While movement and cardio can improve fitness, burn calories, and keep your heart healthy, there are reasons to slow down and do more focused work that doesn’t require much movement at all. Holding an exercise and practicing stillness is a good way to target specific muscle groups and train them in a way that’s not aerobic but rather strength conditioning based.
“Static hold exercises, also known as isometric exercises, work on multi-joint involvement and muscle activation to improve strength and stabilization,” says Mike Giunta, physical therapist and certified strength & conditioning coach at Evolution Physical Therapy. The benefits of static hold exercises are vast.
Static hold exercises are especially important in recruiting core muscles across several areas of the body. “The core muscles are not necessarily just your abdominals, but in fact they are typically considered to be any muscle from the mid part of your torso to the mid thighs, and everything in between,” says Giunta. They are especially important to stabilize the body and provide support for your spine.
To begin, “warm up the joints that will be involved to achieve the greatest possible range of motion and avoid compensation or targeting muscles that the exercises may not be intended for,” he says. Common joints to warm up include the ankles, knees, hips or shoulders. Warm up with light jumps, arm circles or neck rolls, as these will be helpful for most static hold exercise work.
What are the benefits of static hold exercises?
The benefits of static hold exercises extend to various parts of the body. When performing static hold exercises, you’re holding an exercise for a given period of time to build strength in those particular muscle groups, as well as increase definition and tone, and find improvements in posture and core strength.
- Injury prevention: Lack of range of motion as well as muscular imbalances as a result of overtraining or overuse in a specific muscular area can lead to injury and inflammation. Static hold exercises are a great way to get muscles warm prior to performing larger muscle movements to help prevent injury. “The key is to get your entire body temperature elevated prior to performing exercises such as lifting weights or going for a run,” he says.
- Maintenance of muscular strength: The benefits of static hold exercises extend to muscle definition and strength. Performing these movements with the right sets, reps or times is required to get the true benefits. You’re increasing tension in the muscle, but not changing the actual length of it. Yet, that stress you feel on the muscles is how you increase strength.
- Improved posture: Static hold exercises recruit local muscle groups that aid in improving posture, particularly around the shoulder blades, neck, mid and low back. “It does this by placing tension on the areas simply due to the position you are holding, so if you squeeze your shoulder blades together, you will immediately sit up straight and feel the activation in your mid back, as an example,” he says.
- Recruits core muscles and strengthens them: Having a strong core is super important for overall fitness gains, as a strong core can help your body manage weight that’s tolerable to lift and it can also improve flexibility, posture, and range of motion. Static hold exercises improve recruitment of these muscle groups that many times are missed in cardio or movement-based exercise, like cycling or a run.
Types of static hold exercises
Perform these static hold exercises for a total of three sets with 30-45 seconds holding for each position.
A squat hold is a great way to achieve multi-joint and muscle activation, specifically for the core and lower body. “The core is a group of muscles between your mid-torso and mid-thighs that help keep us upright and support the spine and this exercise forces you to activate these core muscles while maintaining good posture without leaning forward,” he says.
Leaning forward is an example of a compensatory mechanism by which your body sacrifices proper form to continue to hold the desired position. And that could lead to injury or overuse in the area. This exercise is great for activating the low back, glutes and quads.
- Begin with your feet approximately shoulder width apart.
- Sit your hips back while bending the knees and lower your body to about the position of sitting in a chair.
- Hold this position for 30 seconds and repeat 3 times.
- Maintain proper form by keeping your chin tucked, back straight and knees just over the toes.
This is the right way to do a squat:
A plank hold is an upper body weight bearing exercise that involves multiple muscle groups to come together in order to support your spine. “The goal of the plank is to maintain proper position of the shoulders and hips with specific muscle sequencing through the midsection of your body, and this is achieved simply by holding your body in a particular position with four contact points (both arms and feet), above the ground,” he says.
You can also do a side plank, where you’re just on one side at a time while lifting your body up towards the ceiling, in a hold, with one arm straight in the air and the other holding your body up.
- Begin with your wrists directly under your shoulders and elevate the body by lifting up onto the toes and hands.
- Draw in your abdominal muscles and maintain a neutral position of the pelvis.
- Keep your chin tucked and shoulder blades slightly retracted.
- Hold this position for 30 seconds and repeat three times.
- Maintain proper form by avoiding a rounded back posture and do not let your hips sag towards the floor, as hip sagging will compromise support in the low back and may lead to injury.
This is the right way to do a plank:
“Bridge hold promotes glute activation while maintaining the pelvis in a safe, neutral position, and it’s an excellent way to warm up the posterior chain or build strength in the hamstrings, glutes and low back,” he says.
- Begin by laying on your back with your feet shoulder width apart and the feet firmly planted on the ground.
- Tilt the pelvis backwards by pushing the low back into the ground.
- Squeeze the glute muscles tight and lift the hips in the air until they are aligned with the knees.
- Hold this position for one minute and repeat three times.
- Maintain proper form and avoid over-extending the back, which could happen from pushing the hips too high towards the ceiling. “By pushing the hips too high you will lose proper muscle activation of the hips and put the spine in a position that is susceptible to injury,” he explains.
Here’s the right way to do a glute bridge:
Tips for doing static hold exercises for maximum benefits
Timing is important in order to get the best results. “Static holds are best performed at the beginning of the workout as a warm up set or muscle activation but could also be used in-between sets if the goal of the workout is muscle fatigue,” he says.
Yet, be warned: muscle fatigue will make the next exercise you do harder. Muscle fatigue from static hold exercises come from “super-setting the exercise, or performing a static hold directly after the main set with little to no rest,” he says. “For example, if you perform a static squat hold after performing a primarily lower body activity, your muscles will fatigue more, in turn making the next set more difficult,” he says.
And don’t lose your form, particularly the position of your pelvis. “If you lose the position of your pelvis, you will compromise the integrity of the exercise and cause other muscle groups to activate that are not intended to,” he says. This compensation could leave you susceptible to injury, as it’s working an area that’s not primed for that work or that has already been worked to its limits through other means. Stop if you’re unable to maintain the proper position anymore.
You can also do these exercises in front of a mirror to check your form. The marker of successful form is the ability to hold a desired position (a static hold exercise) for a length of time without changing that position or dropping.
Choose a variety of static hold exercises to help recruit different muscle groups. “For example, instead of squat holds, try a split squat lunge, as this change will allow different muscle groups to activate and in turn challenge your body to maintain strength in different positions,” he says. Don’t do the same static hold routine each time. Switch things up. Add a variety of static holds that include both the upper body and lower body for a balanced routine.
Here’s an example. “Change between high planks, squats, and chair pose on one day, which will activate the quads, shoulders and abdominals, to lunges, bridges and bird dogs on another day, which will activate the glutes and low back muscles,” he says. For these three exercise circuits, hold each pose for 30 seconds and perform the entire circuit three times with a 30 second rest between each round.
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