Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Pros and Cons of Isometric Exercise

Before bodybuilding became popular, a different muscle building routine, called isometric exercises, were all the rage.  These exercises are static, meaning you apply pressure and the hold it.  For instance, you could push your arms up against the wall and hold it.  While these exercises aren’t as popular as they used to be, they do provide several benefits:

* It works.  Isometric exercises are great at building the specific sections of muscle groups that you're focused on, actually providing more muscle contraction than weight lifting and strength training that involves movement.

Isometric calf stretch
Isometric calf stretch (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
* It’s cheap.  Traditional isometric exercises require no gym membership and no expensive machines.  They use walls and body weight to provide adequate resistance.

* It’s fast and easy.  Isometric exercises can be done in your spare time almost anywhere.  Even if you can’t fit in a full workout, you can take a couple minutes out of your day to do a few exercises and still benefit.

This type of exercise used to be so popular, so why don’t we hear much about it anymore?  One big reason is that it was replaced by traditional body building - partly because there are a few drawbacks to this type of workout.

* Raises blood pressure.  During isometric exercises, people tend to hold their breath.  This causes a jump in blood pressure that could cause serious problems. However, this is an incorrect use of the method. If you perform these exercises, make sure to monitor your breathing, and breathe steadily and evenly.

* Too specific.  While bodybuilding works your muscles through the entire range of motion, isometric exercises only work a specific part of the muscle group at one time.  To achieve the effects of weight lifting, you need to perform the exercises at many different angles and positions.

Despite these drawbacks, isometrics are still being used and can be beneficial when incorporated properly into your workout instead of simply replacing it.  Here are a few ways to add isometric exercises into your workout routine and get the benefits without the drawbacks.

* Do them at work.  Don’t have time to go to the gym and lift weights?  There are many simple isometric exercises you can do while at work using the wall, your desk, or your own body as resistance.  Why not skip getting an extra cup of coffee in the afternoon and do a quick workout instead?

Isometric exercise: one armed pull-ups
Isometric exercise: one armed pull-ups (Photo credit: Claudio Brisighello)
* Add modern equipment.  Isometric exercise was the precursor to traditional body building, so it didn’t have the benefits of all the equipment we have available now.  Modern isometric workouts include training tools like free weights and resistance bands.  Isometric exercise simply uses these tools while staying still instead of in motion.

* Mix it up.  Instead of doing an extra workout to add in isometric exercises, add them to your current routine.  For instance, if you lift weights, hold the weight in a steady position for several breaths after you’re done with your reps. 

While you shouldn’t use it as your only strength-building routine, isometric exercise can be a great addition to improve any body. Check back later this week for some more info on isometrics and how to perform them properly.
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