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:
- Yielding isometrics.
- 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:
- They don’t require any equipment. How’s that for not having any excuse not to exercise?
- They don’t require much time.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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…