What is Isotonic Exercise?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Isotonic exercise is a form of exercise which involves controlled contraction and extension of muscles and mobilization of the joints around those muscles. For exercise to be isotonic, the tension involved must remain constant throughout the exercise, rather than fluctuating. One of the most classic forms of isotonic exercise is weight lifting. This type of exercise tends to be inexpensive to perform, and it can be used to develop strength in both the muscles and the joints.

Weight lifting is a form of isotonic exercise.
Weight lifting is a form of isotonic exercise.

People sometimes confuse isotonic and isometric exercise, because the two terms sound very similar. The key difference is the presence of movement. In isotonic workouts, the joints move through a range of positions controlled by the user, while in isometric exercise, the joints remain stationary. Pressing one's palms against a wall and leaning into them to elongate muscles is an isometric exercise, while doing a pushup is an isotonic exercise.

Pullups are a form of isotonic exercise.
Pullups are a form of isotonic exercise.

Classically, isotonic exercise is used to support an overall fitness plan. People lift weights, do pushups and pullups, and engage in other types of isotonic exercise to make themselves more fit for a particular sport. A swimmer, for example, might use this type of exercise to build up the arms to be a more effective and powerful swimmer. Regular isotonic exercise can also promote healthy joints which will perform well into old age.

Physical therapy programs may utilize light isotonic exercises to help patients develop muscle and joint strength.
Physical therapy programs may utilize light isotonic exercises to help patients develop muscle and joint strength.

Light isotonic exercises are sometimes utilized in physical therapy programs to gently develop muscle and joint strength. The gentle elongation and contraction of the muscles which occurs during the exercise can be used to pinpoint problem areas, such as a point when a muscle experiences a very high level of strain. The exercise can also build up muscles and joints after surgery or trauma, with the guidance of a physical therapist or personal trainer who has experience.

Every person's body is different, and ideally an isotonic exercise program should be developed for a specific person, rather than being used generically. Professional athletes often develop such programs with their coaches and sports physicians to reach an optimal level of performance. Personal trainers, fitness instructors, and physical therapists can offer suggestions and help formulate appropriate programs to ensure that people are using the most suitable and effective set of exercises. For people who are just embarking on an exercise plan, it is a good idea to consult a physician, and to work with a trainer for the first few sessions to learn how to exercise safely and effectively.

Pushups are a type of isotonic exercise.
Pushups are a type of isotonic exercise.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Greenweaver- I do that sometimes too. But I usually do flexibility exercises. I sit on the floor with my legs slightly apart and bend body forward to the center and hold the stretch until I feel the burn in my legs.

I'll also do toe touches where I hold the back of my feet with my hands and my head forward almost touching my leg.

After a while you do start to become more flexible and the exercises get easier.


Crispety- That sounds like a good idea. I'll have to try that. What I normally do in my office when I'm a little stressed, is do some neck exercises.

I first move my head from side to side in a slow controlled motion. Then I will look down and roll my head in a circular motion in order to stretch my muscles in my neck.


Sunny27- I have used that machine before. It does work. I like to exercise my hips and legs. I exercise my hamstrings by doing a back leg curls.

I usually lie on my stomach and do three sets of 20 repetitions. I also do forward leg curls while sitting erect with my back against the seat.

I do some hip exercises that include placing my leg from a bent position and pushing outward in a controlled fashion.

This static contraction exercise allows me to firm up my hips.


While people with sharp back pain should really use caution and receive treatment for their condition, many isometric lower back or exercises can help.

There is a machine in which you sit and move your body slightly back and return to the starting position while holding your abdominal muscles.

This will not only strengthen your back, but it will also strengthen your abdominal muscles. It is a great back pain exercise.

Exercises that build strength in the abdominal muscles will also support the lower back and make it stronger. This will lessen lower back pain over time.

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