Isometric exercises involve lots of muscle tension but no actual movement. Also known as static contraction exercises, isometric exercises develop strength, increase muscle tone and increase endurance.
Planks feature in both yoga and Pilates and have become a part of mainstream fitness. In the plank, you must work hard to maintain your spinal alignment against gravity. Planks can be performed while resting on both arms simultaneously, as in the front plank, or one arm at a time, known as the side plank. The front plank emphasizes your rectus abdominis — the front ab muscle, whereas side planks emphasize your obliques, or waist muscles. Whichever type of plank you perform, keep your body perfectly straight and do not allow your hips to drop. For an easier workout, rest on your knees rather than your toes. Hold the plank position for 20 to 60 seconds.
Weighted Holds and Carries
Weighted holds and carries, especially when you only have a weight in one hand, are effective isometric ab exercises. Holding a weight down by your side is called a farmer’s walk, whereas holding a weight above your head is called a waiter’s walk. In both exercises, your abs work isometrically to keep your torso vertical. These exercises can be performed for distance or for time. If you do not have sufficient space to safely perform these exercises, walk on the spot instead.
Palloff presses, sometimes called belly presses, are an isometric anti-rotation exercise. Resisting rotation is an important ab muscle function, especially in sports such as football, rugby, hockey and wrestling. To perform this exercise, stand sideways to a cable machine. Grab the handles and push them away from you at shoulder height. Keep your torso rigid and resist the pull of the cable. On completion, swap sides and repeat. Palloff presses can be performed standing, half kneeling or kneeling. If you don’t have access to a cable machine, you can also perform this exercise with a resistance band fixed to a suitable anchor, such as a sturdy door handle.
Flutter kicks are a popular exercise with military personnel, especially the Navy SEALs. While you kick your legs, you must hold your abs in a strong isometric contraction to keep your lower back pressed firmly into the floor. To perform flutter kicks, lie on your back with your legs extended. Contract your abs and press your lower back into the floor. Maintaining ab tension, lift your feet 6 inches off the floor and kick your legs. Kick for time or for repetitions. Stop if you feel your lower back begin to lift off the floor. If you are unable to keep your lower back pressed into the floor, your abs are not strong enough and this exercise could cause you injury. Build your ab strength with front planks before returning to flutter kicks.