Isometric stretching is a distinct type of static stretching (that is, involving no motion) which aims at increasing someone’s flexibility by executing isometric contractions of the stretched muscles. Like static stretching, it does not involve motion, while many fitness experts state that is one of the most potent ways of increasing static-passive flexibility, being more effective compared to either passive (more info here) or active stretching (detailed article here).
How Isometric Stretching Works
Being a distant relative of static stretching, isometric stretching applies a different principle than it; rather than stretching to a certain point and holding that stretch, the latter actually introduces the resistance of your muscles through performing isometric contractions (tensing) of the already stretched muscles being subjected to an ordinary passive stretch. By doing so, and with some of the muscle fibers already being stretched prior to initiating the contraction, your muscles are able to overcome the earliest passive stretch, tackling the stretch reflex and inducing the lengthening reaction, which in turn prevents the stretched fibers from contracting thus enabling the trainee to apply a new, passive stretch that will go deeper. In addition, after an isometric stretch, the fibers which were put through it are able to “remember” that ability to stretch beyond their natural limit, ultimately resulting in wider range of motion. The last two sentences sum up the main advantage of Isometric stretches
The above described principle of isometric stretching is hugely implemented in the more complicated PNF stretching, during which the trainee follows a sequence of passive-isometric-deeper passive stretch.
Isometric Stretching Exercises
Below are presented a handful of isometric stretches for random body areas; in any case, do not experiment with any of these exercises without carefully browsing through our Stretching Guide:
- A nice exercise which can introduce you to isometric stretching is the popular “side split”, adapted to this particular type. So, assume a seated position on the floor and begin opening your legs until you reach your flexibility limit (in principle, just as if you were performing an ordinary passive/static side split stretch); now, instead of just holding to that position for the typical 20-30 seconds, try to pull your legs against the floor as if you were trying to close them together, and thus you will have carried out an isometric stretch! Hold your stretch for 20-30 seconds (photo 1).
- Another one for the glutes: Lie supine on the floor with your feet initially touching a wall and with your knees forming a 90-degree angle with your thighs; now, take the left leg off the wall and cross it over the right one, so that the back of the left sole rests onto the right leg’s knee; next, grab the back part of your right thigh with both your hands and pull it towards your chest while moving its toes also backwards; now, rather than just holding the stretch there, try to push the tailbone of the left side down to the ground; hold your stretch for 20-30 seconds (photo 2).
- Finally, a typical partner-engaging isometric stretch: Place your leg up high on your partner’s shoulder and leave him / her to guide the split approximately up to the point of your flexibility limit; when you have reached the needed level, contract your muscles by trying to push the leg down to the ground, while your partner is holding a firm position in order to prevent you from doing that; keep it that way for 20-30 seconds (photo 3).
In addition to the usual benefits of stretching, this particular pattern can render the following extra rewards for the trainee:
- It helps in achieving deeper stretches and thus conquering a wider range of motion
- It promotes muscular strength
- Mainly due to the increased strength that the muscles subjected to tension can reach, this type of stretching generates lesser pain, at least when compared with other techniques
What To Consider
Generally, isometric stretching is not the easiest thing to do. More specifically, you should give some thought to the following:
- It requires controlled movements, and finding your flexibility limit is of major importance before actually attempting to perform stretches of this kind.
- Tensing your muscles calls for some coordination and management, focusing on the stretching muscle so as to properly target it without overdoing it. In any case, start without putting excessive stress on your muscles, and gently and steadily increase the applied pressure.
- Keep in mind that isometric stretching can by no means considered as a part of a warm-up routine. Most frequently, this type of activity is performed as an individual exercise routine, therefore, before practicing it, you should perform a separate warm-up session and some cardiovascular exercises of 5-10 minutes so as to prepare your muscles and ligaments for this strenuous stretching program.
- This type of activity puts a lot of pressure on the muscle tissues, and that means you have to be adequately trained in terms of the strength of your muscles (by performing some strength training beforehand) in order not to put yourself in danger. And that’s why isometric stretching is contraindicated for individuals who are under 18 and therefore the demanding nature of this activity is more likely to provoke harm to their connective tissue and tendons.
- If you sense any serious pain when performing the stretches or during your intervals, discontinue immediately and seek for medical advice.
- It is absolutely crucial to abstain from this form or activity if you have a history of serious muscle injuries and joint or tendon problems.
Isometric vs Static/Passive Stretching
Isometric stretching initially bears a strong resemblance to static or passive stretching, but there is one vital difference between them that completely distinguishes them; those “conventional” types involve just the holding of a certain stretch in a relatively “relaxed” manner for a certain amount of time, while the isometric stretching adds another element, as the trainee not only assumes the position of a static or passive stretch but also employs contracting the stretched muscle for some seconds by either tensing their body on their own or using the help of a partner or an immovable object (wall, floor etc.).
Photos & Videos
Below you can watch a video and a few photos with isometric stretching examples:
In general, isometric training is a productive type of stretching that makes use of the body’s functions (like the lengthening reaction, which inhibits the muscles from contracting) in order to reach the muscles’ full potential and increase the trainee’s flexibility and strength by actually making them stronger in the stretched position. So, if you are interested in developing these two aspects, you can definitely include isometric stretching in your life and greatly benefit from it, provided you adhere to this activity’s intense nature and execute the exercises properly.
Category: Types of Stretching