Friday, February 1, 2019

Increase Strength and Performance with Isometric Exercise

Are you bored with your current workout? Looking to challenge your body in a new way? Want some ideas for workout programs for the New Year?

If you’re like most people, you’ve dabbled with the usual types of exercises involving some free weights, machines, and bodyweight. There are so many ways to exercise and yet it’s easy to get caught up in the hype of everyone doing the same workouts. One little discussed method of working out that has been shown to produce incredible strength and performance gains is isometric exercise.

What is Isometric Exercise?


When performing an exercise, there are three sections or phases of the movement:

Concentric
·      The lifting portion of the exercise.
·      Example: when you lift the dumbbell up towards your shoulder during a bicep curl.

Isometric
·      The pausing portion of the exercise.
·      Example: when you reach the shoulder and stop during a bicep curl.

Eccentric
·      The lowering portion of the exercise.
·      Example: when you lower the weight from the shoulder to the starting position during a bicep curl.

As the name implies, an isometric exercise focuses only on the isometricportion. In other words, you’re not lifting anything and you’re not lowering anything. You get into an isometric position and you stay there for a prescribed amount of time. 

The best example of an isometric exercise is a plank. During a plank, you get into a push-up position with your forearms on the floor. Once you stabilize your core, you don’t move. You hold the plank position as long as you can.

Although your muscles aren’t moving up and down, the amount of twitching that is occurring within your muscle fibers is intense! You’re not moving but you’re doing a lot! Think about it: How long can you hold a plank for with perfect form? See what I mean?

Benefits of Isometric Exercise


Increases Strength

·      A popular study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology demonstrated that both men and women can effectively see increased strength from an isometric workout program. While subjects showed an increase in lean tissue mass, the real surprise was the significant boost in strength.

Leaner and Fitter Body

·      Isometric training can also enhance the conditioning of your body composition, improving your total body aesthetics. In other words, you’re going to be able to achieve that lean and sexy physique you’ve been chasing. Isometric promotes weight loss and lean muscle gains, both of which are needed to achieve that lean and fit body composition.

Activates Greatest Number of Fibers

·      Your muscles are made up of three types of muscle fibers: Type 1, Type 2a, and Type 2b. However, for the purpose of keeping it simple, we will generalize and focus on the fibers as either slow-twitch or fast-twitch. Slow-twitch muscle fibers can be looked at as being able to go the extra mile and some. They do not fatigue easily to the demands of exercise. Fast twitch muscle fibers, on the other hand, produce incredible force output but burn out rather quickly. Different types of exercise and training will activate either the fast or slow twitch fibers. Isometric training activates both, which is ideal for seeing incredible fitness gains with an emphasis in performance.

Supports Bone Health

·      Bone health, especially for older adults, is important for ensuring that you can reach your fitness goals but also so that you can maintain a high quality of living. Studies show that isometric exercise is effective at promoting the density and overall health of bones. Those suffering from osteoporosis, for example, saw a dramatic improvement in bone health when using a safe and effective isometric exercise program.

Low Impact Means Low Risk

·      Continuing with the point above, isometric training is a low impact form of exercise. This means that it does not apply a great amount of direct force on to sensitive joints and connective tissue. While plyometric training, also known as jump training, can be extremely effective at activating both types of muscle fibers, increasing bone density, and skyrocketing performance, it’s also very high impact. Your knees, ankles, elbows, and deltoids are taking a lot of stress, which will significantly increase your risk for strains, tears, and injuries. Isometric exercise, on the other hand, produces similar results with none of the risk. This makes isometric exercise ideal for anyone who is recovering from an injury or going through rehabilitation.
Best Isometric Exercises
Ready to start incorporating some isometric exercises into your current workout program? Maybe you want to switch over to only isometric exercises or maybe you need a safe way to start getting back into shape. Here are the best isometric exercises that I personally use within my own workout routine.

·      Focus on keeping the hips stabilized to keep the core muscles engaged. Once your hips drop towards the ground, the exercise is over.


·      Same idea as above: Stabilize the hips to properly engage the core.



·      Perform a standard chin-up but hold at the top of the movement (the isometric portion) for 5 seconds. After the 5-second hold, lower yourself to the starting position.


·      Keep the chest up and the core tight as you walk around with the kettlebells in the isometric position.

Isometric Workout


Warm-up:

·      10 minutes of cardiovascular exercise
·      5 minutes of total body stretching
·      Examples: Stepper, bicycle, or rope skipping


 

Isometric Workout:


·     Chin-up with Hold: 5 sets of 5 (hold for 5 seconds at the top of the chin-up)
·      Racked Kettlebell Carries: 5 sets of 60 seconds
·      Plank: 5 sets of 60 seconds 
·      Side-Plank: 5 sets of 60 seconds (switch sides at 30 seconds)

Cool-down:

·      5 minutes of cardiovascular exercise, such as a light jog or rope skipping
·     10 minutes of total body stretching

Conclusion


Have you tried isometric exercises before? What were your results? Do you have favorite isometric exercises? Tell me about it in the comments below!

References


1. Lavie CJ, Milani RV, Marks P, de Gruiter H. Exercise and the Heart: Risks, Benefits, and Recommendations for Providing Exercise Prescriptions. The Ochsner Journal. 2001;3(4):207-213.

2. Davies J, Parker DF, Rutherford OM, Jones DA. Changes in strength and cross sectional area of the elbow flexors as a result of isometric strength training. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1988;57(6):667-70.

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3. Swezey RL, Swezey A, Adams J. Isometric progressive resistive exercise for osteoporosis. Journal of Rheumatology 2000:27(5), pp1260-64.