Isometric exercise can be an essential tool for getting full-body results out of your workout routine. These seemingly stationary poses have long been recommended for those trying to exercise with injuries, arthritis, or blood pressure issues, but they’re so much more than that.
While they often get lost in the cardio vs. weight training shuffle, isometrics are a key third element to a truly balanced full-body workout. If you’re just starting to exercise after sitting for ten months straight, trying to lose weight, looking to increase stability, or attempting to improve your range of motion, isometrics will be a welcome addition to your regimen.
We’ve put together an introductory routine of essential isometric exercises for full-body results perfect for getting you out from your desk or adding strength gains to your recovery days.
If you’re starting in on a new isometric exercise plan, don’t forget that working out is only half the challenge. A healthy diet and a solid workout plan go hand-in-hand.
Farm to Fit makes it easy to keep up with your healthy eating goals, with weekly deliveries of ready-to-eat gourmet meals designed for all diets, so you can get goodies at your door while you’re planking on the floor.
How does isometric exercise work?
Isometric exercise, also referred to as “static strength training,” encompasses a broad group of exercises that rely on static muscle tension without joint movement or muscle contraction. Put simply, these are exercises where the goal is to hold a specific position or use your body parts to create balanced, sustained resistance. This makes isometrics perfect for anyone with a physical injury they’re looking to protect or limited workout space.
While isometric exercises tend to target a specific muscle or group of muscles, there are quite a few with full-body results. For ideal results, your isometric workout should encompass a number of different positions at various angles.
Isometrics aren’t the most effective strength-training exercises, but nonetheless critical additions to any cardio or weight training routine. They can be used on off-days to preserve muscle strength and definition, as part of a warm-up routine, or to overcome “sticking points” in strength training exercises where the weight seems the heaviest.
Don’t forget to stretch before starting, either. Even though your joints and muscles aren’t moving, you still want them loose and activated before you begin to avoid unneccecary strain.
Many isometrics require weights or other special equipment to perform, but we’ll be focusing on bodyweight isometrics that at most need a yoga mat or a pillow.
- Put in the effort — tense your muscles at about 60-80% of their capacity. Over-exertion can be counterproductive and discouraging.
- Don’t forget to breathe — while these are technically anaerobic exercise, you still need oxygen! Not breathing properly can overexert your body and raise your blood pressure above ideal levels.
- Switch up angles and exercises for maximum results — Don’t just strengthen your hold at a 52-degree angle, get a full range of motion by adjusting your positions.
A fitness trend turned incoherent internet trend, planks are often the first thing that come to mind when discussing isometric exercise. They’re fantastic full-body strengtheners, bringing the biggest results in core strength and shoulder stability. Planks come in a wide variety of forms, so make sure to switch it up! Here’s how to do a basic forearm plank:
- Start in a half-push up position, horizontal with your forearms and toes supporting your body
- Shift your weight to just those points of support, raising and contracting your butt
- Hold for ~30 seconds, release, repeat 3-4 times
It looks and sounds tougher than it is, we promise, but it does require some practice. This exercise is great for strengthening your whole body’s balance and stability, specifically targeting your wrists, shoulders, and core. Here’s how to do a basic crow stand:
- Start in a squat pose, bring your hands together with fingers pointing inward and thumbs extended
- Place your hands on the floor in front of you, spread shoulder-width apart
- Lean forward with your knees above your elbows, lowering your forehead to the floor
- Point your toes and use your elbows as a “shelf” for your knees
- Lift your head from the ground, bringing your neck up as high as comfortably possible
Try to hold this pose for 10-15 seconds to start, increasing or decreasing duration based on your personal exertion levels.
While this simple isometric focuses on the lower body, it’s also a stellar back and ab strengthening exercise. This one requires more equipment than others in that you’ll need a wall. Here’s how to do a standard wall sit:
- Press your back flat against the wall
- Spread your feet about shoulder-width apart, with a thigh-length distance from the wall
- Lower your back down the wall until your thighs are parallel with the floor, contracting your stomach muscles
- Hold for 20-30 seconds or to exhaustion. Repeat 3-4 times.
This exercise is great for anyone trying to tone their glutes or lower back, while still being a safe technique for those struggling with back pain. Plus, they’re kinda fun. Here’s how to do a proper bridge position:
- Lie horizontal on the floor, face up, arms to the side. Bring your knees up to where your feet are pressed against the floor.
- Exert your core and glutes, bringing the small of your back to the floor
- Raise your butt off the floor, using your shoulders and feet as support
- Contract your core muscles and glutes, holding your body at a straight angle
- Hold for 30 seconds, relax, repeat 4-5 times
This one’s for the leggies. Rounding out our beginner’s isometric routine, hip adductions are super useful for those trying to improve their range and ease of motion while walking and running. They’ll also activate your hamstrings, quads, and glutes. Some variations require a pillow or medicine ball, but here’s how to do seated isometric hip adductions with no equipment:
- Start in a seated position, bending at the knees
- Put one hand between your knees, using the other to stabilize yourself
- Push your thighs in on your hand, tensing your leg muscles throughout
- Hold for 20-30 seconds, release and rest, repeat 4-5 times
A welcome change of pace
Again, isometric exercises aren’t a substitute for cardio or weight training, but a supplement that can help you reach a true full-body workout Though isometric exercises alone aren’t going to get you prepped for a marathon or rock-climbing expedition, they are indispensable fitness tools due to their ability to target specific muscle groups without risk of injury or spikes in blood pressure.
If you’re hitting a wall with your squats, looking for new ways to work out at home, trying to get more out of your off-days between strength training, or dealing with any kind of physical injury, don’t ignore isometrics.
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