A Great Way to Tone Without Weights: Try Isometrics

Dear Sarah,

I am 35 and have been an avid runner logging 40-50 kilometers per week and I love it. I go to the gym once or twice week to lift weights, but I would really like to be able to incorporate more strength training into my running routine. Do you think isometric training would suffice? Can you tell me more about how it works?
Josephine

Dear Josephine,

I think isometrics are a great form of strength training that you can do anytime, anywhere, with little to no equipment and they serve as an effective addition to a running routine. Isometric training is a unique form of muscle and joint strengthening in which you apply a resisting force to a muscle without moving the joint. For example, holding a push-up half way to the top. We do isometric muscle contractions everyday when holding the baby or carrying grocery bags. Isometrics are a very effective way to train your muscles, but should not be used a replacement lifting weights. Let me explain why.

When it comes to strength training you are either using your muscles to move your bones or using your muscles to hold your bones. For example, a bicep curl uses the muscles to move your elbow joint and bring your arms upwards. This is called an isotonic contraction, your biceps shorten as you lift and lengthen as your lower. But if you stop your bicep curl half way up and hold it (for approx 10 seconds) your muscles work very hard to keep your bones and their joints in position and this is called an isometric contraction. There is no movement at your elbow joint, and your muscles are working very hard to hold your arms in place.

In other words, if you need to bend down and pick up a box, your body needs to be trained to move isotonically, using your muscles to move your bones up and down. If you want to hold on to that box for a while, your body needs to be trained to isometrically so you won’t drop it. Thus, training your body in both ways is a good idea.

When you force your muscles to hold a position against an opposing force such as holding the bottom of a push-up, your muscle fibres activate to keep your body in position, and there is no visible movement. Isometrics help you build strength and power as well as aid in muscle sculpting in as little as one minute per exercise. I have outlined three basic isometric exercises to get you started. Once you get the feel of firing your muscles to hold your body in the positions, be creative, make adjustments and create new moves to sculpt a new you.

Squats – works your quads and hamstrings

  • Stand with your back against a wall, feet shoulder width apart
  • Slide down the wall until your thighs are parallel to the floor
  • Hold for a slow count of 20, repeat 5- 10 times

The Plank – works your abs and back

  • Lie on the floor face down
  • Raise your body so you are resting on your toes and forearms (think of your body as a plank of wood)
  • Hold for a slow count of 20, repeat 3-4 times

Arm Raises – triceps, shoulders, biceps: three exercises

  • Stand with your feet shoulder width apart
  1. Raise your arms straight out in front of you from your shoulders, tighten all the muscles in your arms and draw your shoulder blades towards your spine. Hold for a slow count of 20.
  2. Raise your arms straight out to the side, tighten all the muscles in your arms and draw your shoulder blades towards your spine. Hold for a slow count of 20.
  3. Raise your arms straight out behind you, tighten all the muscles in your arms and draw your shoulder blades towards your spine. Hold for a slow count of 20.
  • Repeat each arm position 4-6 times. If you want more resistance hold a weight (or a soup can) in your hands

Isometrics are safe, simple and effective way to work your muscles, especially after running when your body is warm. Try it three times a week and watch your strength improve in as little as four to six weeks. For a well-rounded exercise regime be sure to continue to incorporate weights at the gym.