Isometric Exercises – Why Are They So Effective For Cyclists?
To be at your best on your bicycle requires a level of overall fitness, and the exercise you get while on your bike isn’t enough.
One great way to improve your performance is with isometric exercises.
Isometric training has existed for thousands of years, and there are countless ways to incorporate isometric training into your routine – many of which you can do in your home, at the office, or even in your car. Isometric exercises remain popular for a number of good reasons, but why? What makes isometrics so effective?
What are isometric exercises?
Isometric training, also known as static strength training, is great for strength training, conditioning, and even rehabilitation. The American Heritage College Dictionary (fourth edition) defines “isometric” as “of or involving muscular contraction against resistance in which the length of the muscle remains the same.” The muscle shape doesn’t change when doing an isometric exercises – it doesn’t contract or lengthen – hence the name. “Iso” means “equal” and “metric” means “measure.” There’s no visible change or movement in the muscle itself or in any related joints when doing an isometric exercise – the muscle is working, but not changing position the way the biceps does in a curl, for example. This is also why they are called static strength training. Note: some people mistakenly refer to an isometric exercise as an “isometric contraction.” This is not technically accurate, as isometrics are not a contraction. It’s more accurate to say “isometric action,” if you’re looking to impress someone at the gym.
Some isometric exercises are fairly simple and don’t require equipment. Others are more complex. Isometrics can be stand-alone exercises, added to a regular exercise, or part of a fluid combination of exercises. You’re doing isometrics when you press your palms together as hard as you can, when you pause for three seconds at the bottom of a squat, when you plank against a wall, and off and on when you do a ballet combination or a sun salutation in hatha yoga. The “pause and hold” effort is isometric.
Why should I consider adding isometrics to my workouts?
Part of what makes isometric exercises so effective is that the exercises usually require a full exertion from the muscle. Your muscle is giving maximum effort, and that is the secret to strengthening. They’re also effective when maximum strength isn’t necessarily the goal: by definition, isometrics don’t cause or require movement in any joints, making them ideal for rehabilitation when moving a joint is not recommended or even impossible.
There are two ways of training using isometrics: maximal muscle movement, and sub-maximal muscle movement. Maximal movements incorporate immovable objects into the exercise, like a door frame or a wall. These are the type that is good for strength training and conditioning. Sub-maximal movements use movable objects, like free weights or elastic bands; these are often used more for rehabilitative purposes because the level of exertion required is not as great.
Are there any drawbacks?
There are some important things to keep in mind when you’re considering adding isometric exercises to your workouts. First of all, isometrics alone do not a fit body make. By definition, isometrics engage a muscle at its maximum level of exertion, strengthening it and increasing its endurance. This is also a limitation, though. They train a muscle to its full exertion, yes, but isometrics don’t work a muscle in its full range of motion. Isometric training needs to be combined with other forms of strength training to have a fully developed, evenly strengthened musculature. Otherwise, your options are doing a ton of isometric exercises for one muscle in multiple positions (and who has the time for that?), or having to call your twelve-year-old sister to help you put a 40-pound box up on the shelf. (Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but you get the idea.)
Some people with specific health concerns should also avoid isometrics. The exercises can create a restriction in blood flow and cause an increase in blood pressure, making them unsafe for people with heart disease or high blood pressure. Isometrics also aren’t recommended for women who are pregnant. As with any exercise regime, talk it over with your doctor before beginning isometric training.
If you aren’t familiar with isometric training, you may want to consider adding a few isometrics to your workouts. One of the huge benefits of isometrics is the fact that many exercises can be done anywhere, using just your body. Isometrics effectively strengthen your muscles without putting strain on your joints, but they themselves do not make a complete workout regime. Check with your doctor before starting isometric training, and do your research or talk to a personal trainer to learn how to make the most of this effective training method.