Looking for ways to improve your posture, perhaps to look slender and taller? Or do you want to reduce your lower back pain? Then the answer is in your core and one of the most effective ways to train it is with isometric exercises for abs.
A healthy core is much more than building the perfect six-pack abs. Strong abs (abdominal muscles) doesn’t only give you the looks, but stability, strength, leanness, and endurance, not just to train your body as a whole, but also to go about lifeless effortlessly.
Surely, you must have come across a number of training methods and machines that promise on delivering a perfect core. There’s weight training, abs building machines, isotonic and other dynamic exercises, calisthenics, and what not. And then there are isometric exercises for abs! Perhaps the most promising and effective out of them all. Disclaimer: if you are after a flatter tummy (or even a six-pack) you will need to throw in proper eating. Exercise on its own is not enough.
We shall talk about it all in a while, but first, let’s understand what isometric exercises really are.
What Are Isometric Exercises?
Isometric exercises refer to muscular action in which tension is built and developed without contracting, bending or flexing your muscles or the joints. In simple terms, building muscle tension while being in a static position without making any changes in the shape, length or size of your muscles. Or in even simpler terms, working out without even moving a muscle! Sounds somewhat easy right?
Well, one of the most common isometric exercises is a “plank”. So, let me ask you again, does it sound easy now? If you’ve ever done a plank, you’d know quite well what I’m talking about. Within seconds, you start feeling the burn, the tension, and contraction in your stomach and soon enough your whole body starts shaking, begging for release from the unbearable hold.
But you can still train your abs through isometric exercises without having to go through that awful feeling described above.
First, let’s take a closer look at the benefits of isometric exercises for abs.
Benefits of Isometric Exercises
Isometric exercises offer significant advantages over other core-conditioning methods.
The renowned Mayo clinic claims that Isometric exercises may help maintain strength, enhance stability, prevent/recover from injuries such as lower back pain and arthritis, reduce pain, improve physical function, and lower blood pressure.
(Note: You’re recommended to consult with your physician before beginning isometric exercises in case you suffer from high blood pressure or heart problems.)
Isometric exercises help you become lean while providing your core strength and stability without increasing the mass in the abdominal area (remember that to gain mass you need to eat more calories than you consume).
A solid and stable core also helps you carry out other exercises that are good for your health such as strength training, yoga and pretty much any other physically demanding activities.
Last but not the least, it helps you maintain balance and a firm posture at all times.
Apart from these major benefits, there is also a slight difference in the way isometric exercises work on your abs when compared with isotonic exercises.
Let’s see how it differs.
Isometric exercises help you fully enjoy your life by improving physical endurance and posture.
How Do Isometric Exercises Work Your Abs?
Isometric exercises involve intense muscle activation since they engage more muscle fibers than regular flexion or extension training. Unlike in isotonic exercises, wherein a single muscle or muscle groups are targeted, an isometric workout incorporates the entire muscle or muscle group, from both ends, resulting in full contraction of the muscles and not just a specific section.
Since isometric exercises focus on building strength and definition without increasing the size, they are perfect for core-conditioning and well-crafted abs
And the best part, you can blend them into your regular workout without having to make a lot of changes and get some serious gains fairly quickly, right from your home.
Now let’s move on to the best isometric exercises that you can implement into your workout. I will also mention the main benefits of these exercises along with steps to carry them out and their advanced versions. Let’s begin, shall we?
Best Isometric Exercises for Abs
the classic isometric hold is an exercise that works your entire core. Apart from working your abdomen, especially inner and outer obliques, it also strengthens your trunk, spine, lower back, and shoulders. The International Journal of Humanities and Social Science Invention (IJHSSI) claims that plank holds can be extremely helpful in the prevention and treatment of lower back pain.
Place your forearms and toes on the ground with shoulders right above your forearms. Make sure that your body is straight and your legs extended behind you. You can squeeze your glutes to avoid arching. Engage your core (tip: suck in your belly button) and feel the tension in your abdomen. Maintain this position for 30-60 seconds and increase the duration gradually.
Once you’re comfortable with normal planks, you can try the more challenging ones like the three-point plank with one leg raised in the air, or a high plank where you stand on your hands rather than forearms just like in a push-up.
During plank, make sure your back is flat and your head and neck are in a neutral position.
2. Side plank
Slide plank is another great isometric hold for your lower abs, side abs or obliques, and over-all core stabilization.
Lay on one side (just like when you sleep), keep your body straight, and lift yourself up by placing your forearm under your body while resting the other arm along the side of your elevated body. Keep one foot and leg on top of another and hold the position for 30-60 seconds. Repeat with another side.
You can also try raising your top leg in the air to challenge yourself even further. Or lift the arm that is resting, to try and make a star like position, called a side plank star, another progression of an isometric side plank.
Keep your hips stacked and facing forward. Avoid letting them sag during side plank.
3. Bear hold
The bear hold is yet another effective isometric exercise for abs that you can perform on your own.
Get on all fours, with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Keep your toes tucked and hands pressed on the floor while lifting your knees up a little. Squeeze your core (remember, suck in your belly button) and hold for 30-60 seconds.
Keep your belly button sucked in throughout this seemingly easy exercise.
4. Hollow body hold
Hollow body hold is simple, effective, yet a challenging one. Simple! Since you can adjust it to match your own fitness level.
Just lie on your back, lift your legs, arms and shoulders up towards the ceiling while tightening your core. Slowly bring them back down and repeat the position at least 8 times.
Avoid overarching the lower back by keeping your core engaged all the time.
5. Boat pose
Boat pose is another gut-sucking isometric hold, quite common in yoga classes.
Sit on the floor, bending your knees, and bring them close to your chest while keeping your feet on the floor. Place your hands-on hamstrings, lean back, and lift your feet off the floor while balancing on your buttocks. Make sure that your spine is straight and your shins are parallel to the ground. Now slowly extend your arms in the front with palms facing each other. Hold for up to 30 seconds or more.
To make this even more challenging, try and lift your legs so as to make a 45-degree angle with the floor.
Another advanced version is shifting between boat pose and hollow body hold for a few reps.
Keep you chest high and engage your core to avoid your spine from rounding.
6. Gluteal bridge hold
Gluteal bridge hold is acclaimed to be an effective isometric exercise for the lower abdomen, gluteus, and most importantly lower back. A strong lower back means health at any age.
Lay on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Lift up your butts and back so that only your shoulders and feet are touching the ground. Hold for 3 seconds and come back down. Repeat it at least 8 times.
Make sure to keep your knees in line with your feet and hip-distance apart. Imagine you are holding a yoga block between your thighs to remember to keep the right position.
To make it more demanding, you can hold weights on your stomach and do this isometric hold for greater gains.
To ensure a proper posture, imagine you are holding a block between your thighs, and don’t let it fall.
7. Push the wall
Push the wall and feel your entire front body working. This isometric hold is very simple but useful for definition and muscle toning. Make sure that you focus on engaging every muscle as much as possible. (Bonus: Your psyche plays an important role when executing such exercises. So, make sure to have the right mindset during every work-out.)
Wall push is an effective way to gain strength in your upper body, in addition to your core.
8. Birddog or Superman
Birddog or Superman is a safe and sound isometric exercise for your core, pelvis, and back.
Get on the floor on all fours with hands below shoulders and knees below hips. Now slowly lift one leg behind and extend your opposite arm forward. Make sure that your shoulders and pelvis do not tilt here and there. Bring down your leg and arm and repeat the move with your other leg and arm.
You can increase the number of repetitions to the breaking point for maximum benefit.
The bird dog is a simple core exercise that improves stability, encourages a neutral spine, and relieves low back pain.
9. 6-inch leg raise
6-inch leg raise is a simple isometric hold yet equally effective for your lower abs.
Simply lie flat on the floor with legs extended straight forward. Now slowly raise your legs 6 inches off the ground and maintain the hold for as long as you can or for at least 3 seconds.
To make it even more challenging, you can lift your legs up even further and bring them back to the initial position to maintain the 6 inches gap from the floor.
(Tip: 3 seconds is the minimum time duration you are supposed to stay in a static position before making any movement.)
Remember to keep your lower back in contact with the floor to avoid overarching.
10. Isometric Stomach Flattener
Isometric Stomach flattener is another easy hold for your core.
Sit upright on a chair or stool. Breathe in deep and contract your stomach as hard as you can, as if bracing for a punch. Now breathe out tightly and slowly while making a hissing sound. You’ll feel your abs getting even tighter. Exhale completely and then relax.
You can do this exercise anytime and anywhere.
Use these exercises to create routines of 3-4 exercises that you repeat for 3-4 rounds. Do these three times per week, at least, to enjoy a strong and healthy core.
Avoid overarching your spine by sucking in your belly button and anus throughout the exercise.
Your abs need to be trained regularly. And for all the good reasons. During menopause, your stomach is the first place where all your extra body fat gets accumulated, and unfortunately the last when you’re trying to rid it. So, the bottom line is, if you want to achieve a strong and healthy belly, then you must work your abs with isometric holds every other day. If your goal is to make it also flat, then you need to start eating less too.
You can either do all these exercises in a single abs-oriented workout or incorporate some of them into your daily work-out routine. Either way, you’ll see the difference clearly within a few weeks.
Co-founder of MB Zen, digital nomad and yogini. Trying to beat down stress and achieve peace of mind through the daily practice of Yoga. After a while in yoga, I embraced it wholy, and it changed my lifestyle upside down. Now I want to give back , helping others on their journey.