With so much to do in your daily routine, it can be hard to even think about fitting in exercise, much less strength training. But what if you could do a little something in the midst of your regular rushing that could help you maintain your strength? You can! That “something” is called isometric exercise, or isometrics.
Isometrics is a type of strength training in which your muscle length doesn’t change when you contract your muscle. Unlike standard strength training, isometrics is done in a static position instead of moving through a range of motion–which means you can practice isometrics anywhere without needing weights or special equipment. Fitness experts say that it only takes about 10 seconds to effectively perform one isometric exercise and, in some cases, no one will even know you’re doing it.
To give you an idea of what an isometric exercise looks like, think about pushing against an immovable object, such as a wall or signpost, or trying to open a window that won’t budge. This allows your muscles to receive isometric exercise even though you’re not moving the wall, post, or window. In other words, your muscles can get exercise just by trying to move something that offers this level of resistance.
So how exactly can you do isometrics? There are almost limitless options for working your muscles in this way. Here are some specific isometric exercises to try that take just 10 seconds a few times a day:
Press your palms together as hard as you comfortably can. Hold for at least 10 seconds, and repeat if desired.
While sitting in a chair, deliberately tighten your stomach muscles, and hold your feet an inch or two above the floor. To increase the resistance, push your knees down toward the floor with your hands while trying to keep your feet from touching the floor.
From a seated or standing position, clasp your hands behind your head, pulling your elbows out wide. Then try to push your head back using your neck muscles, while simultaneously trying to push your head forward with your clasped hands. This exercise works your upper back as well as your neck muscles.
While seated, place your left hand on the outside of your left foot, and your right hand on the outside of your right foot. Then flex your feet outward as hard as you can while using your hands to resist the pressure by pushing inward against your feet. You can perform variations of this exercise to reach different muscles by:
- Holding the insides of your feet and moving them toward each other while pushing outward against them with your hands
- Holding the front of your feet and pushing your feet forward while using your hands to resist the forward motion
- Placing your hands against the back of your feet and pulling your feet backwards against the pressure of your hands
In a standing position, lift your left leg while keeping your knee bent so that your thigh is perpendicular with the ground. Then, use one or both hands to push your thigh down while continuing to lift it upward. Switch legs and repeat the exercise on the opposite side.
Are you hooked yet? Once you get used to building these mini-workouts into your day, the motions will start to come naturally. Besides these suggested exercises, you can think up many more of your own. Anything that causes you to use a muscle or limb to oppose the opposite one will give you the strength benefits of the training. You can achieve the same effect by pushing or pulling against any immovable object. Just remember to exert as much force as you can against the resistance for at least 10 seconds.
The most effective way to use isometrics is to incorporate it into a larger strength-training program. Although isometric exercises offer an important contribution to your workout efforts, they do have some limitations. For one, each isometric contraction only increases muscular strength in the exact position that you’re practicing, not through a whole range of motion. It is therefore best to think about isometrics as a complement to your weight training, not a substitute for it.