At least once a week, as part of the warm up, I would do isometrics with my volleyball girls. (I also use them with my clients.)
But they are an especially important tool to use with young athletes because they work not only on physical strength but also on MENTAL TOUGHNESS.
Isometric exercises are any exercise you HOLD under tension.
And holding a move when your muscles are shaking and your brain starts to say, “QUIT!”…well there is nothing mentally more challenging. There is no movement to make it better. No place to escape the pain.
You’ve just got to sit, stand or lie there and hold it through the pain. (They sound really great right now…huh?!?)
You can use isometrics as part of a warm up, to get muscles activated and working together. You can also use them as a workout by themselves by doing only holds or by pairing the isometric exercises with strength or power repetitions.
Here is a list of a few of my favorite Isometric Exercises.
1. Toes (Single or Double) – This move works on your balance and warms up your feet, ankles, knees, hips and core. It is also a great calf and core strengthener. To do this move, stand on both feet and go up as high on your toes as you can. Hold that position for 30 seconds to 1 minute. To make this move harder, do single leg balancing on your toe.
2. Squat Hold (Wall Sit) – The squat hold can be done as a wall sit or as a free-standing squat and hold. Place your feet between hip-width and shoulder-width apart. Sink down until your thighs are parallel to the ground. To make it easier, do not sink as low. Keep your core engaged and your chest up. Do not lean forward too much. Make sure to sit back on your heels when you squat. You should not be on your toes at all. Do not sink below 90 degrees with this move as that actually makes it easier. And do not let your knees collapse inward. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute. If you want to make this move harder, you could hold a weight at chest height or even on your lap while doing a wall sit. Or you can even do a single leg wall sit!
3. Warrior Pose – Many yoga classes use isometric moves. Any time you hold one of the warrior poses, you are performing an isometric exercise. I call this move the “warrior pose” (although I know there are a few different warrior poses in yoga). To do this move, set up in a wide stance for a lunge. Turn your back foot so that the toe is pointing away from you. Your back foot will be perpendicular to your front foot, which will be pointing straight ahead. Do not let your front knee collapse in as you sink down in the lunge. Keeping the back leg straight, sink down as low as you can. Shoot for the front knee to be at 90 degrees. Make sure your front foot is firmly planted on the ground at that your knee stays about over your ankle. If you want to add a bit of shoulder work in, bring your arms up to shoulder height. Reach one forward and one backward toward opposite walls. If you want to make this move easier, don’t sink as low. Hold 30 seconds to 1 minute.
4. Split Squat – Set up in a wide stance with one foot forward and one foot back. Both toes are pointing straight ahead. Sink down until your back knee is almost touching the ground. Make sure you are not leaning forward. Your front knee should be over your ankle. If you want to make this move easier, don’t go as low. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
5. Scapular Wall Hold (Could also be a row up and hold) – THE BEST MOVE FOR POSTURE AND PULL UPS! Bend your elbows to 90 degrees. Lean back into a wall with only your elbows touching. Press your chest out and your shoulder blades down and back. Walk your feet away from the wall only as much as needed to feel the muscles behind your shoulder blades working. Do not let your shoulders shrug up by your ears. The bigger the incline from the wall, the harder the move will be. Make sure to keep your body in a nice straight line. Keep your core tight and squeeze your quads and glutes. You could also sub out the scapular wall hold for an inverted row to hold. You could row up on either a TRX or barbell and hold at the top of the row. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
6. Dead Hang (Pull up and Hold) – You can hold at the bottom, middle or top of the pull up and each will have its benefits. My two favorite are the dead hang (holding at the bottom and just pinching your shoulder blades down and back) and the pull up to hold (holding at the top). With the dead hang, grab the pull up bar and pinch your shoulder blades down and back. You want to press your chest out and tighten your core as if you are going to pull up. To make this move easier, hold for a shorter time OR add some assistance by either keeping your feet on the ground so you are pulling less weight or by using a band around your knee. To do the pull up and hold, hold at the top of the pull up. Your shoulder blades should be down and back and your legs should be straight. Do not tuck your knees. To make this move easier, use a band or place one foot on the ground for assistance. Hold 30 seconds to 1 minute. (Below are the dead hang and the assisted hold at the top.)
7. Push Up Hold (Hold top, bottom or middle) – I most often hold this move from the top of the push up. So set up on your hands and toes. Feet are together and hands are underneath your shoulders. Draw your belly button into your spine and squeeze your quads, glutes and adductors. Your shoulder blades should be down and back and your shoulders shouldn’t be up by your ears. Keep your head in line with your spine. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute. When I do isometric holds at either the middle or bottom of the push up, it is usually for only 3-5 seconds. When I do those holds, I’ll hold at the top for 5 seconds, middle 5 seconds and then bottom for 5 seconds before pushing back up to the top. I’ll usually do anywhere from 5-15 reps like that. (Below are holds at the top, middle and bottom.)
8. Side Planks – You can do these from your hands and toes or knees and forearms. Going down to your knees or forearms will make the move easier. Place your hand underneath your shoulder. Rest on the side of your feet. Stack one foot on top of the other or place one foot in front of the other. Raise up on your hand and the side of your foot. Do not let your hip sag toward the ground. Keep your chest open. Do not let it rotate toward the ground. Hold in a nice straight line, squeezing your core, quads and glutes. Hold 30 seconds to 1 minute each side.
9. Glute Bridge – Lie on your back. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the ground. You should be able to graze your heels with your finger tips. Squeeze your glutes and raise your hips off the ground. Keep your core tight and drive up as high as you can. Your weight should be in your heels. Do not go up on your toes. To make this move harder, do a single leg hold. Hold 30 seconds to 1 minute.
10. Bull Dog – Start on your hands and knees. Knees should be under hips and hands underneath shoulders. Tuck your toes under and raise up onto your toes and hands. Hold with your knees just an inch or so off the ground. Do not let your low back arch. Keep your core tight. You will feel this a lot in your quads too. If you don’t, make sure your knees are under your hips. Hold 30 seconds to 1 minute. To make this easier, raise up a bit higher or walk your feet back a bit. You can also perform a shorter hold.
And in case you aren’t completely sure how to combine the moves above, below are two workouts you can start with!
Isometric Holds (can be shortened to a warm up)
3-5 rounds of 30 second to 1 minute holds:
Scapular Wall Hold
Isometric Holds and Repetitions
3-5 rounds of the following:
Toes 30 seconds to 1 minute
Jump Rope 25 reps
Split Squat Hold 30 seconds to 1 minute
Split Squat Jumps 10 each side
Scapular Wall Hold 30 seconds to 1 minute
Inverted Row 10 reps
Push Up Hold 30 seconds to 1 minute
Push Ups 10 reps
Glute Bridge Hold 30 seconds to 1 minute
Single Leg Glute Bridge 10 reps each side
Rest 1 minute between rounds.
For more isometric moves, check out these Isometric Moves To Alleviate Desk Job Aches and Pains!
And if you are a runner, here is a Runner’s Recovery Workout using isometric moves.
NOTE: Handstand holds are also a great isometric move that I didn’t include but wanted to make note of because I love them!