Isometric Excercise

Isometric training occurs when the joint angle and the length of the muscles don’t change throughout the duration of the exercise. Basically, isometric exercises hold your body in a static position, and they can be performed without the need for any specialised equipment. The sustained muscle contractions against a fixed resistance (bodyweight) can help you to improve your athletic performance, functional fitness, core strength and balance.

Specifically, yoga uses isometric exercises to strengthen the core and back muscles. A key point to consider is that flexibility, balance and power are derived from the core. It is very important to train this region of the body. Research has indicated that isometric training does produce increases in strength at different angles of the joints, when compared to dynamic strength training (1). In other words, if you keep your joints (e.g. knee) and muscles in a static position your strength levels will improve. This is good news for individuals who prefer low impact exercises due musculoskeletal injuries and being overweight. Low impact exercises do put less stress and loads on the joints, ligaments and muscles. Let’s move on and discuss some other benefits associated with isometric exercises…

 

The Benefits of Isometric Exercises

  • Convenience

Isometric training can be performed at home, at the office, in the park and/or at the gym. Many of the exercises are primary use your bodyweight and this makes them very convenient in relation to your fitness goals.

 

  • Recovery from Injury

Isometric exercises are generally low impact and are an excellent source of building strength without the complexity of dynamic (movement at the joints) exercises. This is why many physical therapists use isometric exercises for rehabilitation purposes and for recovery from certain injuries. For example, if you have a shoulder injury, a physical therapist may prescribe some isometric exercises that help to stabilise and strengthen the shoulder joint. This will help to speed up the recovery process because there is far less stress and intensity on the shoulder joint! Plus, isometric training can increase the strength and elasticity of the ligaments that hold the joint into place.

 

  • Reduce Blood Pressure

Research had indicated that isometric training can reduce blood pressure (2). High blood pressure is linked to heart disease, heart attacks, peripheral vascular disease, kidney disease and dementia. The protocol within the study consisted of 4 sets X 2 minutes, performing a hand grip exercise or a static wall squat. There was 2 minutes of rest in between each set. This was performed for 3-5 times per week over a period of 10 weeks. An improvement in blood pressure using isometric training, over such a relatively short space of time is encouraging. Especially for individuals who are house bound and/or find it difficult to adhere to exercise programs, because the isometric exercises are so ‘convenient’ to perform.

 

  • Mental Strength

Healthy exercise is a valuable factor in both the physical and mental well-being of everyone. Isometric exercises can help will mental clarity, concentration, mental toughness and being able to zone out. When you are holding a static position for lengthy periods of time, your limbs will be begin to shake. This is the body’s way of dealing with fatigue; attempting to wash out the lactic acid in the muscles whilst maintaining a steady blood flow to the limbs.

Think of it as supply and demand, the muscles still need the oxygen and nutrients but at the same time it needs to remove the lactic acid. Lactic acid does create a certain amount of discomfort in the limbs. Being able to hold the static position for longer periods of time by zoning out should improve both physical and mental strength. This strategy is excellent for daily life, as zoning out and mental toughness do contribute to a reduction in stress levels. Stress is a silent killer that is linked to depression, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, obesity and certain cancers (3).

 

  • Muscle Toning

Isometric training can be used to tone specific muscle groups and this can be achieved by selecting the right exercises. Many individuals who perform isometric training do incorporate these exercises into their fitness regimes. A top tip to use when performing isometric exercises is to start timing once you to start to feel a little discomfort in your limbs. When your body starts to adapt to the isometric exercise, your tolerance to them will increase and you will be able to tone some of the difficult areas. Granted that isometric exercises are an excellent tool for building strength but a solid strategy is to mix them into your cardio and resistance training regime.

 

Isometric Exercises

Why not give try these plank variations and build them into your training program. Just follow the simple instruction and remember to concentrate on your form, so that you can have the full benefit from each exercise. The plank is the ‘King’ of isometric exercises and they use the majority of the major muscle groups to keep your body in a static position. Many individual just perform the orthodox forearm plank, but there is huge variety to use and to build into your training regime.

You are a beginner or coming back from injury then start off with the knee plank and build up to the forearm plank and then progress through each of the seven variations of planks. A top tip is to breathe throughout the whole duration of the plank and to zone out. This will build up both mental and physical strength. Are you ready to get going?

1. Knee Plank

Advice on Technique

  • Begin by laying on the floor face down on your front
  • Lift yourself onto your forearms with your toes pointing into the ground, heels upwards and resting on your knees
  • Keep the upper arms in line with the shoulders
  • Hold the core tight as you keep the lower back flat, avoid arching the shoulders
  • Maintain this position throughout the exercise

 

2. Forearm Plank

Advice on Technique

  • Begin in the basic push up position with bodyweight on hands and toes
  • Lower yourself downwards so that  your bodyweight is rest on your forearms
  • Pals of hands flat on the ground
  • Keep the upper arms in-line with the shoulders
  • The forearms should be parallel with one each other
  • Maintain a tight core with a flat back
  • Always keep the whole body in a straight line throughout the whole plank.

 

3. High Plank

Advice on Technique

  • Begin by bending down on your knees with a flat back and your hands on the floor directly under your shoulders
  • Start to push back onto your toes so your knees are straight and heels pointing backwards over your toes
  • Keep the pelvic area pulled in so your glutes are not sticking out, maintain a flat back at all times
  • Distribute your weight through your outstretched palms, keeping the arms in line with the shoulders and the body in a straight line keeping the upper back flat
  • Hold the core tight as you keep in this position
  • Hold this position for as long as you can.

 

4. Reverse Plank Leg Raise

Advice on Technique

  • Begin in the reverse plank position resting on your hands behind you, legs stretched out straight and torso facing upwards
  • Start to lift your right leg as high as you can avoiding the waist bending
  • Return the leg back to floor as you lift the left leg
  • Keep the arms strong and in line with the shoulders
  • Maintain a tight core at all times to support the lower back
  • Hold this position for as long as you can

 

5. Side Plank

Advice on Technique

  • Begin in the basic plank position, tight core, flat back and shoulders
  • Start to bring your feet together so your heels are touching
  • Lean to your right as you begin to twist the torso and lift the left arm up towards the ceiling
  • You will be leaning on one hand with both arms in a straight line
  • Maintain a tight core at all times to support the lower back as you twist the torso
  • Hold this position for as long as you can.

 

6. Single Arm Plank

Technique

  • Begin in the plank position resting on your forearms
  • Start to stretch out the right arm in front out you, keeping the arm straight at shoulder level
  • Hold this position for as long as you can
  • Return the arm back down to resting on the forearm
  • Repeat with left arm
  • Maintain a tight core to keep the lower back flat
  • Avoid tilting the body and hips over to the side when stretching out the arm.

 

7. Single Leg Plank

Advice on Technique

  • Begin in the standard plank position
  • Keeping your right leg straight lift it to hip level then return to the neutral position
  • Hold this position for as long as you can
  • Repeat on the left leg and continue with this motion
  • Maintain a tight core at all times to avoid the lower back dipping as you lift the leg.

 

References

  1. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/16195033/
  2. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3116747/
  3. Ospina MB, Bond K, Karkhaneh M, Tjosvold L, Vandermeer B, Liang Y, et al. (2007)  Meditation practices for health: state of the research. Evid Rep Technol Assess (Full Rep)  155:1–263