If you thought moving was hard, try holding still. Isometric exercises — during which you contract a muscle but don't actively move it — can be way tougher than classic exercises like squats and push-ups. They're also a great low-impact option for people with achy joints.
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Plus, if you're short on time, isometrics can provide a serious burn in just a few minutes. Want proof? Try this 10-minute isometric workout for your upper body that'll leave your arms and shoulders shaking.
A 10-Minute Isometric Workout for Arms and Shoulders
This workout is designed with built-in rest intervals, and if you want, you can extend it to a 20- or even 30-minute workout by doing both circuits two or three times through. Don't underestimate it, though! Ten minutes is all you need for an intense arm workout.
Do: each of the exercises in Part 1 for 30 seconds, then repeat Part 1 again. Rest for 1 minute, then do the exercises in Part 2 for 30 seconds each.
- Pike hold
- Downward dog hold
- Superman variation
- Triceps dip hold
Rest for 1 minute.
- External shoulder rotation
- Single-arm downward dog (left)
- Single-arm downward dog (right)
Move 1: Isometric Pike Hold
- Start standing up straight and tall.
- Hinge at the hips to bend forward and touch the ground in front of your feet, bending your knees if necessary.
- Walk your hands out slowly so that they’re a foot or two away from your toes.
- With your palms flat on the ground, shift your weight forward and come up onto your toes. Draw your navel into your spine, "hollowing" out your body.
- Only shift as far as you can control your body weight and keep your core engaged.
- You should feel the burn in your shoulders, triceps and upper back muscles. Your abs may also burn.
Move 2: Isometric Downward Dog
- From the pike hold, shift your weight onto your heels and walk your feet backward. Think of this as an easier version of the pike.
- If your range of motion allows, press your heels into the ground as you press your palms into the ground.
- Think about pushing into the floor with your hands, creating tension in your arms and shoulders.
- Don’t forget to keep your core tight and to breathe with control.
Move 3: Isometric Superman Variation
- From Downward Dog, lie on your stomach with your legs straight out behind you and arms extended above your head.
- Clasp your hands together behind your head with your elbows pointing outward.
- Use the strength of your shoulder blades and upper back muscles to lift your torso high. Try to pull your rib cage off of the ground.
- Make sure to keep your neck in line with your spine — don’t tuck your chin during this pose.
- In a traditional Superman, you would lift your feet up as well, but the focus here is your upper body, so feel free to leave the legs down. You will probably still naturally engage the glutes, which is a good thing.
If this position isn't comfortable for your shoulders, extend your arms out straight in front of you instead of behind your head.
Move 4: Isometric Triceps Dip Hold
- Set up a sturdy bench, stool or chair. A couch or bed works fine, too.
- Sit in front of the stool with your legs extended straight in front of you. Your back should barely graze the stool.
- Place your palms flat on top of the stool with your elbows bent.
- Lift your hips off of the ground to create tension. Hold here with a tight core. Don’t allow your shoulders to roll forward!
To modify this exercise, bend your knees to 90 degrees with your thighs parallel to the floor and hold this position. You can also hold with your arms at a lesser angle.
Move 5: Isometric Chaturanga (Push-Up Hold)
- Start in a tabletop position on the floor (on all fours). Your hips should be stacked directly above your knees and your shoulders should be directly above your elbows and wrists.
- Slowly step your right foot back, followed by your left, so that your legs are fully extended behind you. At this point, you should be in a high plank.
- With control, bend your elbows to lower your torso. Bend until your triceps are parallel to the ground. Keep your hips as level as possible — don’t lift them into the air.
- Make sure to engage your core and breathe with control.
You have the option to drop to your knees for this hold if you find that you're struggling to hold the full version for 30 seconds.
Move 6: Isometric External Rotation
- You can kneel or stand for this exercise. Start in the position that’s most comfortable for you.
- Hold your arms at your sides with your elbows bent at a 90-degree angle, and your knuckles facing forward.
- Simultaneously rotate both arms backward while keeping your elbows close to your torso. Think about squeezing your shoulder blades together.
- Rotate as far as your body will let you without feeling any pain.
You may feel a sort of pinch or cramp in this position, rather than a deep burn. While discomfort is okay, don’t push into a range of motion that causes pain.
Move 7: Single-Arm Downward Dog
- From standing, hinge at the hips to bend down and touch the floor in front of your toes. Bend your knees if necessary.
- Walk your hands out until your body makes an upside-down V. Keep your heels pressed into the floor if possible. Draw your navel to your spine, but don’t over-flex your back (don’t curve too much).
- When you’re ready, lift your right hand up and place it behind your back to shift the tension to your left arm and shoulder.
- Hold for 30 seconds before repeating on the other arm.