As you might recall, I devoted a section to the Skip The Gym – Build Up Your Arms At Home article to a body-weight exercise called the Isometric Hand Press. You grasp your hands together and press until you feel sweat break out and your heart rate skyrocket. After a few sets, you’ll start to feel sore. It’s an amazing exercise, one that works out your arms and chest, and one you can do almost anywhere. Welcome to the magic of isometrics.
What are they? In the Skip The Gym article, I described isometrics as “static bodyweight exercises that involve using your own body’s resistance against itself, pushing against a wall or chair, and contracting your muscles for small periods of time.”
As opposed to a concentric or eccentric contraction (which occur when you lift a weight up and down, such as a bicep curl), isometric contractions are muscle contractions that occurs when the muscle itself does not lengthen or shorten. By contracting your muscles and forcing the muscle to work, you’re toning the muscle and making it more powerful. Isometrics enthusiasts have touted the exercise as one of the best ways to get a lean, toned physique, and one you can do even at your desk in the office.
Are isometrics the ultimate exercise? No. If isometrics are your only exercise, you’ll eventually plateau. To quote Leo Babauta of Zen Habits, “After awhile (a couple months perhaps), they aren’t all that challenging. You’ll need to continue to build your strength by adding weights.”
He also cautions that, without other exercises, such as chin-ups, you won’t be working out as many muscles as you should be. Instead, he recommends beginning with bodyweight exercises and slowly moving into a regimen combining isometrics with weight training.
Dean Anderson, of Sparkpeople, writes, “Isometric contractions also restrict blood flow and can cause sharp rises in blood pressure during the exercise. This means that isometric exercises can be unsafe for anyone with heart disease or high blood pressure, and women who are pregnant. If you fall into one of these categories, do not try isometric exercises without the consent of your doctor.”
But used in conjunction with a full workout, isometrics are invaluable in toning and working out your muscles. Babauta recommends doing a short warmup before starting your isometrics workout, and getting your heart rate up with a jumping jacks, jump rope or jogging in place.
A Few Bodyweight Exercises
1. Wall Squats
Press your back against a sturdy wall and lower yourself down until your hips and knees are bent 90 degrees. Hold the position for ten seconds, then return to start position. Repeat. Harder than it sounds, trust me.
2. Overhead Press
Find a good solid doorframe. Raise your arms and push against the doorframe, as hard as you can, for ten seconds. Take a small breather and repeat. This action works your arms and shoulders like an overhead barbell press.
3. Neck Resistance Stretch
This is an easy exercise that increases flexibility and power in the neck. Using your hand, firmly press against the side of your head and slowly turn your neck into the resisting force. Return to start position, and then do it with the other hand and the other side. Don’t pull your neck backwards when doing this exercise.
4. Plank Bridge
This almost-pushup strengthens and tones your core. Lie on the floor, facing down. Put your elbows beneath your chest at a 90 degree angle, and push up onto your toes, until your lower body is parallel to the ground. Hold for 10 seconds, and return to your start position. Repeat.
5. Chest Press
Similar to the Hand Press, the Chest Press is intended to focus on your chest muscles. Put your hands together into a prayer position, keep your elbows out at a 90 degree angle. Press your palms together as hard as you can. Hold for five to ten seconds, and then rest. Repeat.
Switch it up!
Don’t forget to include other exercises like jogging, cardio and weight training with your isometrics workout. Keep things fun and limber, and your muscles will just get stronger and tougher.