Isometric exercises involve active muscle contractions with no visible limb movement or change in joint angle. Motionless exercise is somewhat limited as a standalone strength-training activity, but it has a number of benefits as one component of a comprehensive fitness program.
Benefits of Isometric Exercises
Isometric, or static, exercises are among the easiest types of exercise to perform. They usually require no equipment, little preparation, and no prior fitness experience. For this reason, static exercises are often a good choice for those with a low underlying level of fitness or for cases when a full exercise set-up is impractical.
An Isometric Workout
To maintain an existing fitness level when on the road or to build a strength base to lead up to dynamic resistance training, a full body workout can be achieved using isometric exercises.
Isometric wall squats primarily work the upper quadriceps as well as the lower quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluteus muscles as stabilizer muscles. To perform an isometric wall squat:
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and lean against a wall with most of the contact against your lower back.
- Gradually slide down the wall until your knees are at a 90-degree angle.
- Consciously contract the thighs and gluteus.
- Hold the position for 15 to 180 seconds.
Back and Biceps
A throwback from elementary gym class, the flexed-arm hang remains a good exercise for strengthening the back and biceps. Performed like a chin-up frozen in time, the flexed-arm hang is an isometric exercise that makes an excellent precursor to full chin-ups. To get started, you will need a horizontal overhead bar and a bit of determination.
- Grasp the bar as you would to perform a chin-up. An overhand grip will focus more of the stimulation on the muscles of the back, whereas an underhand grip will shift much of the effort to the biceps.
- Pull up to bring your arms to a flexed position and hold.
Chest, Triceps and Core
The plank is a well-known isometric exercise used in yoga, martial arts, and other core-strengthening exercise routines. This exercise is essentially the top position of a push-up. To do a plank:
- Lay prone on the floor or a yoga mat with your hands directly beneath your shoulders.
- Press down with your hands to lift your torso off the floor.
- Flex your abdominal muscles to keep your back straight. Your body should create a long, straight line from your head to your heels.
The deltoids are responsible for lifting and pressing movements of the arms. To work the deltoids, you could simulate these movements in a static fashion. For example, hold weights statically in an isometric fly, using the arm as a lever to increase resistance. Another excellent exercise to work the deltoids is a wall handstand, as follows:
- Place your hands on the floor, as you would for a push-up, about 12 inches away from a wall clear of pictures or other obstructions.
- Crouch with one leg bent and the other kicked out straight behind you, as if you were about to take off in a sprint.
- Take a breath and kick the straight leg up toward the wall. The other leg should naturally follow.
- Use the wall to balance as needed.
Tips for an Isometric Workout
To get the most out of your workout, keep these tips in mind:
- Isometric exercises are specific to joint angle, with gains in strength typically only occurring in the limb position used during the posture. For optimal strength gains, repeat isometric positions every 15 to 20 degrees throughout the range of motion.
- Hold most contractions for about six to 30 seconds and repeat if you require added stimulation.
- Don't forget to breathe during contractions.
- If any posture or position is painful or if you experience dizziness or feeling light-headed, stop the workout and seek the advice of a physician before continuing.