Muscles generate force in three ways: as they shorten, as they lengthen and while remaining the same length. Contractions that do not result in any joint movement are classed as isometric — a word also used to describe a type of exercise. Isometrics were championed by Charles Atlas in his “Dynamic Tension” correspondence strength-training courses but now are more of a training adjunct than a standalone form of working out. You can perform isometric exercises for virtually every part of your body, including your rectus abdominus muscle, or abs for short. Avoid holding your breath when performing isometrics, as this can significantly raise your blood pressure.
The plank is the most well-known isometric ab exercise and features in both yoga and Pilates workouts. To perform the plank, kneel on all fours and rest your forearms on the floor. Walk your legs back so that your weight is supported on your forearms and forefeet only. Make sure your heels, hips and shoulders form a straight line and hold this position for the desired duration. Do not allow your hips to drop toward the floor, as this places undue strain on your lower back.
Side planks target your ab and waist muscles. Lie on your side with your legs straight and weight resting on your elbow. Lift your hips off the floor so that your weight is supported on your arm and sides of your feet only. Hold this position for the desired duration. You can make this exercise more challenging by elevating your feet on an exercise bench or step.
The waiter’s walk is an effective isometric abdominal exercise that also improves shoulder joint stability. Stand with your feet together and a dumbbell in one hand. Curl the weight to shoulder level and press it above your head. Brace your abdominal muscles and contract your upper back and shoulder muscles to support the weight. With your arm extended, walk around your training area while focusing on keeping your spine perfectly vertical. On completion, change arms and repeat.
The Pallof press is an isometric ab exercise that uses weights to strengthen your entire midsection. This anti-rotation exercise often is used by therapists to help strengthen the muscles responsible for spine stability. To perform this exercise, stand sideways on a chest-high pulley cable and grasp the handle in both hands. Hold your hands close to your chest and step away from the pulley to tension your arms. From this position, press your arms out in front of you at shoulder level — extending your arms lengthens your levers and increases the degree of rotation you must resist. Draw your arms back into your chest to rest and then repeat. Rest a moment and then perform an identical number of repetitions on the opposite side.
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