The use of isometric tests of muscular function in athletic assessment

Sports Med. 1996 Jul;22(1):19-37. doi: 10.2165/00007256-199622010-00003.


Isometric assessment of muscular function is a popular form of testing which has been used in exercise science for over 40 years. It typically involves a maximal voluntary contraction performed at a specified joint angle against an unyielding resistance which is in series with a strain gauge, cable tensiometer, force platform or similar device whose transducer measures the applied force. Often both the maximum force and the rate of force development are recorded. These tests have generally shown high reliability in both single and multi-joint test protocols, although the maximum force is typically more reliable than rate of force development. This review outlines the reliability of isometric assessment and discusses a number of methodological considerations designed to enhance reliability and validity, including standardisation procedures, type of instructions, muscular pre-tension, testing position and joint angle. Currently, there appears to be considerable controversy as to the external validity of isometric assessment, particularly the ability of the tests to monitor changes in dynamic performance and their relationship to such performances. Indeed, a number of studies have recently shown that dynamic assessment modalities (isokinetic and isoinertial) are superior in terms of their relationship to dynamic performance and ability to discriminate between athletes of various performance levels compared with isometric assessment. This article reviews the use of isometric assessment in exercise science and consequently outlines a number of neural, mechanical and methodological factors which may have contributed to the contrasting research, and which may limit the ability of isometric assessment to relate to dynamic movement. Because of the large neural and mechanical differences between isometric and dynamic muscular actions, athletic assessment, which is dynamic in its nature, is generally most appropriately accomplished using dynamic muscular assessment methods, and in most instances isometric testing should be avoided.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Elbow Joint / physiology
  • Humans
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sports / physiology*