Isometric exercises involve an intense, focused muscle contraction with no real movement. This would be like pushing against a wall without either you or the wall moving, just contraction without movement.
What's this good for?
Positional strength. When you're doing an isometric, like pushing against the wall, your arms are in a fixed position and angle. With practice, you would gain greater strength and power with movements in this position, with about a 20 degree range difference before the strength benefits diminish.
Since your joints are not bearing any weight during these exercises, there is no extra stress on them. Isometrics make a good addition to rehabilitation programs.
A great sports example where isometric exercises would help is wrestling. Two people trying to push and pull each other for position—they are in fact performing isometrics.
Isometrics can help strengthen a weak position in other exercises, like the bottom position of a pull-up or the bottom of a bench press. By practicing isometrics in these positions, it can help you to overcome strength barriers.
How To Do Isometric Exercises
As mentioned before, the idea is to focus on intense muscle contraction without moving. Such movements could occur when pushing a wall, trying to pull a tree trunk, wall chairs, hanging from a bar with your hands, and so on. In fact, you could do a full isometric workout using only a towel!
Usually, when you do the the contraction, it is with maximal force, but you can also do it with much less than maximal force, even just 25% of your total strength.
If you use maximal force, you don't need to go for longer than 8-10 seconds. With 25-50% force, you can stretch it out from 30 to 60 seconds, which can really test your muscle endurance.
Make sure you are slowly and steadily breathing out when performing the muscle contraction, as failing to do so can increase blood pressure.
Sample Isometric Exercises
Press your back against a wall in a squatting position, like you are sitting in a chair. Make sure your thighs are parallel to the floor, and don't rest or lean your hands on your legs. Try to hold for a minute.
Towel Bow & Arrow
Take a towel and roll it up long ways. Have one hand hold one end with that arm extended out to the side, and the other hand grabbing and pulling back the other end of the towel. The position is like a bow and arrow and you are pulling the bow string back. Make sure you do both left and right sides.
Towel Overhead Pull
Grab each end of a towel with your hands. Bring the towel over your head, your arms extended straight out. Try to rip the towel apart in this position. This is a great upper body exercise; you'll feel it in your shoulders, lats, and abs.
Place your forearms one the ground, forming fists with your hands. The bottoms of your fists touch the ground and your palms face each other, about a foot or less apart. Your fists are under your chest and neck. The only other part touching the ground is your toes—like a push up position except its your forearms touching the ground instead. Your back is straight at all times. Hold this position and try to push your fists and forearms into the ground for a more focused contraction.
Isometric Pull Bar Pull
A great exercise for the upper body. Taking a pull bar, pull down on the bar at different heights (arms fully extended, arms half bent, etc) without actually moving or pulling yourself up. This is a good way to develop your pull ups, especially if you can't do one yet.
The Sampson Press With Door Frame
Stand in a door frame. Place your hands on the frame, right next to your shoulders and try to push out to the side, against the door frame. Imagine you are trying to push the walls apart and away from you (the left and right sides that is).
Military Press With Door Frame
Stand in a door frame. Place your hands above you against the door frame, and try to push away from the frame; it is better to imagine pushing away from the frame then to try to push the frame up like an overhead weight. This helps bring in the core and back muscles to stabilize your body and build strength in those areas.
Isometric Tricep Pull-Down With Towel
Put the towel around your neck with each end coming down and resting on your chest, like you just got done doing a heavy workout. Grab each end and pull down. Make sure your feet are planted in the ground, shoulder width apart, and your back is straight and butt is out; this is a good athletic position to brace yourself as you are trying to pull your neck and shoulders down.
Find a tree or similar pillar-like structure. Try to push it with one leg forward, one leg back and your hands are close together on the pillar/tree. This is a standard isometric exercise.
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