Isometric vs. Isotonic: Which Type of Exercise Is Better For You?

If you’ve ever set foot in a gym, the variety of options for exercises can be almost overwhelming and it can be challenging to know where to start. There are three different types of strength training exercises, each of which can help you meet different goals for your health and fitness. When it comes to isometric vs. isotonic exercises, which is better for you?

What Are the Different Kinds of Exercise?

There are three primary types of strength training exercises, each of which builds muscle and strength in different ways. The three types of strength training exercises include isometric exercises, isotonic exercises, and isokinetic exercises.

Isometric Exercise

Isometric exercises are exercises that contract and engage the muscles without moving them. This type of exercise engages the muscles without moving the joints, which makes this form of strength training particularly low-impact. As a result, many people can do isometric exercises regardless of their mobility level.

Isometric exercises are best suited for the purposes of improving stability, strength, and endurance. 

One example of an isometric exercise is squatting down into a low squat and holding the position for an extended period of time, such as 60 seconds. This type of exercise can help improve your ability to maintain a squat position over a longer period of time and would strengthen your muscles, but it will not increase your ability to do more repetitions of the exercise.

Another example of an isometric exercise is holding your body in a plank position. In a plank position, your hands are directly underneath your shoulders and are pressing down onto the floor with your legs and feet extended long behind you, giving the appearance of a plank of wood. 

Planks are considered a total body exercise because they work nearly every major muscle group in the body without movement; this type of exercise is particularly effective for improving core strength.

Other examples of isometric exercises include wall squats, holding a medicine ball out at arm’s length, and holding a yoga pose for an extended period of time.

Isometric exercises are well suited to people who are attempting to build strength after an injury or who have problems with their joints, including individuals who are suffering from arthritis. 

Surprisingly, this type of exercise may also help people who are considered at risk of high blood pressure or heart disease. While once avoided in people at risk of heart problems, more recent studies have shown that people who perform isometric exercises lower their systolic blood pressure by 7 mm regardless of whether they had normal or high blood pressure to begin with. 

Thus, it is possible that doing regular isometric exercises may lower the risk of experiencing heart disease or a heart attack, as high blood pressure is one of the most common causes of these conditions.

Isotonic Exercise

Compared to isometric exercises, which strengthen and engage the muscles without moving them, isotonic exercises use movement combined with a constant amount of weight or tension to build strength in your muscles. 

When performing isotonic exercises, your muscles contract (shorten) and extend (lengthen) as you move through a full range of motion. This type of exercise is what most people think of when they think about strength training.

Isotonic exercises include things like bicep curls, squats, or leg presses. 

During a bicep curl, a weight is held in the hand of the arm you're working, providing constant resistance while performing the movement. In the case of a squat, the resistance can come from the weight of your body if performing air squats or from a weighted bar if using weights. 

Push-ups, sit-ups, and pull-ups are other types of isotonic exercises that use your body weight as resistance in order to strengthen the muscles while performing a full range of motion.

Isotonic exercises are highly effective at building and preserving strength. Additionally, they can also improve your mobility and flexibility because the body moves through a full range of motion. Isotonic exercises can be conducted with body weight, free weights (dumbbells), or machines at the gym.

While isometric exercises can be helpful for people with high blood pressure or heart disease, isotonic exercises may be helpful for people who have diabetes or those who are considered at risk of developing diabetes. Isotonic exercises have been found to improve blood sugar regulation, leading to a 30 percent lower rate of diabetes, in a large study of women.

In addition to improving blood sugar regulation, isotonic exercises are also helpful for building and maintaining bone density. As we age, the bones naturally lose density and can become weak or brittle, leading to conditions like osteopenia or osteoporosis which contribute to an increased risk of fractures. 

Individuals who perform isotonic exercises have a higher bone mass and bone density than those who are not, according to several studies.

Isokinetic Exercise

The least common type of strength training exercise is isokinetic exercise. Isokinetic exercise involves the use of specialized machinery and is primarily used by athletes to help their bodies move more quickly through a specific range of motion. 

Isokinetic exercises can be used by runners, pitchers, shot putters, golfers, and other athletes in order to improve the speed at which their muscles move. 

Most isokinetic exercises require the use of a machine called an isokinetic dynamometer, which is used to keep the muscles moving at a consistent speed. Over time, individuals learn to utilize their maximum strength at high speeds, contributing to increased performance.

While the average person will usually never perform isokinetic exercise, there are some injuries where the use of isokinetic machines may be helpful. In these situations, isokinetic exercises are primarily performed with the assistance of a physical therapist or other professional trained in the use of the machinery.

Is Isometric or Isotonic Exercise Better For You?

Isometric and isotonic exercises can both be highly effective at helping you achieve your health and fitness goals. As a result, which type of exercise is better for you largely depends on your specific goals and any health issues you may currently be experiencing.

Isometric exercises are well suited to people who have joint pain or injuries that cannot support a full range of motion. They are highly effective at improving endurance and strength but will not increase your ability to perform the same activity with more repetitions or at a faster speed. 

People with high blood pressure or who are at risk of heart disease can particularly benefit from isometric exercises, as this type of exercise has been found to lower systolic blood pressure readings.

Isotonic exercises are helpful for people who are looking to build strength, improve mobility, and increase repetitions. This type of exercise may include the use of body weight, free weights, or machines to provide consistent resistance while moving the body through a full range of motion. 

Isotonic exercises may be particularly well suited for individuals with diabetes or who are at risk of developing diabetes because they have been shown to improve blood sugar regulation.

Summary

The three primary types of strength training exercises include isometric exercises, isotonic exercises, and isokinetic exercises. 

  • Isometric exercises increase strength and endurance by engaging the muscles without movement, while isotonic exercises rely on consistent resistance and a full range of motion to build strength. 
  • Isokinetic exercises use specialized machines to help the body perform certain movements at faster speeds. 

The type of exercise that is best for you will depend on your goals and any health conditions you may have.


Disclaimer: This is for informational purposes only and is not intended as individual or specific medical advice, nor is it intended to replace advice by your qualified healthcare provider. We strongly encourage consulting with a qualified healthcare provider about your interest in, questions about, or use of dietary supplements and what may be best for your overall health.


Sources:

Strength Training and the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease | National Library of Medicine 

Osteoporosis and Strength Training | American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine 

Isometric Exercise Training for Blood Pressure Management: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis | Mayo Clinic 

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