When we’re short on time and only have a quick 30 minutes in the gym, we need exercises that are simple, effective, quick, and need little equipment. Isometrics are a pretty good fit for this.
Everyone from astronauts to new mothers can benefit from isometric exercises. So what are they, how do they help, and what should we be doing with them?
What does are isometric exercises?
The word has Greek roots, and the literal meaning is ‘equal measure’. That’s because an isometric exercise means tensioning the muscles without changing their length. That’s different from normal muscle contractions, which either shorten muscles (for example, when lifting a weight) or lengthen them (when lowering it).
An isometric contraction is when you hold a muscle at a fixed length for a period of time.
You may have already done isometrics without realising. Planks, wall presses and the wall-sit are all examples of isometric contractions.
And we weren’t joking about the astronauts. They use isometrics because there is no muscle movement, so they don’t end up flying around the space station.
What are the benefits and drawbacks of isometrics?
- Maintaining and improving muscle strength is the most obvious benefit of isometric exercises is that they help to strengthen and condition your muscles.
- Injury recovery. Isometric exercises are commonly prescribed by physiotherapists for muscle rehabilitation. Most of our joints rely on the adjacent muscles to support and stabilise them. Isometrics allow the supporting muscles to be strengthened without moving the joint. That means that when healing is complete, there will be much less chance of a recurrence and a quicker return to normal function. Isometrics can also help when the muscle itself is injured, as these exercises do not cause strain.
- Anyone, anytime, anywhere. Isometric exercises have no fitness prerequisites and can be done without equipment. Anyone can do them in a spare moment. Others around you probably won’t even notice.
On that note, there is one unnoticeable isometric exercise that everyone should do. Pelvic floor exercises strengthen the muscles that support bladder and bowel. If these muscles become weak, control can become an issue. That’s not a problem anyone wants, and it can come on a lot sooner than middle age. Women planning pregnancy or recovering from birth particularly need to do their pelvic floor contractions, but they are a good idea for everyone. Yes, men too.
However, like any exercise, isometrics have their shortfalls. They don’t benefit your speed of movement or muscle elasticity, so they shouldn’t be done alone but part of a varied workout.
Examples of Isometric Exercises
Planks, wall-sits and pelvic floors done? Add these.
- Shoulder flex: Stand straight, side on to a wall. Grab a towel or anything that makes a bit of padding. With your arm bent at 90 degrees and your elbow directly below your shoulder, make a fist and push the padding against the wall. Push, and hold, then release.
- Pectoral squeeze: Stand straight with your feet hip width apart. Put your palms together in ‘praying’ position, press together for 10 seconds. Now try balancing on each leg in turn, continuing the squeeze.
- Calf Raise: Stand straight with your feet close together. Then just raise your heels and hold for a minute. –Hold on to something if balance needs work. Lower gently and repeat.
Isometric Exercise Tips
Like any exercise, correct form is essential, so get that position right.
Squeeze it out. Tighten the muscles as much as you can to get the most benefit. And don’t hold your breath; keep the air flowing in and out while holding the poses.
Adding isometric exercises to your workout for variety or as a finisher will help you keep things fresh. Or even do them at spare moments throughout the day. Your colleagues probably won’t even notice.