When you’re in it for the long haul: Isometric Exercises

Hi everyone! How are you all doing?

On a rare trip out… don’t worry, the scarf is usually up around my face!

Interesting times we’re living in, to say the least.

I haven’t been on my blogs as much recently, because I’ve been pretty busy volunteering for the Covid-19 effort. I’ve been lucky to find ways to help from home (most recently, making phone calls and doing outreach for GetUsPPE— a really great organization!).

However, today I wanted to check in with you about a question that has been coming up in just about all of my coaching calls and emails from readers lately (with good reason!).

That question is… what exercises should I do when I can’t get to PT?

First of all, if you haven’t been able to go to PT because of Covid-19… I commend you. We all need to do our part in this difficult situation.

Has anyone else seen that meme that’s going around– if you’re staying home to stop the spread of the coronavirus, you are being productive?

So please, do not judge yourself or be hard on yourself if you feel like you’ve lost progress, or haven’t been able to do the right things. We will get through this. There will be time to go back to PT and get back on track in the future.

In the meantime, there are ways you can keep strengthening, while minimizing the chances that you cause a setback or throw off your alignment.

One of those ways involves a type of exercise known as an isometric muscle contraction.

In Latin, “isometric” translates to “same length.”

When you do an isometric exercise, you are essentially contracting the muscle, without causing the position of your joints to change.

This can be a very gentle, yet effective, way for someone to begin strengthening, or to maintain strength with a lower risk of going out of alignment.

Of course, if you were working with a PT before this, I do want you to check back in with them. However, my personal thinking is that if you won’t be able to go back to PT for a while, it’s not a bad idea to stick to the more gentle exercises for now. With exercises such as the ones I’m about to explain, you lower your risk of going out of alignment, or for having some other kind of setback.

There are really two isometric exercises I want you to know about:

Isometric Transverse Abdominis Contraction

The first exercise is an isometric contraction of the transverse abdominis muscle– one of the major muscles of the core. I’ve written about the TA previously on my blog, and for good reason– it is one of the most important muscles you can strengthen, in order to stabilize the SI joints.

The following is one of my favorite videos to share with people. It’s actually an instructional video for PT’s on how to teach transverse abdominis contraction. I like it because it really breaks it down to the beginning steps, without adding some of the variations (such as arm and leg movements) which can make it more challenging:

Truthfully, this muscle can be tricky to learn to activate properly (it honestly took me a long time). It’s kind of like learning to ride a bike– it’s not just about your muscles firing, it’s also about your brain and nervous system knowing how to coordinate the whole thing.

But if and when you are able to get to PT, or perhaps even have a telehealth visit, this should be one of the first exercises you ask about, because it really can be such a great tool. As you’ll see from the video above, the impact to the SI joints in this position really is minimal.

Isometric glute squeezes

The other basic starting exercise you can do is in the exact same position– lying in a comfortable surface on your back.

(This video actually shows someone doing it face down, but I personally find it more comfortable to do lying on my back).

Isometric Quad Squeezes

You can do an isometric muscle contraction with just about any skeletal muscle in the body.

Because a lot of you also reach out to me about knee issues, I thought I’d include this exercise in my post.

Isometric quad squeezes are the main way I stabilized my chondromalacia patella, way back in the day. (Along with Kinesiotape and eventually transitioning to pool running).

As you can see, an isometric quad squeeze allows you to strengthen the major muscle that stabilizes the knee… without really moving the knee. You don’t need to do a squat or a deep knee bend or anything crazy. That’s the beauty of isometric exercises.

Positioning Tip:

When I first injured my SI joint back in the day (ugh I hate to think about this time), I tried to do various stretches and exercises, only to find I would throw myself out of alignment just trying to get down to the floor.

That’s why I really swear by this stretching table made by Sierra Comfort. It’s like a massage table, except it’s lower to the ground and a little bit firmer, so you don’t sink into it while you’re doing your stretches.

This table honestly changed my life because it made it possible for me to do all the things I needed to do to get stronger, without throwing myself out of alignment in the process.

Tying it all together

As you can see, all of the exercises above can be done in a seated or lying down position. This does not mean they are not effective!

However, isometric exercises are a great way to begin to build strength, or to maintain strength when you need to be conservative about progressing your exercises.

I hope this helps!

If you have any questions, please feel free to drop me a line or leave a comment below!

I am also now offering individualized coaching sessions if you would like to get my thoughts on your situation.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

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