Benefits of isometric exercises, like the plank
You get to the gym for a workout, and you notice something unpleasant:
There are dozens of people everywhere, and every piece of equipment is taken. So, what can you do in this case?
Most people would need to wait until the equipment they want to use frees up.
Now, imagine the same scenario, but this time you are free to do your workout without having to worry that almost all of the equipment is taken.
This is entirely possible with isometric exercises, which are perfect for anyone who wants to get stronger, and build muscle.
So, What are Isometric Exercises?
An isometric exercise is one where you hold a contraction, but the muscle length and the joint angle do not change. In other words, where typical exercises have you move through a particular range of motion, isometric movements engage your muscles in a static position.
Now, this doesn’t mean that isometric exercises are easier than traditional dynamic movements. In fact, they are often much more challenging and require more grit to perform.
These static movements are quite powerful because of the isometric contraction that is often overlooked in traditional training programs. In fact, one of the most popular and effective isometric exercises is the plank.
The Benefits of Isometric Exercises
Let’s take a look at what these seemingly simple movements have to offer:
1. Isometric Exercises Provide a Similar Stimulus, But at a Lower Impact
One very notable study shed some light on isometric exercises and how they compare to traditional resistance movements (1). In it, 33 active men between the ages of 18 and 33 underwent a nine-week training protocol specifically aimed at the quadriceps muscle. They trained three times per week.
One leg performed traditional dynamic movements, involving both eccentric and concentric contractions, where the other leg did strict isometric holds at four different joint angles. Both legs were trained with similar volumes and the same frequency.
After nine weeks, the researchers found that both legs had gained similar levels of iso-kinetic strength, but the isometrically-trained legs had gained a lot more isometric strength.
2. Isometric Core Movements, Such as the Plank, May Prevent Lower Back Pain
Among the different isometric exercises for the core, the plank is considered to be one of the best. Plenty of research suggests that strengthening and balancing the core could help reduce or prevent lower back pain (2, 3, 4).
And seeing as so many people, especially after a certain age, suffer from low back pain, strengthening the core through isometric movements is a great way to fight that.
3. Most Isometric Exercises Can be Done Anywhere With no Equipment Needed
Due to their simplistic nature, isometric exercises offer a great opportunity to train various muscles in your body with minimal to no equipment. In most cases, all you need is a bit of space, and you can have a kick-ass workout without having to worry about equipment and external resistance.
4. Isometric Exercises are Beginner-Friendly And a Good Option For Those Nursing an Injury
The more dynamic a movement is, the higher the risk of injury, especially for beginners. Isometric exercises, on the other hand, are quite easily the most beginner-friendly movements out there and the risk of injury is lower.
Isometric movements are also a great option for people to maintain their fitness while dealing with an injury that prevents them from doing conventional, dynamic training.
5. Isometric Exercises are the Perfect Addition to a Solid Training Program
Isometric strength is quite overlooked by most individuals, but building it up can greatly enhance your athletic abilities.
Consider, for example, a strength athlete:
If they are dealing with a sticking point on a given lift (e.g., at the bottom of the squat), they can strengthen that particular range through isometric holds with a loaded barbell.
For example, they can place 50% of what they can squat for a single and do 10-second holds in the bottom position. Over time, they can work up to longer holds, build isometric strength, and bust through their sticking point.
The same goes for grip strength: If yours is lacking, you can incorporate loaded holds to develop it. All you need to do is grab something heavy and hold it for as long as you can.
So go ahead and include more isometric exercises into your total body routine. And what better isometric exercise to start with than the Flawless Plank!