Isometric Exercises - Easy Senior Strength Exercises?
by Donovan Baldwin
What are isometric exercises.
Unlike most exercises with which you may be familiar, isometric exercises are done, instead of by moving things, such as lifting weights or pulling against resistance, by trying to move things...that don't move.
In fact, that's what the word 'isometric' means essentially..."not moving".
Years ago, a man named Angelo Siciliano, created an exercise program which was built around these kind of static, or isometric, exercises. He called his isometric exercise based program "Dynamic Tension". If you have heard of him, you probably remember him by his professional name, Charles Atlas, which he legally changed his name to in 1922. Millions of people from around the world have participated in his physical development program over several decades, and many of his pupils have sworn as to their efficacy.
However, even more important, is that many years ago, major research performed at the Max Planck Institute, showed that muscle strength could be increased optimally by following a certain method using isometric exercises.
Research showed that, if a muscle fiber is stressed (tensed) to three-quarters of its optimum ability daily for seven seconds, it would grow at an optimum rate. Different studies have introduced other figures, including one that "muscle strength could be increased as much as 300% in only 30 days", but they all agree that isometric exercises can result in rapid muscle strength and growth.
While my personal experiences, strengthened by what I have read and studied over the last few decades convinces me that isometric exercises can be of particular value to the senior exerciser, I honestly don't really believe that you are going to increase your strength by 300% in 30 days, no matter how hard you train with ANY exercise method.
THE FACTS ABOUT ISOMETRIC EXERCISE
I believe I can honestly say that they do work, but, not to the degree that many, most of whom are trying to sell some product or course would have you believe. Remember that part above about "...if a muscle fiber..."? Well, a muscle, such as the bicep, the pectoral muscle, or the quadriceps, is made up of "bundles" of muscle fibers. When you exercise a muscle, while the fibers ARE participating, you are probably NOT working all to the same degree at the same time!
Additionally, many "muscles" are actually made up of two, or more, muscle groups tasked with performing specific actions. For example, if you do a bicep curl with your palm up, you are exercising a specific portion of the "biceps muscle". If, however, you do the same exercise with your palm down, you will find that you are not able to move as much weight, and a different portion of the bicep muscle group will be doing the work.
Add to this the fact that, as your biceps muscle moves through the curl, different bundles of muscle fibers will be stressed.
One of the more popular of the better known isometric exercises, done to develop the upper arm, biceps and triceps, involves holding your hands in front of your body and trying to curl one arm up (biceps - front of arm) while the other trys to keep it from moving (triceps - back of arm). To effectively exercise all the muscle fibers involved in actually moving either arm, you would have to perform the exercise with the hands at different positions throughout the possible arc of the curl...
...and then switch the positions of your hands and do it again.
The good news is that you only have to hold each resisting movement (or non-movement, I guess) for seven seconds. This is what many use to sell their exercise program.
The bad news is that, in order to get a full body workout, you will have to repeat this for the entire body, and, to tell the truth, I would rather dig out my dumbbells and resistance bands, do a few pushups and crunches, take a walk, and call it a day.
You have to keep in mind that isometric exercises DO WORK TO DEVELOP MUSCLE STRENGTH. You can use them to help you get started with an exercise program, fill in spots in a exercise program where you have few other options, or as a means of getting certain aspects of exercise in situations where you might not normally have the opportunity to do a formal exerise program.
After all, NASA has taught astronauts how to use isometric exercises to help maintain muscle tone and bone density while in a zero gravity environment. Discplines such as yoga and Pilates make use of isometrics as a part of their conditioning process.
It's just that relying on them for all your exercise needs is not too realistic.
DRAWBACKS TO ISOMETRIC EXERCISES
You mean those weren't the drawbacks?
Well, you do need three different kinds of exercise
to be healthy and physically fit...flexibility exercises, strength building exercises,
and endurance, or good cardio exercises. Unfortunately,
isometric exercises only tend to build strength, so, if you are serious
about weight loss, for example, or simply want to be healthier, you
still need to do the other types of exercise anyway.
Also, static exercise such as isometrics is only an exact science in a
controlled environment. As you push one hand against the
other, you have no way of knowing if you are doing three-quarters,
one-fifth, or nine-tenths of what the muscle could do. You
cannot tell if you are doing as much as you did yesterday, less, or more!
In fact, you could conceivably try so hard to move an immovable object that you could injure yourself badly.
There's a lot more you could say about isometrics, both positive and negative, but I'm going to stop here.
MY THOUGHTS ON ISOMETRIC EXERCISE
I do isometric exercises in one form or another, including yoga, almost every
day. However, I have found that I get the most benefits from
them by making them a part of my overall exercise program. I
have also found that I seem to get results without having to "go for
the gusto" every time. Simply putting the muscle into a
stressed situation, contracted against resistance, for seven seconds
seems to work just fine. It will never get me to the
Olympics, but it does help to keep me in shape.
USING ISOMETRICS TO START A SENIOR EXERCISE PROGRAM
This is where I believe that they can shine for the senior exerciser, particularly if he or she has not been exercising regularly.
One site I have found which teaches both isometric exercises and bodyweight exercises is a rather unique site called Animal Kingdom Workouts, run by David Nordmark. If you go to his website, you will have to sit through an interesting, or boring, video show, depending on your point of view. Hang with the video, and you will eventually get to see what David has to offer. However, if you are one who is falling asleep watching the video, just try to close the page and it will take you to another page where you can browse David's products at leisure.
I looked at a lot of possible resources to refer you too, and, while it
is probably NOT the ultimate reference on the subject, Charles Atlas
being dead for many years, David's was the most comprehensive and
realistic that I found. If you find a better site on the
subject, please let me know.
P.S. Recent research has indicated that isometric exercises, especially of the forearms, can help lower blood pressure!
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