Why You Should Think Twice Before Doing Isometric Exercises If You Have Heart Problems

Does your workout include planks, V-sits, or glute bridges? These are all examples of isometric exercises. Such movements require tensing a muscle or muscle group and holding it in that position without moving the surrounding joints, explains the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). Also known as static strength training, this form of exercise requires little or no equipment and can be used for physical rehab due to its low-impact nature.

Planks, for example, require bracing your core and holding the contraction without moving your hips and spine. "We need to keep our spine straight to do these exercises. Planking provides you with better core strength to be able to brace during these movements," physiologist Katie Lawton told the Cleveland Clinic. Over time, this simple yet challenging movement can strengthen the muscles around your spine and improve core stability. What's more, isometric training may benefit those with injuries and limited mobility, says the NASM. 

Isometric exercises are safe as long as you maintain proper form. However, you should think twice before incorporating them into your workouts if you have heart disease.

Are isometric exercises good for your heart?

Regular exercise is one of the best ways to keep your heart healthy. An active lifestyle can help reduce blood pressure, aid in weight management, and decrease inflammation, notes Johns Hopkins Medicine. Experts recommend both cardiovascular and resistance training, including swimming, cycling, weight lifting, and other activities. Isometric training, on the other hand, may not be safe for those with heart issues because it can increase blood pressure, according to 2008 research published in the American College of Sports Medicine's Health and Fitness Journal.

Other studies indicate the opposite. For example, a 2014 review featured in the journal Sports Medicine suggests that static training can lower blood pressure in people of all ages, including those with hypertension. In clinical trials, this form of exercise produced similar or greater reductions in blood pressure compared to aerobic and strength training. A 2010 meta-analysis published in the Journal of Human Hypertension found that isometric training can be as effective as medications at reducing blood pressure.

The research is mixed, though. Clinical evidence published in Cardiology Clinics suggests that isometric exercises can raise blood pressure and thicken the heart muscle, especially when performed at high intensity. However, submaximal isometric training, which doesn't require the full contraction of a muscle, appears to be safe for people with heart disease. The best thing you can do is to discuss your options with a cardiologist. Meanwhile, measure your blood pressure before and after exercise to see how your body reacts.