Isometric Strength Training For Blood Pressure

August 16, 2019

Tom Fontana, MSPT

Many patients who have been through our doors (particularly those who were post-surgical) have performed isometric exercises. Isometric exercises involve applying a resistance force without allowing any movement (good examples are pushing on a door frame after a rotator cuff repair or pushing your foot into a pillow after ankle surgery). Our primary aim is to strengthen the muscles around the joint.

However, over the years, a side benefit of isometric exercise has emerged. A meta-analysis (meaning study of studies) published in the July, 2019 edition of the Journal of Hypertension found a consistent result across 16 studies involving 492 participants: regular isometric exercise lowers your blood pressure (and is better at doing so than traditional endurance or strength training)! The average effect was to lower systolic blood pressure (the top number in blood pressure results) by 5.23 mmHg, lower diastolic blood pressure by 1.64 mmHg (the bottom number) and a 2.9 mmHg reduction in mean (average) blood pressure.

The catch is the isometrics are not performed how we usually prescribe for strength training (short 2-3” holds x 10). Instead, you have to perform four repetitions of handgrip squeezes at 30% of your maximum intensity for 2 minutes each, three times per week. There is some evidence that performing a wall squat and holding it for this length of time will also work.

It’s not the largest reduction in the world, but every little bit helps especially if you’re on the borderline and wish to avoid medications.

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