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When you do an isometric exercise, you tighten a specific muscle without moving at the joint or visibly changing the length of the muscle. Isotonic exercises are the opposite, requiring you to bend and straighten at the joint, moving it through its full range of motion. Just as you can find specific lids to fit particular pots, choose isometric or isotonic exercises to meet your particular fitness needs and goals.
Isotonic Exercises for Strength
Isotonic exercises are the most commonly used strength-training exercises. Because you move a joint through its full range of motion with the resistance of weights or gravity when you perform isotonic contractions, you improve your muscular strength. Isometric exercises can help you maintain muscular strength, but they do not effectively build strength. That's because they are static exercises, only targeting one very specific portion of a muscle at a time. Isotonic exercises are the better choice for athletes and individuals who want to improve strength, speed and overall athletic performance.
Isometric Exercises for Limited Mobility
Choose isometric exercises if you have arthritis, limited mobility, or if you are recovering from an injury. If you find it painful to move through a full range of motion, try isometric holds. They isolate targeted muscles and help you maintain muscular strength. They are also an effective way for those new to exercise or recovering from injures to work back into a strengthening program because they tighten specific muscles without requiring mobility at the joint. This reduces the risk of aggravated pain and helps maintain strength in stabilizing muscles.
With and Without Weights
Both isotonic and isometric exercises can be performed with or without weights. When you use weights with isometric exercises, it stays in a fixed position. Think about a bar resting on your upper back while you hold a position at the bottom of a squat. Isotonic exercises can be done with no more than your own body weight when performing certain exercises in certain situations. Body weight lunges, for example, are an effective exercise, but can be made more difficult by holding dumbbells in each hand.
Check with your doctor before beginning or resuming any exercise program. This is particularly true if you have a history of high blood pressure -- hypertension -- or heart problems. Isometric exercises lead to temporarily increased blood pressure, so those diagnosed with hypertension should avoid them. Also be sure to talk to your doctor about the appropriate aerobic activity. Include this activity in your routine with isometric or isotonic exercises so that you address your cardiovascular fitness while working on your strength.