Isometric challenge!

Whether or not you already have a good movement routine, I am challenging you to try something called isometric exercises!

What is isometric exercise again? 

Read on and find out! But first, don’t be sarcopenic!

“Beginning at age 30, the body naturally starts to lose 3–5% of muscle mass per decade. If muscle loss worsens, it can advance to a condition called sarcopenia. Sarcopenia is the loss of muscle and strength that can happen when someone gets older and does less physical activity. This may cause trouble with daily activities like standing from a chair, walking, twisting the lid off a jar, or carrying groceries. Over time, loss of strength can lead to falls or other injuries. Currently, it is estimated that 10–20% of older adults have sarcopenia, although it could be even more prevalent because diagnosis and treatment of sarcopenia is not yet common.”

US Dept of Health and Human Services

No matter who you are, exercise is good for what ails you. It helps you maintain and build muscle. There is also well-documented evidence that exercise is a helpful preventative agent against AND an effective treatment of so many diseases including:

  • metabolic disorders (diabetes mellitus type 1 and 2, dyslipidemia, obesity, hypertension)
  • heart and lung disease (COPD, asthma, coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, peripheral vascular disease)
  • muscle and bone disease (osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis)
  • chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia
  • cancer
  • depression, anxiety, and psychological distress

Best Medicine

Some studies even say exercise is BETTER than using medication when compared head to head.

Consider a study published in BMJ in 2022, for example. It compared exercise to medications for four chronic conditions: coronary artery disease, pre-diabetes, stroke, and heart failure. The study looked at the effects of exercise or drug therapy on survival for the illnesses in question. It included more than 330,000 patients.

The results of the meta-analysis showed both drugs and exercise improved survival. In patients with heart disease and pre-diabetes, exercise had similar benefits to drug therapy. In patients with stroke, more benefit was seen with exercise than with drugs.

Or consider this next study from 2023 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (those smart Brits!). It reviewed more than 1,000 research trials examining the effects of physical activity on mental health. It involved more than 125,000 participants who increased physical activity over a period of less than 12 weeks. The individuals were then assessed for depression, anxiety, and psychological distress. It showed exercise is an effective way to treat mental health issues — and the results were even more effective than medication or counseling!

In this analysis all types of physical exercise including walking, pilates, yoga, and resistance training were found to be beneficial.

One type of exercise showed the greatest improvement in mental health symptoms: higher-intensity physical activity.

How much exercise do I need?

Generally, experts say to be in the game you should try to get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of the two. Aim for at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity most days of the week. If you’re not used to exercising, work slowly toward this goal. You can break your aerobic workout into three 10-minute sessions. This gives you the same benefit as one 30-minute session.

Any activity that increases the heart and breathing rates is considered aerobic activity. Some examples are:

  • Active sports, such as basketball or tennis
  • Bicycling
  • Climbing stairs
  • Dancing
  • Gardening, including mowing the lawn and raking leaves
  • Jogging
  • Swimming
  • Walking

And even if jogging is not for you anymore

Let’s say you’re like 43 million Americans whose blood pressure is higher than ideal. And let’s say you’re hearing me about the benefits of exercise, but your joints can’t take all that much activity. What can you do that has all the benefits of aerobic exercise but spares the joints? Isometric exercise!It also happens to be the best exercise to help build and maintain muscle! Furthermore, even if you are active it will help stabilize joints and be a great addition to your regimen.

And get this: as far as blood pressure lowering is concerned, isometric exercise is better than other types of exercise when compared head to head and is as powerful as the best blood pressure medications on the market.

Tell me more!

Isometric exercises are exercises that involve the contraction of muscles without any movement in the surrounding joints. Isometric exercises do not involve the muscles shortening or lengthening. During isometric exercises, the joints are still, and the muscles do not change shape or size. People will typically hold the isometric contraction for several seconds or minutes.

While isometric exercises can be done with weights, an easy way to do them at home without equipment is to develop tension by holding the body in a certain position. Holding the muscle contraction allows the muscle tissue to fill with blood and create metabolic stress on the muscle. This can help improve strength and endurance.

Evidence suggests the constant tension on the muscles can be useful for improving physical endurance and posture by strengthening and stabilizing the muscles. In doing so it can also help build muscle and support functional movement and safety. When starting isometric exercise see how long you can hold a position (see below for examples) and increase over time. Eight minutes of isometric activity 3 x per week is effective for blood pressure lowering and good to have in mind as a goal to work towards.

Some benefits of isometric exercises include:

  • They are useful exercises for activating many muscle fibers at once.
  • They require less practice to perform exercises with good form compared with some dynamic movements.
  • They are suitable for people with an injury or medical condition that restricts movement. For example, studies show that isometric exercises are suitable for people with osteoarthritis.
  • Some research suggests that isometric exercises may help with pain relief for lower back pain, knee arthritis, and neck arthritis

What are some examples?

From Good RX Health, here are 5 isometric exercises for beginners (with links to videos).

1. Wall push-up

The wall push-up activates muscles such as the triceps, pectorals, and latissimus dorsi in your upper back. It can help you learn how to do traditional and more advanced push ups.

  • Step 1: Stand about an arm’s length away from a wall. Extend your arms at shoulder level and place your palms on the wall. Your hands should be a few inches wider than shoulder-width apart. And your body should form a diagonal 45-degree angle with the wall.
  • Step 2: Bend your elbows as you move your chest towards the wall as if performing a standard push-up. Stop when your elbows are bent at a 90-degree angle and your face is close to the wall.
  • Step 3: Hold the position for 15 to 30 seconds. Squeeze your abs and glutes to engage your core and keep your spine straight.
  • Step 4: Extend your arms as you push away from the wall and return to the starting position.

2. Wall sit

The wall sit is a great way to target lower-body muscles. The static hold engages the quadriceps at the front of your thighs, hamstrings at the back of your thighs, and your glutes.

  • Step 1: Stand with your back against a wall and your feet about 2 feet in front of you.
  • Step 2: Engage your core as you slide down the wall into a squat. Keep your back flat against the wall with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle and your thighs parallel to the floor. Start at a less intense angle if you need to build strength.
  • Step 3: Hold for 10 to 15 seconds before you slide up the wall and return to standing. You can increase the length of the hold as you get stronger.

3. Forearm plank

The forearm plank is a classic full-body isometric exercise. The core strengthener mainly works the abs. But it also activates muscles in your chest, back, and legs.

  • Step 1: Start on the floor in a modified plank position by supporting your weight on your forearms. Your shoulders should be directly over your elbows with your forearms and palms flat on the floor. Your toes should be slightly curled under while touching the floor.
  • Step 2: Draw your belly button toward your spine to keep your core tight, and make sure your hips are aligned with your body. You want your body to stay in a straight line from your head to your heels. Squeeze your glutes to relieve the strain on your lower back.
  • Step 3: Hold the forearm plank for 10 to 30 seconds, then relax. You can increase the hold and add reps gradually.

4. Triceps dip hold

Not surprisingly, the triceps dip hold recruits the triceps muscles in the back of your upper arms. It also gives your chest and shoulder muscles a workout.

Bodyweight dips are often performed on parallel bars, but this position is generally too difficult for beginners. To keep it beginner-friendly, you will do this exercise with a chair or bench.

  • Step 1: Sit at the edge of a stable chair with your knees bent and feet flat about hip-width apart. As you build strength, you will start this move on your heels with your toes pointing toward the ceiling.
  • Step 2: Place your hands on either side of your hips, gripping the seat of the chair. Then, step your feet forward far enough to slide your bottom off the chair. Your butt will be just in front of the seat of the chair with your thighs parallel to the floor.
  • Step 3: Maintain your grip on the chair and bend your elbows as you lower toward the floor.
  • Step 4: Stop midway down and hold for 10 to 30 seconds. You can play around with how far down you dip. This will vary the exercise intensity and which triceps muscles you target.
  • Step 5: Press through your hands to push up and return to the starting position.

5. Glute bridge

You might think the glute bridge only works the powerful hip extensors in your butt. But it also activates the abs and hamstrings.

  • Step 1: Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat about hip-distance apart.
  • Step 2: Place your arms at your sides or cross them over your chest.
  • Step 3: Press your lower back to the floor and squeeze your abdominals to engage your core.
  • Step 4: Push through your heels and squeeze your glutes to lift your hips off the floor. At the top of the bridge, your body should form a straight line from your shoulders to your knees.
  • Step 5: Keep your core engaged and hold the bridge for 10 to 30 seconds.
  • Step 6: Slowly lower your hips to the floor.

Want more to choose from? 

Here is a link to a video that demonstrates 20 different isometric exercises without equipment that provide full-body toning.

Here’s to all your efforts to living better naturally!