If you want to tame your spiralling blood pressure, perform a plank hold for as long as you can. A recent study conducted in the UK found that while all forms of exercise help in improving a person’s resting blood pressure, the most effective are isometric exercises. These are exercises that engage your muscles without any movement, such as planks, hollow holds and wall sits.
The study in question is a meta-analysis of 270 randomized controlled trials, involving over 15,000 people, and conducted between 1990 and early 2023. Titled Exercise Training And Resting Blood Pressure, it was published last month in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. Researchers found that when people exercised for more than two weeks, irrespective of their choice of exercise, they reported a reduction in their blood pressure as compared to those who did not exercise at all.
They further found that benefits varied depending on the nature of the exercise as well. While high intensity interval training (HIIT) showed the minimum impact on reducing blood pressure, isometric exercise had the maximum effect; twice as impactful as HIIT in fact. The study found that certain exercises such as combination training, dynamic resistance training and aerobic exercise fall in a spectrum between the two. Certain exercises, the study found, such as the isometric wall squat and running, were effective in reducing both diastolic and systolic blood pressure.
This is significant, as blood pressure is one of the key indicators of our health and it is closely associated with various cardiovascular diseases, as well as stress and hypertension. With this in mind, here are five great isometric exercises for you to perform at home and keep control of your blood pressure.
Plank: Everyone is familiar with this simple and effective exercise for the core. Doing the plank is quite easy: Prop yourself on the ball of your feet and elbows (elbows under your shoulder), while squeezing your stomach and keeping your body parallel to the floor. However, holding one for as little as a minute is another matter altogether.
The plank strengthens your core muscles, including abs, lower back, pelvis and glutes. A strong core plays an important role in your posture, mobility, movement, all forms of exercise and sports. You could also perform a high plank on your palms instead of elbows and it is just as effective.
Wall squat: The wall squat or the chair pose is performed with your back pressed against the wall while keeping your spine straight and core engaged. Other than working your core, it is also an excellent workout for the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves and ankles. It also enhances muscular endurance and stability. Other studies have found that workout routines that include wall sits improved balance and leg strength.
Side plank: People perform the side plank in the hope of ridding themselves of their love handles, which ironically, is not the exercise’s primary benefit. It is performed by lying on your side and then propping yourself up on your elbow and feet while lifting your hips off the floor and engaging your abdominal and back muscles.
Like the plank, it is a move that strengthens your core muscles, including the lower back muscles, the transversus abdominis (deepest of the six abdominal muscles), the external obliques, the multifidi (core stabiliser muscles around the spine), the longissimus thoracis (the muscle that runs along the spine), and glutes. To make it more challenging you could lift the top leg towards the ceiling, making it the star plank.
Hollow hold: This is another isometric exercise for the core. Lie on your back and then lift both your torso and legs about six to ten inches off the floor while balancing on your tailbone, your hands by your side or above your head. Apart from strengthening your stomach and lower back muscles, it also stabilizes the spine. One of the biggest advantages of this exercise is it helps in keeping back pain at bay.
Boat hold: As far as appearances go, this is the most difficult looking isometric exercise on this list. Sit on the floor with your legs stretched out straight in front of you and spine straight. Lift your legs off the floor and hold them at an angle of about 60 degrees. As you lift your leg, it is normal for you to lean behind a bit. Remember, a slight bend in the knees is perfectly fine. Now straighten your hands and lift them up till they are parallel to your legs. Apart from core strength, the exercise is also good for improving your pelvis and adductor strength. To make the move more challenging, you could hold a dumbbell in your hands. And to make it easier, you could place your hands on the floor on either side of your hips.
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.