• The Often Forgotten Exercises: Isometric Training
    Regular, consistent exercise is essential to maintaining fitness, and for police officers, being fit can mean the ability to perform one's job safely and securely. Because patrol duty can mean irregular hours and sedentary work, most officers do not get enough exercise throughout the day. Isometric training is a proven exercise method that will help to build and maintain strength, and may be ideal for police officers in need of a flexible fitness regimen. This article provides 13 different isometric exercises to try.
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  • Man performing wall sitRegular, consistent exercise is essential to maintaining fitness or making fitness gains. But life as a police officer usually means irregular hours and sedentary work. Most officers do patrol while driving in a car as opposed to foot or bike patrols. This means that they are not getting enough exercise throughout a normal workday, so having a regular exercise plan is important for them to stay physically fit. While police officers continue to juggle a job with irregular hours, they will also need to maintain a degree of regular fitness in order to do their job safely.

    What Is Isometric Training?

    Isometric training is a proven exercise method that will help to build and maintain strength, and may be ideal for a police officer in need of a fitness regimen. Isometric training includes strength training exercises that can be performed almost anywhere and while an officer is still in uniform, making them perfect for people who cannot change into workout clothes. Also, isometric training can be used as the primary strength exercises or added to a standard dynamic lifting program to boost its effectiveness.

    Listed here are a few basic exercises to start with in developing the upper body and legs, but there are many more which could also be incorporated. Doing some basic research and/or experimentation will lead to the discovery of a multitude of isometric exercises for each targeted muscle area. Through my own personal experience, I have found better results from doing the isometric exercises for 10 seconds each as opposed to the usual three to six seconds. Again, experiment and see how the body responds; start out low and move up as you gain strength and experience.

    In my experience, I never saw any change in the leg exercises until I pushed it out to at least a minute-long hold. For example, I had a friend who would do the wall sit for an hour, but he rode motocross so had the ability to hold that position for most of a race. One important point to remember is to breathe while performing isometric exercises. Blood pressure is going to go up due to the closed chain straining, but making sure to breathe properly will help combat this.

    Before starting, a couple of points need to be covered. First, isometric exercises are joint angle specific. Unlike dynamic weight training, which works a muscle through a range of movement (ROM), isometric exercises are done at a static position while flexing the muscle against an immovable object.
    Because of this, isometric training increase muscle strength at the angle completed which is why they normally are done at mid-ROM. By strengthening the muscle in its maximum potential ROM, overall contraction potential can be increased. Isometric exercises can also be done at several points in a full ROM to maximize development of a given joint and muscle. Multiple ROM isometric exercises are commonly seen as being used by strength athletes to get over sticking points. By training the weakest ROM (near full extension or contraction) they can develop enough muscle strength to move to the next weight level without having to use momentum in the lift (1,3,5).

    Next, isometric training is done by contracting the muscle at maximum or near maximum force for 3-10 seconds, which will create high stress on muscle, bone, and the endocrine system. This means you cannot do isometric exercises on a muscle or bone which is injured. Additionally, a person with a medical condition which limits strenuous physical activity should consult with their doctor prior to doing them. Having stage two or greater high blood pressure or heart disease would be a good example of needing to be cleared by a physician before doing this type of activity. However, isometric training has shown positive results in lowering blood pressure when done on a regular basis (4).

    Lastly, isometric training can develop muscular strength, not endurance or power, but carryover to other areas can occur. For example, consider two people: one can lift 200 lb, the other can only lift 100 lb. We know the one who can lift 200 lb will be able to lift 100 lb more times and quicker, so gains in strength will lead to gains in endurance and power at lower levels, although not at higher levels. So if athletic endurance and power are the goal, doing exercises geared toward these specific training areas is recommended (2,6).

    Sample Isometric Exercises

    Here are 13 exercises designed to target the muscle areas most police officers need for their job:

    Close chest press
    Figure 1. Close chest press
    Push hands together for 3 - 10 seconds for 3 - 5 sets.

    Close chest pull
    Figure 2. Close chest pull
    Grasps hands together and pull hands apart for 3 - 10 seconds for 3 - 5 sets.

    Extended chest press
    Figure 3. Extended chest press
    Keep arms extended and push hands together for 3 - 10 seconds for 3 sets (do not do with fingertips it is too much stress on finger joints).

    Extended chest pull
    Figure 4. Extended chest pull
    Keep arms extended and pull hands apart for 3 - 10 seconds for 3 sets (this puts a lot of force on the scapula so get used to it before maxing out).

    Overhead press
    Figure 5. Overhead press Push hands together for 3 - 10 seconds for 3 - 4 sets.

    Overhead extension
    Figure 6. Overhead extension
    Grasps hands and pull hands apart for 3 - 10 seconds for 3 - 4 sets.

    Biceps curl
    Figure 7. Biceps curl
    Contract/flex biceps for 3 - 10 seconds for 4 - 5 sets, while keeping elbow at about 90 degrees and stationary. A variation is to hold arm at a midway flexed angle with elbow still at 90 degrees (e.g., bar at chin height).

    Triceps extension
    Figure 8. Triceps extension
    Flex triceps for 3 - 10 seconds for 4 - 5 sets, while keeping elbow at about 90 degrees and stationary. An alternate is to use a counter to hold arm in place as it can be really hard to hold triceps stationary this way.

    Stomach extensions
    Figure 9. Stomach extensions
    Flex stomach out and hold for 3 - 10 seconds for 3 - 4 sets.

    Stomach draw-in
    Figure 10. Stomach draw-in
    Suck stomach muscles in as far as possible then hold 3 - 10 seconds for 3 - 4 sets (Frank Zane did these as his signature pose).

    Wall sitting
    Figure 11. Wall sitting With knees at 90 degrees and back straight, flex quads and push into wall and hold for 3 - 10 seconds of 4 - 5 sets (make sure the gluteus, lower/upper back, and shoulders are against the wall, not just the hips).

    Single leg wall sitting
    Figure 12. Single-leg wall sitting
    From a 90-degree angle with the back straight, hold and push into wall for 3 - 10 seconds for 3 sets (make sure the gluteus, lower/upper back, and shoulders are against the wall, not just the hips). Placing the other foot behind the leg helps to maintain balance and stay upright, but do not push with the other leg.

    Standing leg pull-down
    Figure 13. Standing leg pull-down
    Hold leg outward with hip at about 90 degrees, then pull down while keeping leg static for 3 - 10 sec for 2 - 3 sets. This stresses the low back and gluteus, so start with a less aggressive contraction until you get used to it. A variation is to stand against a wall so you stay upright and do not fall over.
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    About the Author:

    Patrick Conway, MS, EMT, FF-1, CSCS,*D

    Patrick Conway works as an Exercise Physiologist with the United States Air Force. One of his duties is to create fitness programs for injured military members seen by Air Force medical providers. Conway teaches and certifies approximately 400 military members as physical training leaders per year. He also conducts running clinics with motion analysis (Dartfish) and Functional Movement Screens (FMS) for military and civilians on the base. He is certified with FMS and TRX systems, as well as a certified Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) and a Level 1 Firefighter (FF-1). Prior to the Air Force and college, Conway worked at the Tonopah Test Range as a member of the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) special response team.


    1. Bandy, WD, and Hanten, WP. Changes in torque and electromyographic activity of the quadriceps femoris muscles following isometric training. Physical Therapy 73(7): 455-467, 1993.
    2. Baross, AW, Wiles, JD, and Swaine, IL. Double-leg isometric exercise training in older men. Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine 2013(4): 33-40, 2013.
    3. Blackburn, JT, and Norcross, MF. The effects of isometric and isotonic training on hamstring stiffness and anterior cruciate ligament loading mechanisms. Published ahead of print. Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology, 2013.
    4. Maeo, S, Yoshitake, Y, Takai, Y, Fukunaga, T, and Kanehisa, H. Neuromuscular adaptations following 12-week maximal voluntary co-contraction training. Published ahead of print. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 2013.
    5. Moon, J, Shin, I, Kang, M, Kim, Y, Lee, K, Park, J, Kim, K, Hong, D, Koo, D, and O’sullivan, D. The effect of shoulder flexion angles on the recruitment of upper-extremity muscles during isometric contraction. Journal of Physical Therapy Science 25(10): 1299-1301, 2013.
    6. Moussouli, M, Vlachopoulos, SP, Kofotolis, ND, Theodorakis, Y, Malliou, P, and Kellis, E. Effects of stabilization exercises on health-related quality of life in women with chronic low back pain. Published ahead of print. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 2013.

  • Disclaimer: The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) encourages the exchange of diverse opinions. The ideas, comments, and materials presented herein do not necessarily reflect the NSCA’s official position on an issue. The NSCA assumes no responsibility for any statements made by authors, whether as fact, opinion, or otherwise. 
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