The plank is an isometric exercise, and has MANY benefits. Enough benefit to justify including them in your daily fitness routine. You are likely very familiar with “the plank,” and hopefully do them already! But, let’s dive into what an isometric exercise is, why they benefit runners (really anyone!), and how much/often to benefit you.
What exactly is an Isometric Exercise?
With an isometric exercise, the muscle must use force to maintain its position, but does not change in size. The affected joint also does not move. With most exercises (ie: bicep curl) the muscle lengthens and shortens. These are isotonic exercises, and the affected joint changes position. To contrast, with a plank/isometric exercise, a muscle group is put under stress with a static position.
If the muscles don’t move, how can isometrics make me stronger?!
The benefit of isometric exercise is that they can be effective because they’re high intensity for a short time period. But, you can hold them longer than most eccentric/concentric movements.
Additionally, isometric exercise workout your stabilizer muscles. This is important for maintaining posture, good running form, and preventing injuries. With all that said, remember isometric exercise helps your endurance more so than strength. More on that below!
Learn more about Core Exercise for a Fitter & Faster Runner!
Besides a plank, what are other isometric exercises?
Six exercises are below (click link to see examples). Variations are available to make them more challenging, or impact different muscles. There are MANY options!
- Wall sit – which benefits your glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps (the thighs and butt).
- Overhead hold: benefits your shoulders mainly (upper/back/front) by holding a weight over your head.
- Plank – facing floor benefits the abdominals, quadriceps, and the anterior portion of the shoulder.
- Reverse plank – core area, lower back, arms, shoulders, hamstrings and glutes. Plus, it is a great stretch for your chest and shoulders while opening up your hips!
- Glute bridge – is great for your hamstrings and glutes. (Use a resistance band for more challenge!)
- Body hold – mainly works and fatigues your upper and lower abdominal muscles.
How will isometrics benefit me as a runner?!
- Benefit #1: Improved muscular endurance. Chris Myers, Ph.D., a master coach with Peaks Coaching Group, states that these exercises don’t lead to increased power output during a run, but help you maintain that power during a run.
- Benefit #2: Fast acting! Isometric exercise can provide benefits in as little as two to three weeks with substantial increases in isometric muscle strength. This is according to a recent research published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology.
- Benefit #3: Improve breath control – which is very important for any endurance athlete. When holding an isometric, you work on conscious, mindful breathing while in a stressful situation. Why does that matter? According to Myers, “your breath really anchors you in the moment, locking in your mental focus.
- Benefit #4: You can do almost anywhere, and with use of your body weight alone. No special equipment needs, and you can substitute an item (ie a heavy book for a weight) if necessary.
- Benefit #5: Great for those new to strength training, or are coming back from an injury. Isometric exercises provide neuromuscular activation and efficiency. This happens with regular strength training, but less damage occurs with isometrics. Myers states, “they’re a really good foundational component before someone jumps into a full-blown resistance training routine.”
Learn more about Benefits of Strength Training for Runners!
Can I just do isometrics, and skip my strength training workout?
Um, NO. Isometric and isotonic exercise are both important for runners! While isometric help with muscle endurance, stabilization, breath control, they will not improve your power output.
You may think, so what? Improved strength/power output helps you get up that hill, or sprint strong to the finish. Yet, isotonic exercise will help you maintain that power! In order to finish strong, and avoid injury, you need good posture, mechanics, endurance. And, isometric exercise will benefit you in all those areas!
I’m convinced! How often do I do isometric exercise to get the benefit?!
Isometric exercises should be done daily for five to 10 minutes. You can easily incorporate them into your daily life. Do a wall sit while brushing your teeth. Plank during commercials. You get the idea. Break it up by doing one-two in the morning, and then a couple at night. (Or, you can do them while getting in your strength workout.)
Again, this doesn’t mean you skip your other strength workouts. To get the most benefit, your daily isometric exercise should be done with a couple “traditional” strength workouts per week!