Non-Weight Bearing Isometric Exercises for the Upper Body

Side planks can tone your core muscles.

Side planks can tone your core muscles.

You can often move along different paths to reach the same goal. That’s certainly true for strength training, which offers a variety of tools to tone your muscles. One of the paths to a stronger body involves little movement at all -- isometric exercises, during which your muscles work even though your body is basically still. Despite the lack of movement, isometric exercises can strengthen your upper body if you’re willing to put in some extra time.

Isometric Workout

During isometric workouts, muscles are forced to contract when they’re confronted by resistance. Your muscles are strengthened, but only at the specific position in which they’re worked. If you perform an isometric arm exercise with your elbow bent at 90 degrees, for example, the activity only increases your strength when your elbow is in that position, or very close to it. Therefore, you may need to perform multiple repetitions with your body in various positions to gain strength throughout your range of motion. As with other types of strength training, begin your workout with a warmup including five to 10 minutes of light aerobic exercise followed by some dynamic stretches. To gain strength you’ll typically hold your isometric positions for at least three to five seconds per repetition and perform 15 to 20 reps per set. But you can also hold your positions longer and do fewer reps, particularly for body-weight exercises in which you’re simply maintaining your position.


Work your abs and obliques by performing front planks. Assume a pushup position, but balance yourself on your forearms instead of your hands, with your upper arms directly below your shoulders. Keep your body straight for about 30 seconds. Do a side plank by turning on your side and balancing on one forearm and the outside of one foot. Keep your body straight from head to toe.

Chest and Back

If your goal is to tone your chest, do isometric pushups by taking a standard pushup position with your hands beneath your shoulders. Drop down slowly about halfway to the floor, then stop. To perform the isometric version of a fly, position your hands about chest high on either side of a door frame, then push your hands inward, toward each other. Do a hand press by standing erect and bringing your palms together in front of your mid-chest region. Extend your arms forward but flex them a bit at the elbows, then press your hands together. Target your back with a Superman exercise. Lie face-down on the floor with your legs straight and your arms extended over your head, then lift your legs and upper chest so only your pelvic area and belly remain on the floor.

Arms and Shoulders

Work your biceps by placing your hands below a fixed object, such as a heavy table top, and pressing upward. Use the same fixed object to do the isometric equivalent of a triceps dip by reaching behind you, setting your hands on top of the object, dipping your body halfway down, then holding your position. Strengthen your forearms by sitting in a chair, placing your hands under the armrests and pushing upward. Target your shoulders by pressing upward against a door frame.

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About the Author

M.L. Rose has worked as a print and online journalist for more than 20 years. He has contributed to a variety of national and local publications, specializing in sports writing. Rose holds a B.A. in communications.

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