Isometric Contraction: Brace Yourself

What Is It?

An isometric contraction is one in which the muscle remains under continuous tension without changing its length. For example, executing a barbell benchpress versus a plank. The former primarily provides isotonic contraction and the latter provides isometric contraction, both of which are explained in this post.

All our movements are created by isotonic contractions, but the stability required to perform these movements is provided by isometric contractions.

Interestingly, our body undergoes isometric contractions every day, with varying degrees of intensity. Explaining the what, how, why, and where is the focus of this post.

How Does It Help?

It helps maintain body tightness in a loaded state. The demand to stay rock-solid steady increases as your poundages increase, and if you supply your body with the with requisite amount of stability, the ability to perform the movement becomes better, thereby enhancing your performance—isn’t that why we’re on the gym floor in the first place?

For example, a successful squat depends on how stable your upper body remains throughout the range of motion. You could have the strongest knee and hip extension, but the squat would fail if you were to lose tightness in your upper body. It is this tightness that is generated through isometric contraction.

Right off the bat, your lifts would become better, and you wouldn’t have to bat an eyelash before bracing yourself to lug your suitcase off the ground and into the trunk or while preparing to push the kitchen refrigerator. In other words, you can use your strength at and outside the gym.

The Two Types of Muscular Contractions


In a barbell benchpress, the muscles of the chest (pectoralis major and minor), shoulder (anterior deltoid), and the elbow extensors (triceps brachii and anconeus) work in phases. These phases are divided into the following: eccentric and concentric.

The Eccentric Phase

This is the “going down” part, that is, when you unlock the elbow joint to allow the barbell to be pulled by gravity till it touches you.

The Concentric Phase

This is the exact opposite. Therefore, for a barbell benchpress, the concentric phase involves “going up” and against gravity, that is, pushing with full force and locking out the elbow joint.

When these phases combine, the muscles involved lengthen (eccentric phase) and shorten (concentric phase).


When you perform a plank, the body is frozen in time. No muscle changes in length, and the goal becomes to remain as stable as possible, similar to how your upper body needs to tighten during a squat.

Why Should You Add It to Your Regimen?

Performing such movements will have a functional carry over effect in your day-to-day life and at the gym floor.

It’s a terrific way to build core strength, and that’s not limited to the abdominals or “abs.” Almost every muscle undergoes contraction, and the greater the tension, the greater the level of tightness you need to maintain.

Where Could This Come in Handy?

Outside the Gym

The situation could be that you need to lift your sofa for spring cleaning, to push your desk, or, in my case, resist my sparring partner’s takedown attempt.

The common denominator in every situation is inadvertently tightening the entire body and bracing for what’s to come.

At the Gym

Take the squat, deadlift, or benchpress as an example.

Although the movement is isotonic, each involves bracing yourself, keeping your core tight, among other muscle groups, for an effective movement.


Be it preparing for the demands of daily life or readying yourself for a one-rep max at the gym, bracing yourself comes in handy regardless of the task at hand.

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Resistance Training

Rahul Chitrakar View All →

Discovering the nuances of life through the lens of fitness in its myriad expressions


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