Everybody wants to get the maximum benefit out of their exercise routine. Whether you are a bodybuilder, a long-distance runner, or anywhere in between, strengthening your muscles is crucial to getting the conditioning you need. Though the classic approach is to hit the weights to build up muscle mass, there is another way that can help you to get stronger. It is called isometric exercise, and it can have surprising results.
What are isometric exercises?
Your muscles can work in three different ways. When you do strength exercises, such as squats or bicep curls, you are utilizing two of these. Concentric contraction is when the muscles shorten, and eccentric contraction is when they lengthen. In both cases, the muscles move to counteract the load. In the third case, the muscles contract but remain still, and these are called isometric exercises.
If you have ever practiced yoga, you will be familiar with isometric exercises, even if you do not know them by that name. In fact, a large proportion of yoga poses are a form of isometric exercise, where the muscles contract, but your body remains still. It is one of the reasons why yoga is so beneficial.
Benefits of isometric exercises
Any contraction helps you to get stronger, thus isometric exercises are no different from any other strength conditioning. However, they do have added benefits when compared to concentric or eccentric exercises.
Generally, isometric exercises strengthen more muscle groups in one go than other forms of exercise. If you have ever tried to hold a plank position for more than a few seconds, you will appreciate that it is not only your arms and core that burn. Virtually every muscle in your body starts to shake if you hold it long enough.
In addition, isometric exercises are excellent for injury recovery. As the muscles are not moving, there is a decreased chance of injury or re-injury. An extended routine can be a great way to still get your exercise in when you are feeling the niggles around your body.
Is there a downside?
Like any form of exercise, isometric routines are not perfect. The most obvious drawback is the potential for decreased elasticity. As the muscles do not move, you are not stretching them in the same way as concentric and eccentric exercises do. This can cause problems with tightness and even lead to injury. However, it is relatively easy to overcome by incorporating a variety of other activities into your routine.
Another potential issue is that the exercise is at a particular joint-angle, and does not necessarily carry over to the whole range of muscle movement. To avoid this problem, you can change your positions slightly between workouts to spread the load. For example, in a plank position, you may bend the knees a little to get a broader range of benefits.
How much should you be doing?
Moderation is key. It is vital to overcome the shortfalls of this form of exercise by doing other strength exercises, as well as any additional training. It is also worth doing a variety of exercises for a short period, rather than sticking to one or two preferred positions. The more range you can add to your routine, the more it will benefit your body and the less chance you have of injury.
You should look to do isometric training in bursts. In other words, begin by holding each position for 10 seconds and repeat this 2 or 3 times. Once you build up your strength, increase the number of repetitions or the length of time you hold the position. Keep in mind, that you can increase one variable at a time: either repetitions or length, but not both.
Isometric exercises are by no means a replacement for regular strength training, but they can have a considerable benefit if used in conjunction with other activities. In addition, isometric exercises can be a wonderful way to rehab from an injury or an accident. The most important thing is to keep everything balanced to make sure you give your body the full workout it needs.
Consult your trainer
Consulting your personal trainer before putting together an exercise routine or a program is highly recommended. Your trainer can take into account your goals and plan a workout program that helps you to achieve them.