Isometric Exercises for Seniors

The greatest advantage of isometric exercises for seniors is that they can be performed virtually anywhere. Thanks to the variety of exercises available in which we use only our body, we can do them at home or anywhere else that is convenient. Once you understand isometrics, your bed, a door frame, a wall or a washcloth can become your whole gym. This is the type of workout that you can perform in just a few minutes and it will leave you energized, strong and resilient.

When we talk about these exercises, we are referring to a workout in which we subject the muscle to tension without making any movement. This includes any exercise that can be performed with or without weights, and within them, there is a wide variety of exercises in which we will not need anything more than our own body.

Isometric exercises can be performed to achieve several objectives. One of them could be the strengthening of tendons and ligaments, elements that tend to bother us by giving us pain, when performing any physical activity, or when we suffer an injury. Tendons have a more limited blood supply than muscles, and this is one of the reasons
why they require a longer recovery time. Through these exercises, we develop the strength of these tissues, and by not making any movement we will not cause them further harm. It is also not necessary to wait for an injury to appear to encourage us to perform this type of exercise, since its regular execution will strengthen our tendons, helping us to prevent injuries in the future.

Senior doing streching near a lake

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What Is the Difference between Isotonic and Isometric Exercises?

We have probably all heard the terms 'isotonic' and 'isometric exercises', and may be under the impression that they are either the same thing or something interchangeable. However, that is not the case.

Isometric exercises are strength exercises where you hold a position to keep a muscle contracted without moving the joint. Isometric comes from the Greek “iso”, equal and “metron”, measure. This translates into maintaining the same measure, dimension or length.

Isotonic exercises involve movement at the joint at a full range of motion to contract the muscle. Then, you eccentrically move it back to the starting position. Isotonic comes from the Greek “iso”, equal and “tonos” or tone which translates into maintaining equal muscle tone.

Now, the real question we should ask is: do isometrics really work? It is only natural to have the perception that isometrics are just not as good as isotonic exercises. After all, just the fact that someone is moving makes it look like harder work. Since in isometrics you’re not moving at all, you’re standing still and it looks like nothing is happening. But that’s only a perception; in fact, a lot is happening while you’re holding a pose in an isometric exercise.

What Can Isometrics Help With?

Senior with yellow shirt walking on a shore

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​When we talk about isometric exercise we are talking about tensioning a muscle while keeping it in a stationary position. In these exercises, we subject a muscle to tension without there being movement as when pushing a wall or making tension between one hand and the other. These exercises are widely used in rehabilitation since they strengthen the muscle without putting force on the joints, but they can also be used to strengthen and condition the body.

As they do not need any movements, they can be done in almost any place, with little equipment, and are extremely safe. This makes them a very good fitness option no matter your age when we are either at home or traveling or when there is no gym nearby.

Form is very important in these exercises. In them, you do not have a ton of weight pushing against you, so it is difficult to get injured. However, positioning is still important. Research has shown that varying the angles when doing isometrics increases muscle strength. If you only do the same posture over and over you will be limiting the benefits you might otherwise receive. So, change and variety are important. For example, when you place your arm in a 90-degree angle and tense up, your biceps muscles are strengthening at one length. Try also positioning your arm at a 120-degree angle and then move it to a 45-degree-angle to get the full benefit of strengthening your biceps.

Another example of this type of exercise is to grasp your hands together and press your palms toward each other. You can vary the angle by moving your hands closer to or farther from your body. To use your body weight for an isometric exercise, hold a downward plank or the starting position of a push-up exercise for 10 to 20 seconds. Equipment can also be used to do isometric exercises. For example, hold a dumbbell in one hand, bend your arm to a 90-degree angle and hold the weight for 20 seconds.

Tips for Isometric Exercises

​Before engaging in isometric exercises or any other type of fitness training, these are some tips you should:

  • ​Take the time to warm up for about 10 minutes before starting and give yourself 10 minutes to cool down at the end.
  • ​Expect some muscle soreness. Do not be discouraged and take it as a sign that things are working the way they should.
  • ​Be conscious of your posture always and maintain a good upright posture at all times.
  • ​Focus on breathing and do not hold your breath while exercising.
  • ​Do all movements in a slow-to-moderate and deliberate manner.

​As you are performing your exercise routine, keep in mind that you should aim for the right intensity when working out. Stop if you are injured or have been sick or if your muscles feel too sore. Progress slowly in order to avoid injuries. Also, remember to ask your doctor before engaging in any physical activity.

Workouts for Seniors

​If you are a senior in your 80s and 90s, there is no reason for you to rule exercise out of your life. On the contrary, the more fit you are, the better you will feel. Isometric exercises are a great option for you.

Isometrics can prevent muscle loss that is a natural part of aging and can promote an increase in strength. Seniors can benefit from an exercise routine and gain advantages when it comes to:

  • Osteoporosis
  • Arthritis
  • Balance
  • Pulmonary disease which includes COPD, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes Type II

Isometric movements are contractions of a particular muscle or group of muscles. During isometric exercises, the muscle does not noticeably change length and the affected joint does not move. Because they are done in one position without movement, they will improve strength in only one particular position. You would have to do various isometric exercises through your limb's whole range of motion to improve muscle strength across the range. In addition, since isometric exercises are done in a static position, they won't help improve speed or athletic performance. They can be useful, however, in enhancing stabilization since muscles often contract isometrically to aid in stabilization.

If you have had an injury and feel pain while doing certain movements, isometric exercises may be helpful. For instance, if you have injured your rotator cuff, your doctor or physical therapist might initially recommend isometric exercises involving the group of muscles that help stabilize the shoulder to maintain shoulder strength during recovery.

Isometric training may also be helpful to people suffering from other conditions. If you have arthritis which could be aggravated by using muscles to move a joint through the full range of motion, these exercises might work for you. As people with arthritis perform these exercises and their strength improves, they may progress to other types of strength training. Strength training may help reduce pain and improve physical function.

Some studies have shown that these exercises may also help lower your blood pressure. However, if you have high blood pressure, exercise at a lower level of intensity. Exercising at a higher level of intensity can cause a dramatic increase in your blood pressure during the activity and end up being counter-productive.

Conclusion

Senior couple with bagpacks holding hands

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​Exercise in the Golden Years is just as important as working out and getting fit in the earlier stages of life. Seniors who exercise regularly will be healthier, stronger and more energetic. There are many exercises that boast a lot of benefits to seniors. Depending on one's fitness level, exercises can be modified to meet an individual's fitness goals. Isometric exercises, such as planks, push-ups, and sit-ups, not only build strength but increase stamina, balance, and flexibility. Look into isometric exercises as a good option to help you get started, improve your muscle tone and balance or simply because you want to look and feel great.

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