Isometrics: Get in Shape without Moving a Muscle (guest post)

photo29 300x240 Isometrics: Get in Shape without Moving a Muscle (guest post)

 

Isometrics are a method of training where you squeeze your muscles without moving.

Think about pushing against a wall, or holding a plank. There is no movement, but your muscles are definitely working.

There are 2 types of isometrics:

  1. Yielding isometrics.
  2. Overcoming isometrics.

In yielding isometrics you’re trying to prevent motion. Think about a plank or a wall sit (remember that exercise your 8th grade gym teacher made you do?). You’re trying not to move.

In overcoming isometrics, you’re trying to cause motion. Think about pushing against a wall.

The Benefits of Isometrics

Isometrics have a number of advantages:

  1. They don’t require any equipment. How’s that for not having any excuse not to exercise?
  2. They don’t require much time.
  3. They don’t cause muscle soreness to nearly the same extent as “regular” exercise. Muscle soreness is caused primarily by lowering weights. For example, when you’re doing curls, it’s on the way down where most of the muscle “damage” occurs. Since with isometrics, there is no movement, the muscle damage is minimal. It may feel uncomfortable while you’re doing it, but very little soreness comes of it.
  4. You can get very strong very fast. Because there is such intense focus on a very specific point, strength improves very quickly… but it also plateaus quickly (usually in 3-8 weeks).

 

The Drawbacks of Isometrics

  1. It’s tough to maintain your motivation. With “normal” exercises, you can quantify the amount of weight you used. So at least part of the motivation that comes from lifting weights is getting stronger. You know you get stronger when you can lift heavier weights.
  2. Isometrics only make you stronger at the position that you hold. So imagine holding a biceps curl with your elbows bent at 90 degrees. The strength that you gain will only carry over 15 degrees to each direction. So you have to use isometrics in several different positions.
  3. Isometrics don’t produce the same metabolism-boosting effect as “regular” exercise. To a great extent, the reason that metabolism is elevated after “regular” exercise is because the muscles are “damaged”, and the body requires a lot of energy (calories) to repair that damage. Since there is less muscle damage, the metabolism doesn’t speed up as much.

 

As you can see, isometrics have both benefits and drawbacks. So are they good or bad?

As I’m very fond of telling my clients, “there is no good or bad. There is only correct application.”

So what’s the correct application for isometrics? Here are just a few ways to use them:

How to Use Isometrics

If your goal is fat loss:

When it comes to fat loss, “regular” exercise, through a full range of motion is best. But in those cases when you simply don’t have time or don’t have equipment, isometrics are a handy substitute.

If you’re trying to lose body fat, use exercises that work several muscles at the same time, and hold each position for 40-70 seconds. Repeat it for 3-4 sets.

This will be a very simple 12-15 minute workout.

If your goal is strengthening:

Figure out which movement you want to strengthen. Now, figure out where the hardest part of the movement is for you. Let’s use the squat as an example. For some people, the hardest part of a squat is the first couple of inches from the very bottom. For other people, it’s just 4-6 inches shy of full extension.

Let’s say that you’re one of those people for whom the weakest part is 4 inches from full extension. What you would do is you would simply hold that position for 8-12 sets of 4-6 seconds. In a matter of 2-4 weeks, that will no longer be a weak spot for you.

So What Are Some Exercises You Can Do?

For your upper body:

Static pushups (works the chest, front of the shoulder and back of the arm). Get down to 1 inch off the ground and hold.

Static lat pulldowns (works the biceps and the sides of the back). Pull the bar down to about 90 degrees and hold.

Lateral raises. Raise the dumbbells until they are parallel with the floor and hold.

 

For the lower body:

Wall sits. Put your back against the wall, and lower your body until your knees are at 90 degrees. Hold until you cry.

Static split squats. These are a favourite (yep, the Canadian way to spell it. Eh) of mine because they build strength and flexibility together. Stand with a chair or bench behind you. Put one leg on the chair, and then squat. Hold the bottom position.

That’s it!

There you have it! Hopefully this gives you an idea of how to add isometrics to your training arsenal when it’s necessary.

 

If you have any questions, please post them below, and I’ll be sure to answer.
Igor was selected as one of the top 5 personal trainer in Toronto by the Metro News newspaper. He is the author of a book called “Unlimited Progress: How You Can Unlock Your Body’s Potential.” He is a self-described information junkie, and loves to study and educate himself on all aspects of fitness and nutrition.

 

Edited to say: Want some Miz on yer friday? Im over at (my.fave.) Guiliana Rancic‘s FabFitFun today talking about GETTING FIT and *staying* fit for the rest of your life

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Comments

  1. says

    It is great when you want to build specific sections of muscle groups. It provides more muscle contraction than weight lifting and strength training. One important aspect is that isometric exercises require no gym membership and no expensive machines and they can be done in your spare time almost anywhere.

  2. Marlene T says

    Such great post! From what i read i guess that we could combine gym work outs (lets say twice per week) with isometrics at home if we don’t have the time for more exercise in the gym! Fat loss is always my main goal so i guess they will really help!

    • says

      Marlene, yes, absolutely, you can definitely combine regular gym workouts with isometrics.

      I personally do exactly that. Since my primary goal is relative strength (strength without size), I’ll do isometrics of funky movements (like the planche, front lever, etc.) 4 days per week, and my regular gym workouts 6 days per week.

    • says

      Yes, they tend to cause more of a “burn” than regular exercises because you’re holding a position. When you hold positions, it shuts off the blood flow to the muscle, which is why you feel the burn.

      Isometrics are only hard depending on the amount of time you hold them.

      When you train for fat loss, and have to hold them for 40-70 seconds, yeah, they’re tough. But when you train for strength, and you hold them for 6 seconds or less, you don’t have time to generate lactic acid, so although they still place great amounts of tension on the muscles, the muscles don’t burn.

  3. says

    Excellent summary of isometrics.

    Certainly wouldn’t be my main focus for fat loss, for myself of any client, but can be a useful add on.

    More of a training protocol to use once you’re a little more workout/exercise savvy and once you’ve got started towards your goal weight.

  4. cheryl says

    My mountain biking has improved dramatically as the result of isometric workouts…
    or maybe my isometrics have improved because of my mountain biking…! Who knows? Who cares?

  5. says

    Love that quote “there is no good or bad. there is only correct application”!
    I modify it slightly with my clients and tell them “there is no good or bad exercise, only more or less appropriate for YOU”

    Your photo reminds me so much of Cirque de Soleil; such amazing isometric strength and balance!

    • says

      Hi Tamara,

      I guess great minds think alike ;)

      That photo of me doing the flag was actually taken about 4 years ago. I’m even stronger now :D

      In great part, thanks to isometrics.

  6. Paul says

    Hi,

    That’s a nice introduction to isometrics, but there are some serious errors – firstly the 2nd drawback listed – that isometrics only increase strength at a specific angle of movement is incorrect. And it’s little confusing that a fitness instructor who should have a good knowledge of biology and physiology would make a such a claim.

    The concern about Isometrics simply increasing strength at the point it’s trained at is a common one. And it doesn’t make any sense what so ever if looked at logically and with an understanding of anatomy and physiology. Let me explain.

    You see the way a muscle works is it contracts or it doesn’t. That’s it. It’s on or off. It adjusts the amount of strength used through a phenomenon called the GIC (Gradual Increments of Contraction). This is a misleading name as it implies partial contraction of a muscle, which isn’t the case.

    The way a muscle work is that is composed of several bundles of muscle fibers which are connected to one nerve each. To lift a pencil will say 4 nerves are activated and the WHOLE group of muscle muscle fibers connected to those 4 nerves contact and low and behold we can lift a pencil.

    To lift 100lbs we’ll say 150 say nerves would be activated and all the attached muscle bundles would contract completely thus giving you more power. It has NOTHING to do with the position of the arm – just the tension being applied to it and how many bundles are stimulated.

    Strength is uniform, all fibers in a bundle contract. The number of bundles contracted is not dictated by position but by the intensity of resistance. As such if you get stimulate the muscles and get stronger you get stronger in the WHOLE muscle, not just in a specific area of movement.

    Intensity is the SOLE dictator of whether you get stronger or weaker, bigger or smaller. And isometrics is by far the most intense muscular exertion possible, and thus produces the best results in the shortest time.

    Hope that helps clear that up,

    Paul
    http://www.isometric-training.com

    • says

      Hi Paul,

      Thank you very much for your input, and your understanding of neurophysiology is very good.

      I need to clarify that as long as you hold an isometric at the weakest part of the range of motion, yes, the entire movement benefits. After all, strengthen the weakest link and the entire chain gets stronger. But if you hold a position that is not the weakest one, then only that position (plus/minus 15 degrees) benefits.

      Yes, isometrics are certainly an intense muscular contraction, but in terms of sheer intensity, an eccentric contraction is actually the most intense.

      Thanks again for the contribution.

  7. says

    Love isometrics when traveling! I do them in the car, in the plane (even in the train!!!). I figure if I have to spend an entire day driving somewhere, I might as well get something physical out of it!
    Great information in this post!

  8. says

    HOly Shiza you are awesome!!! this is great and so creative, I’m totally going to try this at the gym.. although I’m sure I wont look as graceful as you haha

    Do you have any other sortof gymnastic like moves like this to build strength and awesome balance?

    Thanks!

    Jannine

  9. says

    Thanks these are really helpful, I’ve been trying to do a few strength exercises at home between gym visits and running low on ideas.

  10. says

    Wow who would have thought that you could get such a good work out from just isometrics. My main problem with exercise is finding time to exercise and then getting the motivation after a long day of work to do it. I think Isometrics will work for me if I think of them like a stretching end of the day winding down kind of thing.

    Thanks for the tips!

    • says

      Emily, it really depends on how you define a “good workout.”

      Isometrics can certainly strengthen you in a hurry. But you won’t get “a good sweat” from them, so if that’s your idea of a good workout, isometrics might be disappointing.

      My idea of a good workout (keep in mind, my goals don’t involve fat loss. They involve getting as strong as possible without gaining much size) is the bottom line: results. Whatever gets me to my goals most effectively is what I would consider to be a good workout.

      I also wouldn’t think of isometrics as stretching. Static stretching makes sense, because it has a sedating effect on the nervous system, so it helps you get to sleep just fine. But with isometrics, they have a stimulatory effect on the nervous system, so while they’re a fantastic form of exercise, they won’t help with winding down. They’ll do just the opposite.

      Remember, isometrics are just a tool in the toolbox. It’s important to use them at the right time, but just as importantly, it’s important to avoid using them at the wrong times.

  11. says

    Thanks for this. I’ve only done isometrics as part of circuit classes and the like where wall sits are incorporated in other routines… or Pump classes which involve ‘holds’ – mid bicep curl etc as you mention.

    Deb

  12. says

    This is great information, thanks!

    I tend to incorporated this into my workouts but I never really knew the science behind it.

  13. says

    Very interesting! I’m into regular exercise because it feels like I’m sweating all those calorie/cholesterol I have. But, I wanna try this sometime, for strengthening.. :)Thanks for the info!