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Isotonic Exercises Explained (For Coaches)

What Are Isotonic Exercises?

Isotonic exercises involve contracting one or more muscles to overcome resistance (be it the trainee’s body weight or an external weight) through a specific range of motion. Curls are one example where the biceps must contract to lift the weight to the top position and continue engaging to control it on the way down. The resistance remains the same from start to finish, but the range of motion and tempo can vary.

Isotonic vs. Isokinetic Exercises

As discussed, isotonic movements are those where the muscles contract and change their length to overcome external resistance. This includes a wide range of bodybuilding, powerlifting, Olympic lifting, strongman, and calisthenics exercises like the lateral raise, bench press, clean and jerk, atlast stone lift, and pull-up.

Isokinetic exercises are typically performed on special machines where the training tempo and range of motion remain the same, regardless of the trainee’s force output. 

This is highly beneficial for rehab, as controlled movement allows people to overload their muscles and build strength and muscle without putting themselves at risk.

Isokinetic machines can control the tempo through built-in systems that measure force output, such as hydraulics.


1. What are examples of isotonic exercises?

Movements where the muscles change their length and engage to overcome resistance (apart from those done on special isokinetic machines) are isotonic. This includes free-weight movements like the barbell squat and machine-based activities like the machine chest press.

2. Are isotonic exercises beneficial for weight loss?

Isotonic exercises burn some calories and help create the necessary deficit for weight loss. The training stimulus can also help athletes retain more muscle while losing body fat.

3. Do isotonic exercises require special equipment?

While some isotonic movements require special gym machines (like the leg press), many are equipment-free (like the push-up) or only require basic items like a pair of dumbbells.

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