The best way to explain the relationship between isometric exercise and yoga is to start with a basic understanding of isometric exercise.
“Isometric exercises, also known as static strength training, involve muscular actions in which the length of the muscle does not change and there is no visible movement at the joint,” Sports Fitness Advisor explains. “Isometric exercises can be used for general strength conditioning and for rehabilitation where strengthening the muscles without placing undue stress on the joint is warranted.”
Isometric exercises can be completed with submaximal muscle action – such as holding a weight steady, overhead or out to the side. They can also be completed with maximal muscle action which results when we push against an immoveable object such as a wall or heavy weight.
Either way builds strength; however, maximal isometric exercises are more commonly used for strength and conditioning and submaximal exercises are used for rehabilitation.
Typically, isometric exercises involve resistance of some form either from the body’s own structure, objects such as walls or fences, or free weights, weight machines and elastic bands.
So how does this compare to yoga?
Yoga is actually a type of isometric exercise which involves certain body positions that are held in a static position. Pilates would be another example of isometric exercise, as would certain weightlifting moves.
When we look at the history of isometric exercise, which is also called “self-resistance” exercise we find various forms in use dating back to ancient times. The Greeks called it “soft exercise”. In the Orient, it was practiced in the martial arts and in yoga where it manifested as static body positions designed to worship Hindu gods or the animals they were often depicted with.
This shared history may at least partially explain why so many isometric and yoga moves appear to be similar.
For example, one move, commonly known as the plank, is performed by holding the body in a horizontal position to the ground which provides an excellent core workout. It may look exactly like the yoga pose but this is because there are only so many ways the body can move to strengthen the core.
For the same reason, some versions of the squat can appear very similar to yoga’s chair pose.
A very common glut-toning exercise that involves lifting the hips off the floor and holding tightened glut muscles is almost exactly like the yoga pose known as the bridge.
Another isometric favorite, the forward lunge, can also bear a resemblance to yoga’s warrior pose. Again, this is because the body can only move in so many directions so there is bound to be overlap.
For those who don't want to practice yoga, the good news is that you don't need yoga in order to get a good isometric workout. People have been getting exceptional isometric workouts for general health and/or for therapeutic purposes (think Charles Atlas) long before today's yoga craze came about.
Click here for several essential isometric moves that are totally yoga-free.