building core strength and stability. Other examples are wall sits, bridges, and hollow-body holds.
Due to the gentle nature of the isometric exercise, it’s helpful for anyone recovering from an injury or who has joint pain. Why? Because it improves bone density and maintains muscle tone and shape. If you have high blood pressure, isometric exercise may also help to lower this and improve cardiovascular health. Similarly for those starting their fitness journey. Isometric exercise can help build your strength in order to pave the way for more advanced training in the future.
Coming from the Greek ‘iso-’ meaning ‘equal’ and ‘tonos’ meaning ‘tone’, isotonic is used to describe any exercise where you put a constant amount of weight or tension on your muscles whilst moving your joints against a constant load. Most movements you perform in a gym are isotonic. For example, performing a squat involves straining your muscles while moving your joints, applying an equal amount of weight that stays the same throughout the exercise.
Since it’s an ideal way of building functional fitness (as you’re using your own body weight to perform a full range of motion), isotonic exercise is particularly useful for people working to strengthen and build muscles.
Studies have also shown that athletes who lift weights (an isotonic exercise) have higher bone mass and density compared to athletes who don’t. This means it’s often recommended to people at risk of (or with) osteoporosis.
That depends on what you need from exercise. Isometric exercise helps you attain maximum muscle contractions and is perfect if you’re in rehabilitation following an injury. Isotonic offers a wider range of workouts, targets all major muscle groups, pumps more blood around the body (which boosts muscular endurance), and needs fewer repetitions. And while isotonic is clearly the best exercise to help you build bigger stronger muscles, it’s most effective when combined with isometric exercise.
A good example where both forms of exercise go hand-in-hand is yoga — here’s a yoga tone workout to prove it. While most of the class will be spent performing isotonic exercises, isometric elements come in as you hold each pose. In any case, mixing the two will make your workouts less boring. Plus, it will also help work your muscles in ways you might not experience if you solely perform one exercise type or the other. Balance and variety are, as always, the best way.