My son is only fourteen months old, but he does the world’s best impression of the Incredible Hulk. He clasps his hands at waist level, presses them together hard, grits his teeth, strains his neck and even gives the signature growl, “Aaaarrrrgh!” Our friends, family, and doctors are convinced that he may be the strongest baby on the planet. Thank goodness he doesn’t turn green like the Hulk—I’m so proud!
The little guy is on to something: isometric strength training. Isometric muscle contractions occur when there’s no shortening or lengthening of the muscle group—just a static pressure held for a few seconds at a time. Isometrics can’t take the place of traditional full-range resistance training, but they can increase strength quickly, simply, and quietly (if you omit the growling). This makes isometrics ideal for a naptime workout. Here are a few exercises to try:
Iso Chair Flye (For Legs, Chest, Shoulders)
Press your back to a sturdy wall, walking your feet out from the baseboard about one of your leg lengths. (Make sure you won’t slip—wear shoes!) Bend your knees no more than ninety degrees, until you feel your thighs beginning to work. Continue pressing your back flat to the wall as you sit in this chair position. Next, bring your forearms and palms together in front of your face, fingertips pointing up. Hold for fifteen seconds, then slowly push through your heels to stand up and release your arms.
Iso Reverse Flye (For Legs, Back, Hips, Shoulders, Abdominals)
Balance carefully on your left leg, reaching your right leg behind you; both hips face forward. Lift your chest high and clasp your fingertips in front of your breastbone, forearms parallel to the floor, right palm facing your chest and left palm facing out. Keep your fingers locked but pull the elbows apart by squeezing your shoulder blades behind you. At the same time, keep your right leg lifted by squeezing the glutes. Hold for fifteen seconds and repeat on the other side: balance on the right leg, lift the left leg, and reverse the hand grip.
Countertop Iso (For Biceps, Triceps, Abdominals)
Standing in front of a countertop, press both palms evenly on the counter. The fingertips should point straight ahead and the elbows should lock in tightly to the ribs. Concentrate on keeping your shoulders down and back, away from the ears. Push the counter down and away to work the triceps; activate the abs with a slight pelvic tilt. To reverse and work the biceps, make fists with both hands and place the knuckles under the counter ledge. Keep the wrists straight and strong as you pull upward on the ledge, as if to lift it, and maintain the pelvic tilt to work the abs. Hold each grip at least ten seconds per repetition.
Iso Plank Four Ways (For Abdominals, Back, Legs)
Begin your front plank by lying facedown. Bring the elbows directly under the shoulders to prop up your chest. Tuck your toes under and push through your heels to straighten the knees, so that you create a long, straight line from shoulders to heels. Pull the abs up and away from the floor to avoid a swayback position; hold here for fifteen seconds.
Next comes side plank: lie on your right side, right elbow under right shoulder. Lift your right ribs away from the floor to create a diagonal line from shoulders to hips. Then, begin to walk the feet out, balancing on the outside of the right foot and the inside of the left. Lift the hips high and hold fifteen seconds; repeat on the left.
The fourth variation is upward plank—begin seated, legs extended to the front. Place your palms on the mat behind your hips, with your fingers pointing toward your toes (or out to the sides for less stress on the shoulders and wrists). Slowly press the soles of the feet to the mat—knees can be bent as you learn—and aim to walk the feet out until the legs extend completely. As you do this, lift the hips and chest as high as you can, working the entire back of the body at once. Hold fifteen seconds and rest.
If you can manage just one repetition of each exercise at first, that’s great! Isometrics are tougher than they look. As you get stronger, add a repetition or two, or hold each repetition five seconds longer. Check with your healthcare provider before beginning this or any other exercise routine, and if you are less than twelve weeks postpartum, skip the side-plank drill. Otherwise, claim a few minutes of naptime for yourself and see how quickly you get stronger and leaner. If you work very hard, maybe one day you’ll catch up to my son.