It might seem like an oxymoron that you can exercise your muscles without actually having to perform a movement or lift weight. This is exactly what isometric exercises are. They work using only muscle tension in specific positions. They can even be helpful for toning your legs, a common target area for women looking to enhance their health and figure.
In traditional strength exercises, or isotonic exercise, you shorten and lengthen your muscles by moving weight. This is the opposite of an isometric exercise. When you perform an isometric exercise you will move into a position, contract the muscles and hold the position for a designated time. These exercises are beneficial for when you don't have access to fitness equipment and if you want to maintain your current strength instead of adding more muscle mass to your frame.
At first it might be hard to hold a pose for very long; you might even notice that your legs shake or that it feels uncomfortable. This just means you have created enough force to challenge your muscles. These exercises should never cause pain; stop immediately if this happens and see your doctor. For each exercise you choose, start slowly and then build up to longer times and more sets. Start with one set of 10 to 15 seconds; as you feel stronger and more comfortable, build up to two or three sets of 30 to 60 seconds.
Isometric exercises should target all of the major muscles in your legs for a balanced workout. This includes the hamstrings in the back of your thighs, the quadriceps on the front of the thighs and the calf muscles on the back of your lower legs.
MayoClinic.com does not recommend isometric exercises for anyone who wants to improve their athletic performance or speed. If your goals involve either of these or building more lean muscle tissue, you'll need to incorporate a variety of isotonic exercises into your leg workouts. MayoClinic.com also says that isometric exercises greatly increase blood pressure and are not recommended for anyone with high blood pressure or heart problems.
Isometric Wall Sits
Wall sits engage all three of the major muscle groups of the legs. This exercise is done against a wall, mimicking the position you are in when sitting in a chair. Place your back against a wall and put your feet on the ground a few feet away from your body. Slide down the wall until your legs create 90-degree angles. Keep your back flat against the wall with your abdominal muscles tightened for support. Hold this position for the desired time.
This type of isometric exercise can be done while you're sitting at your desk, riding in a car or while watching TV. Focus on one specific leg muscle, such as the quadriceps. Tighten the muscle as much as you can, hold for the desired time and relax.
Ashley Farley has been a certified personal trainer since 2008. She is also a writer specializing in healthy living, fitness and nutrition topics. Farley has an Associate of Science in mental health services from the Community College of the Air Force and is pursuing her B.A. in English at Wright State University.