Between all the treadmill runs, the functional warm-ups, the weight-lifting and the foam-rolling, it is important not to forget the simple magic of an isometric hold. The stillness that can get your muscles shaking to the point of fatigue is often overlooked because it can be difficult to execute, and may not give the same sense of achievement that a moving exercise would. But isometric holds are a vital part of unlocking the body, and the amount of time you can hold them for, is a marker of that increasing strength over time.
There are three ways in which muscles move: eccentric, which is when the muscle lengthens in an exercise; concentric, which is when the muscle contracts, and the last one is isometric, which is the hold. The unique thing about holding a position is that it is also a mental challenge. Some might also call it static strength training, given that the body is not moving in these exercises. These are particularly useful in injury rehabilitation as well.
While there are many isometric holds that you can train with, the three we will cover in this story make for an excellent starting point. With varying levels of difficulties, they have the lower body, core, and upper body all covered. It does not include and goes beyond the static plank hold, which is also an isometric hold.
The wall sit: While humans sit for most of the day, taking the chair away from beneath us and adding a wall behind can become very challenging. The wall sit is the most basic isometric hold where you assume a sitting position with the support of a wall. This targets the quads, glutes, and hamstrings as they all work in tandem to support the weight of gravity on the body. The shoulders and hips should be in contact with the wall and the knees should not cross the toes, remaining at a 90-degree angle.
Add a medicine ball and maybe some twists as you advance in the wall sit position and you can also switch between loading the weight of your body between your toes and heels. A few reps of 20 seconds should be enough as a starting point.
Hollow hold: Hollow rocks are a popular and intense ab exercise for core strength and for some, the hollow hold is a good place to start training for hollow rocks. The first thing to keep in mind is that it is okay to begin with this hold for just a few seconds. It takes some time to master the mind-muscle connection and gaining the strength to increase the hold times. The hollow hold basically involves lying down on the floor with your arms and legs raised. But that is hardly the important bit. What is important is getting the positioning right. The lower back and the amount of contact with the floor, and the constant pulling and engaging of the core is important.
“Before you drop down to the floor to get going, take note that it's extremely important to pay attention to the subtleties of the position here. You're not just lifting your legs and arms up with no other cues—you're going to have to pay attention to more than just your limbs,” says a Men’s Health video on the same. Watch it to learn it.
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A Swolverine article on the benefits of the exercise cites the main reason it works on a lot more than just the abs: “It’s important to note that since the legs and arms are engaged, there are other muscles throughout the body that you’ll call on for control throughout the movement. So aside from the rectus abdominis, obliques, serratus anterior, transverse abdominals, quadriceps, erector spinae, and hip flexors,” it says.
Isometric push-up hold: For those who are aiming to add an extra challenge to their upper body routine, the push-up hold is the perfect exercise to do, especially after a demanding push day. You can do it before your workout too, to make sure the chest muscles are activated. This is particularly tough because of the surrounding muscles the chest takes help from—those in the shoulder, and the triceps. I have used this exercise as a finisher and an activator and it is equally effective at both ends of a workout.
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The key is to get into a push-up position and stop a couple of inches above the ground at the toughest part of the exercise, which is just before the pushing off the chest. Holding in this position is extremely difficult but worth it. It will make your conventional push-ups better and your bench press stronger.
“[The muscles targeted are] pectorals, triceps, front deltoids, abdominals. This movement improves bicep and tricep endurance, chest strength, and overall balance,” says an article on the exercise published on The Movement Athlete Academy’s website.
Pulasta Dhar is a football commentator and writer.