I’ll never forget the time I was holding plank at the completion of a rigorous strength training workout and the trainer says: “What are you whining about? You’re not even moving!” The trainer was being cynical, but he was correct! I wasn’t moving a muscle, but I was engaging several muscle groups at once and definitely feeling the burn. That plank position I was holding, is actually a perfect example of an isometric exercise. Similar to wall sits, hip bridges and static lunges, isometric muscle contractions are great additions to a well-balanced fitness regimen.
Isometrics are defined as static (rather than dynamic) exercises in which neither the muscle length nor the joint angle change. Any exercise in which you contract a group of muscles and sustain that contraction for a given amount of time, without moving at the joints, essentially would be considered an isometric exercise.
For example, a classic biceps curl is considered a dynamic exercise because as one pulls the weight up toward the shoulder, the bicep muscle is shortened on the concentric contraction and then is lengthened as the weight is released and lowered back down on the eccentric contraction. In contrast, when one holds a plank position, the muscles of the back, abdomen, and shoulders are all contracted, but they are held in that contraction for a substantial amount of time with no change in the length of the muscles. A plank is a static exercise and therefore considered an isometric. If you have ever practiced Yoga, Pilates or Barre, then you are already familiar with isometric contractions, as many of the poses and exercises performed in these formats involve various types of isometrics.
Isometric muscle contractions often challenge one’s balance, which brings me to my next point: the many health benefits that isometrics provide. Improving one’s balance and coordination is especially important for the aging population as good balance helps in preventing injury from falls. Other health benefits that can be gained by incorporating isometrics into your fitness programs include:
Since isometric exercises are low impact, those recovering from shoulder and knee injuries can still partake (with caution, of course). One other added benefit is that can practice isometrics anywhere!
Isometrics should be done on a weekly basis to reap the full benefits. If not already a part of your fitness routine, it is recommended that isometrics be included in a well-balanced program that would include strength training, cardiovascular and flexibility exercises. After all, it’s all about finding balance, right?
So now that you know exactly what isometrics are and how beneficial they can be, get out there and start moving…or not…hold still and PLANK!!!
Complete 3-5 Reps of each exercise. 1 Rep = 10-second hold. Increase hold time as you get stronger.