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Benefits of isometric exercises

Benefits of isometric exercises

The branches of fitness include weight training, flexibility and aerobic exercises, among others. Within these, there are even more specific methods such as circuit training, HIIT workouts and Crossfit. Most of these workouts rely on repeated contraction and extension of muscles, which eventually leads to toning, hypertrophy (muscle building) or fat loss.
Isometric exercises, however, work with the opposite principle: they emphasize staying still and not moving at all. Isometric holds are also called static strength training. Fitness experts and studies are divided on whether isometric exercises help in gaining strength. However, there is no denying that they are great for maintaining your existing levels of strength as well as help in regaining strength during injury rehabilitation.
Isometric exercises involve multiple muscles and muscle groups - the exercises require you to keep these muscles contracted over a longer period of time (as opposed to lengthening and contracting them by turns). This helps in the development of different muscles in the body. These exercises are also used to improve your athletic performance while doing more exaggerated movements, as parts of your body are required to be still while lifting heavy weights off the ground, hence they have aspects of functional training as well.
Chronic aches, pains, workout injuries and running injuries are part and parcel of the average fitness enthusiast - and they are a routine affair in an athlete’s life! Returning to full fitness after an injury involves gaining back strength as well as complete range of motion in the affected area. Physical therapists the world over include isometric exercises in their rehabilitation programmes to help a person recover from their injuries in order to return to the physical activity that caused the injury in the first place.
Benefits of isometric exercises
Isometric exercises have become a constant feature in every workout these days, even ones that can be done at home as they are easy to do, although difficult to master. Some of the benefits of performing isometric exercises include:
  • Lowers blood pressure: According to a study published in 2014, participants over the age of 18 years experienced a drop in their blood pressure levels are performing isometric exercises over a period of eight weeks. Given the prevalence of high blood pressure in the country, this style of workouts should be included in all fitness training for adults.

  • Prevents muscle loss: Performing isometric holds regularly helps maintain muscle tone and strength: this is one of the reasons why it features in the training routines of athletes, especially in the off-season. This is also the reason why older people should do these exercises: they help in preventing muscle loss as one ages, preserving tissue health in the muscles, ligaments and tendons.

  • Less time-consuming: You do not require an hour or longer of an exhausting workout to perform isometric exercises. Isometric holds require a few seconds - longer if you can go on - of each round of exercise.

  • Increases muscle strength: Because isometric holds require you to keep your muscles engaged in a certain position over a period of time, they require more muscle strength than other movement-based exercises, thereby promoting muscle gain. This is why isometric exercises are highly valued by strength training professionals to increase their performance while doing other movements.

  • Prevents injury and helps in rehabilitation: Injured athletes or those suffering from chronic pains benefit greatly with the use of isometric exercises, and they are frequently used by physical therapists during rehabilitation. These exercises also help in strengthening weaker parts of the body and help prevent injury and prevent chronic problems such as osteoarthritis and osteoporosis by strengthening the bones.

  • Improves flexibility: Although these exercises require you to hold a position for a prolonged period of time, isolated holds help in enhancing the range of motion of the particular muscle groups engaged.

  • Aids in weight loss: Isometric exercises can burn calories quickly due to the prolonged holding of muscles in the same position, which in turn boosts metabolism in the body and helps in weight loss.

  • No equipment: Most isometric exercises do not require the use of additional weights or any equipment and can be done anywhere. Of course, some of the movements can be made more advanced with the use of weights and other equipment.

  • Targets all muscles of the body: Isolated exercises engage all the major muscle groups in the body. For example, when you do in a plank, you engage your arms, shoulders, back, core, hips, legs and even your toes are involved. 

  • Benefits mental health and relieves stress: Much like any other physical activity, performing isometric exercises also help in producing endorphins in the body. Endorphins are the hormones responsible for creating feelings of positivity - they help in battling problems like depression, anxiety, stress and other mental health-related issues.
Isometric exercises are of various types and engage different muscle groups of the body at different times. Fitness experts recommend including isometric exercises in your regular exercise routines on an everyday basis to improve your overall fitness. Here are some examples that can be part of your workout programme:
  1. Plank
  2. Side plank
  3. Wall sit
  4. Isometric lateral raise
  5. Overhead hold
  6. Dead hang
  7. Leg lift
  8. Body hold

Plank

Your core strength and stability is challenged and eventually improved by this simple exercise that requires you to hold yourself against the forces of gravity. The exercise can be performed in a few different ways, one while resting on your forearms or by assuming the top position of the push-up.
Steps
  • Lie down on your stomach and place your forearms on the floor in a way that your hands are directly under your shoulders.
  • Lift yourself up straight and maintain a straight line from head to feet. The only point of contact to the floor should be your forearms and toes.
  • Breathe normally and hold the position for at least 30 seconds. Increase your time as you get stronger and better at it.

Side plank

A variation of the plank exercise is the side planks that target the core muscles on the sides of the body, i.e. the obliques. Side planks require you to change your orientation towards the side of the body.
Steps
  • Lie down on your side with one leg stacked on top of the other. Your forearm should be resting on the mat or floor, with your elbow directly under your shoulder line. (Alternatively, you do a high side plank by straightening the arm fully to place your palm on the mat. Now, extend the top arm fully outwards as well.)
  • Maintain a straight line with the body and lift yourself up, keeping the top arm resting on the side of the body.
  • Continue to breathe normally and aim to stay in position for 20 seconds on both sides.

Wall sit

Yes, sitting against a wall without a chair is an exercise - and an extremely effective one at that. The wall sit engages all the muscles in the lower body at the same time and is also a good core-crunching hold.
Steps
  • Stand against a wall with your head and back touching and feet about 2 feet away from the wall.
  • Slide down into a squat position with your hips on a level with your knees.
  • You can use your arms to balance yourself by extending them straight in front, or locking them behind your head.
  • Hold the position and breathe normally for at least 30 seconds.

Isometric lateral raise

The conventional lateral raise is an excellent exercise to work on the muscles in the shoulders and back, and the isometric version of the same exercise is just as good, if not more challenging.
Steps
  • Stand straight with your feet hip-width apart. You can take a lightweight dumbbell in each hand.
  • Lift both arms sideways up to the shoulder level without bending the elbows.
  • Hold both arms at the same level and breathe normally for 30 seconds.

Overhead hold

Another exercise that engages the muscles in the upper body, particularly the shoulder joint, the overhead hold can be a challenging exercise.
Steps
  • Stand straight, holding a medium-weighted plate, dumbbell or kettlebell with both hands straight above your head.
  • Maintain the straight position, breathe normally and hold the position for 30 seconds.

Dead hang

Hanging on a horizontal bar without trying to move is an excellent exercise for multiple parts of the body, including the arms, shoulders, back as well as the core. It also helps lengthen or stretch the spine, which becomes compressed due to the constant sitting postures we are in throughout the day. It is also beneficial in gaining strength to improve your pull-ups performance.
Steps
  • Stand under a pull-up bar and jump to hang on it in a neutral position with an overhand grip (palms facing away from the body). Do not swing from the bar.
  • Breathe normally and hold still for 30 seconds.

Leg lift

A modification of the dead hang, this exercise is similar to a gymnast’s hold in the Roman rings event. The extension of the legs in this exercise activates the lower back, abdominal muscles as well as the muscles in the legs, particularly the hamstrings.
Steps
  • Hang on a horizontal bar in a neutral position with an overhand grip (palms facing away).
  • Lift your legs straight out in front of you to make an L-shape with your body.
  • Hold the position for about 10 seconds while breathing normally.

Body hold

The body hold is a challenging exercise that may look easy. It develops core strength besides improving the body’s overall balance.
Steps
  • Sit on the floor with your knees bent and feet planted firmly on the ground.
  • Straighten your legs and lift them up, while also lifting your arms straight above to form a V-shape with your body, only resting on your buttocks.
  • Breathe normally and hold the position for about 15 seconds.
Isometric exercises aren’t only restricted to the list mentioned above - there are several other holds that can be effective in your overall training routine. However, you must keep a few things in mind while performing them:
  • All the above-mentioned exercises should be performed in sets of three or five, depending on your comfort level with the holds. 
  • Do not stop breathing during any of the exercises. By regulating your breathing, you can improve your holds overall and expect the gains you had targeted in the first place.
  • Always maintain proper form and posture while performing the holds. Not maintaining proper form or technique can lead to pain and injury in the long run.
  • Isometric exercises can be added to your existing workout plan, or can become a workout of its own by performing a few of the holds together.
  • Ensure that you wear proper clothing and footwear to perform these exercises.
  • Once you start getting comfortable with the duration of the holds, you can challenge yourself to hold the position for longer durations, increase the number of sets or even add additional weights or resistance where possible.
Isometric exercises not only help you gain core strength and improve your body’s balance and stability, but they also help in improving your performance in movement-based strength training exercises. Where you may have plateaued with your lifts earlier, performing isometric exercises can help strengthen muscles and allow you to break that barrier for more lifting more weights.
Isolated holds should be routinely included in your daily exercise plan to not only add variety to your workouts but also engage muscles that do not otherwise get used to their full potential.