The How To Exercise (Part 4)
Updated: Oct 15, 2021
Get up, get out and get moving. You see it as a tag line on my website and read it in many of my blogs. But what if I told you there was a way to exercise without moving. Whoa! Really? I'm all about that! Tell me I'm dreaming! All the time I spend in the gym and/or fitness classes challenging my body sweating like crazy for the sake of keeping fit isn't necessary? You've got to be kidding me. I'm canceling my club membership right now...
Hold on! Before you do anything that drastic let me explain. How many of you are familiar with the term isometric exercise? Huh? Did you just mention EXERCISE? A bit ago you said I didn't have to work out and now maybe I do? Something isn't adding up here. Then what exactly do you mean? Give me a minute and hopefully you'll understand.
The term isometric is broken up this way: iso=same and metric=length or measurement. While that seems simple, things aren't always as they appear. You can't judge a book by its cover so there is more than meets the eye when experimenting with isometric activities. In fact, you are probably already doing quite a few isometric exercises in your normal workouts and don't know it. Any of you who have ever done a group fitness class (whether with me or another instructor) or been led through a workout by a personal trainer, have most assuredly done this type of movement.
In performing a normal exercise, there are two phases a muscle goes through. One being what is called an concentric (shortening) contraction and the other is referred to as an eccentric (lengthening) contraction. These contractions work collaboratively to allow for movement. When you do a biceps curl, for instance, the biceps will shorten as the thumb nears the shoulder and the triceps, in turn, lengthen and your elbow bends. In contrast, to straighten the arm back out, the two muscles reverse roles (biceps lengthen and triceps shorten) and your hand returns back beside your hip.
However, with isometric exercise the above contractions don't provide any movement but instead allow a static holding position to be maintained. If a plank or wall sit is in your workout of the day, you selected an isometric activity. Try holding either one or both for up to three minutes without shaking and you'll see exactly what I meant in my opening paragraphs. Despite them looking easy, I guarantee you they are not.
Like I mentioned in last week's post, since many isometric exercises are body weight only they classify as multi-dimensional and fit into other categories as well so opting for these in a workout is beneficial regardless of fitness goals. Although these work great as a stand alone workout and will leave you sweating, it is always a good idea to mix up exercise types from one session to the next to keep things fresh.
Too shy to ask that one gym junkie hogging the equipment if you can cut in? Fear not, isometric activities are your backup plan when another member is taking forever on a particular piece of equipment or it's down for maintenance. Working out with a friend? Throw in an isometric "movement" while your accountability partner is taking their turn. It's a great way to make the most of your time spent waiting. Once they're finished swap exercises and watch how fast time flies when you're having fun. Just remember who's up next if you purposely take your ever loving time completing your set. You know what they say about payback...
Speaking of fun, below are some of my favorite isometric activities I use in my own workouts and occasionally incorporate into a class format:
Ball or rolled towel squeeze
Bird dog pose
Supine iso hold
I know, define fun...
See you next week with the final chapter in this series. Hope you'll continue to be a loyal reader. Bye!