9 ways to build muscle while barely moving

One of the best, and by far cheapest, ways to increase bone density, reduce calcium loss, prevent osteoporosis and slow decrease in metabolic function is through exercise.

Yet for most people, the idea of exercise means moving the body in various ways and needing a lot of space or equipment in which to do it right.

But what if I told you there’s a way of exercising your muscles, supporting your heart and lung function, and boosting your metabolism without moving an inch?

It’s called isometrics. And though it’s less well-known, it’s an effective method of strength training that contributes to optimal health. Want to give it a try?

Common exercises are isotonic…

You are familiar with most common exercises for health and fitness. The usual suspects include everything from walking and dancing to playing tennis and lifting weights. All of these exercises and sports are isotonic; that is, they all involve a constant level of resistance on the muscle as it is moved through its full range via the bending of the joints. Examples include biceps curls, squats, push-ups, sit-ups, and the like.

Isotonic exercises improve range of motion, strength, muscular endurance, and athletic performance. Depending on the level of physicality involved, isotonic exercises can either improve cardiovascular function (e.g., do 20 burpees or squat-and-stands in a row quickly) or have little impact on it (e.g., bench pressing or doing dumbbell curls).

Flex and hold are isometric exercises…

Isometric exercises can improve your muscular endurance, strength and cardio health is a short amount of time and with nothing needed but your own body. This category of exercise is where a position is held static for a period of time. Hard to believe holding a position — unmoving — can be difficult. So try this:

Stand upright and bend your knees so that your thighs are flexed. Hold a bottle of water in each hand and extend your arms out in front of you. Now don’t move.

At first this seems easy and takes little effort, yet as the time increases the muscles of the legs and shoulder have to keep stabilizing themselves, constantly contracting to hold the static position. This requires the metabolizing of energy and oxygen and fatigues the muscles. With isometric exercises, even the lightest of objects can feel like it weights a hundred pounds if held over time.

With isometrics you are developing strength at a particular point in a muscle and angle position of a joint. If you hold the position for as long as you can you will develop great benefit.

Isometric exercises you can try

There are many isometric exercises. Examples of isometric exercises you may be familiar with include the following:

  1. The Plank – Hold your body horizontally straight by balancing on your forearms and toes and hold the position. 30 seconds is tough for many. Watch this video for three plank exercises for core stability and strength.
  2. Side Plank – Balance on one arm and one leg while keeping your body still for as long as you can. Watch this video that helps hip, core and shoulder strength.
  3. Wall Sit – Put your back against a wall and beg your legs as if siting on a chair and hold. My video shows how stability squats have a huge impact on your legs.
  4. Sit Ups and Crunches – Stop half way in a normal sit up or crunch exercise and hold that position as long as you can.
  5. Push Up – Similar to the plank in all aspects except for the hand positions. Do half or two-thirds of a push up and hold.
  6. Squats – Do half the squat motion and hold for as long as you can. This time there is no wall to help you balance, either.
  7. Most Yoga poses – Poses like Tree, Sun Salutation, Stick and Warrior all leave you in isometric contraction and are great examples of such exercises.
  8. Wall Press – This is one of the most basic isometrics. Stand near a wall and push against it as if trying to push yourself away from it, but don’t allow your body to move. Press and hold for as long as you can.
  9. Bar Hold – Hold a weight bar in a position between extension and curl flexion and hold it for as long as you can. The heavier the bar the faster you will fatigue.

Make a routine of them

Another great use of isometrics is making an aerobic routine by holding a position at three different places along the range of motion for even more benefit.

For example, assuming a push-up position, at the top (extended arms) for 30 seconds, the middle (bent arms) for 30 seconds, and then at the bottom (flexed arms, body off the ground) for 30 seconds, then repeat on the way back up.

Additional thoughts

As you can see there are so many isometric exercises and they are really only limited by your own imagination. You can pick up a sandwich and bend your arm like you are going to take a bite and hold that position and you’ve invented another one. These are easy to do, easy to create, require no equipment or special place, and usually only take up a short amount of time. Minutes in most cases for a total body fatigue workout.

Isometrics are great to do on their own or between regular workouts. You can also end each weight training or aerobic-style workout with a few isometrics for a deeper workout. And when there is little time to do anything, isometrics can be done between emails at the desk.

The only caution seems to be for those who have high blood pressure. Holding a heavy object for an extended period, or holding your bodyweight in a flexed position for a period of time could raise your blood pressure during the exercise time. Consult with your health care provider if you have HBP. If you get the clear, and for all those who don’t have it… give isometrics a try!

Dr. Mark Wiley

By Dr. Mark Wiley

Dr. Mark Wiley is an internationally renowned mind-body health practitioner, author, motivational speaker and teacher. He holds doctorates in both Oriental and alternative medicine, has done research in eight countries and has developed a model of health and wellness grounded in a self-directed, self-cure approach. Dr. Wiley has written 14 books and more than 500 articles. He serves on the Health Advisory Boards of several wellness centers and associations while focusing his attention on helping people achieve healthy and balanced lives through his work with Easy Health Options® and his company, Tambuli Media.