Pump it up, hunk!

Pump it up, hunk!

While a muscle pump often calls for a pocket pinch, here is a simple, economical exercise form that can strengthen your muscles like none other. Krishna Raj unearths the benefits of workout sessions that involve the relatively lesser-known form of exercise - isometrics.

When a six-foot-something Abdul Jabbar went crashing down, or a mighty Chuck Norris fell thud, it was always the puny Chinese man who left the scene victorious! Indeed, Bruce Lee, besides epitomising technical excellence through years of intensive training, was also considered one of the world’s most incredibly strong men. Out-of-pocket gym packages promise overnight hunkhood, and hoards of youngsters go splurging on high-tech iron for the extra pump. But what most people are unaware of is that Lee was a proponent of one of the simplest, yet effective, forms of exercise that uses almost no equipment.

Isometrics are static exercises with no movement taking place. Each exercise can be performed through 2-3 sets of a minimum of 10 seconds of holding/resistance. Isometrics can be performed anywhere with either one’s own body or immovable objects like walls or trees for resistance. It is said that the pioneer of Isometrics, Alexander Zass (1888-1962), when imprisoned during his stint in the Russian Army, escaped prison by using his own body pressure to break open his shackles, and then the prison bars.

This was the beginning of the discovery. The ‘strong man’ as he was popularly called, later rose to fame by performing breathtaking feats like breaking iron chains with his body and bending metal rods with bare hands!

Isometrics are as simple as beginning with a warm-up, pressing your hands together in a ‘Namaste’ position for 10 seconds with increasing pressure. This can pump your chest up. Keeping the palms of both hands counter-resisting, with one arm in a 90 degree angle for another 10 seconds can boost-up the biceps. Holding a push-up mid-way for a few seconds can work the chest, while holding a chin up can work a variety of muscles like the arms, back and shoulders. A variety of Isometrics performed in different angles can exercise all body parts, namely chest, shoulders, biceps, triceps, back and legs, even the abs. A cool down must follow every isometric workout.

Experts believe that through the static resistance these exercises involve, one can ‘trick the brain’ into activating more number of muscle fibres, as the signal conveyed to the brain is of very heavy weight being lifted. The heavier the weight, the more the number of fibres activated by the brain. If done correctly, isometrics can yield quick results and strengthen the core of each muscle.

“These are wonderful exercises that require practically no equipment and can be
performed anywhere, even on long flights where the body often becomes stiff or if you happened to miss a gym workout,” opines octogenarian Madhukar Talwalkar, owner of one of India’s largest gym chains. Though heavy-weight training routines are best suited for bodybuilding, isometrics provide excellent overall fitness, sculpting and are said to aid in weight loss.

“Considering that one uses one’s own body pressure against the muscles, the scope for injury from isometrics is nil,” says ad-man Bharat Dabholkar, who is also an ardent fitness expert. However, isometrics work best for those who already have a certain muscle content in the body as compared to complete beginners.Binny Sreedharan, a fitness expert, explains how the major categories of isometrics workout. “‘Overcoming
isometrics’ is the workout where one pushes immovable objects like trees, and ‘yielding isometrics’ is the workout where you hold the position of an isotonic exercise at different angles for a while.

Isometric workouts have an upper hand over isotonic workouts where it concerns strength training. In isotonic workouts, holding a certain angle for strength
training is very difficult due to constant movements. But in isometrics, holding a push-up midway and the likes is simpler. Though performed without expensive equipment, isometrics can be as intense as their isotonic counterparts. This form of exercise is also used in injury rehabilitation programs, especially when full ROM (range of motion) is difficult to perform,” he says.

While a good insight into kinesiology would be required to derive maximum benefits from isometrics, it is advisable to have an expert jot-down a suitable
programme for you.


One should avoid valsalva manoeuvre, wherein you hold the breath and exert pressure at the same time while performing the exercise. This can lead to an increase in blood pressure.

Isometrics can be detrimental to individuals with high blood pressure or cardiovascular diseases.

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