By Kim Duke, NETA & AAFA Certified Trainer
Over the past 11 years, I have seen many trends come and go in the fitness community. Some, like pole dancing, have a shelf life of a loaf of white bread— it seems like it will last a while, and then one day it’s covered in mold and is thrown away.
However, some trends actually gain popularity with time since they are effective, efficient and not so flashy.
One of those trends is body weight training. It’s easy to see why no-equipment workouts are so popular: They’re relatively easy to learn, they can be modified to suit any ability level, and they can be done just about anywhere. Plus, body weight exercises are a great way to get fit for free. (That’s probably why this method has been ranked highly in fitness surveys since 2013.)
Push-ups and pull-ups are classic bodyweight moves, but there are plenty more to choose from like squats, lunges and planks, just to name a few.
Another fitness trend that has been around literally for thousands of years, is called isometrics (It’s true, I Googled it.) Isometrics is a type of strength training in which your muscle length doesn’t change when you contract your muscle. Unlike standard strength training, isometrics is done in a static position instead of moving through a range of motion—which means you can practice isometrics anywhere without needing weights or special equipment. Fitness experts say that it only takes about 10 seconds to effectively perform one isometric exercise and, in some cases, no one will even know you’re doing it.
To give you an idea of what an isometric exercise looks like, think about pushing against an immovable object, such as a wall or signpost, or trying to open a window that won’t budge. This allows your muscles to receive isometric exercise even though you’re not moving the wall, post, or window. In other words, your muscles can get exercise just by trying to move something that offers this level of resistance.
So how exactly can you do isometrics? There are almost limitless options for working your muscles in this way. Here are some specific isometric exercises to try that take just 10 seconds a few times a day:
While sitting in a chair, deliberately tighten your stomach muscles, and hold your feet an inch or two above the floor. To increase the resistance, push your knees down toward the floor with your hands while trying to keep your feet from touching the floor.
From a seated or standing position, clasp your hands behind your head, pulling your elbows out wide. Then try to push your head back using your neck muscles, while simultaneously trying to push your head forward with your clasped hands. This exercise works your upper back as well as your neck muscles.
In a standing position, lift your left leg while keeping your knee bent so that your thigh is perpendicular with the ground. Then, use one or both hands to push your thigh down while continuing to lift it upward. Switch legs and repeat the exercise on the opposite side.
Are you hooked yet? Once you get used to building these mini-workouts into your day, the motions will start to come naturally. Besides these suggested exercises, you can think up many more of your own.
The most effective way to use isometrics is to incorporate it into a larger strength-training program. Although isometric exercises offer an important contribution to your workout efforts, they do have some limitations. For one, each isometric contraction only increases muscular strength in the exact position that you’re practicing, not through a whole range of motion. It is therefore best to think about isometrics as a complement to your weight training, not a substitute for it.
And, what’s great about either of these fitness options— body weight training and isometric training— is that the risk of injury is low. So, if you are afraid of weights (or poles)- this is a great way to get and stay fit.