While many types of exercise can be good for lowering your blood pressure, a recent review of studies found that isometric exercise may have the greatest effect. So what is isometric exercise, and how can you start doing it?
What is isometric exercise?
Isometric exercises are ones where you hold a position for a certain interval of time, instead of moving into and out of it. For example, a plank is an isometric exercise, while a crunch would be a “dynamic” or traditional type of exercise.
Studies on isometrics often use lab equipment we don’t have at home (like a special machine that you push your legs against), but researchers suspect that the benefits of isometric exercise can come from any isometric work. A typical protocol would have you doing four sets of contractions for two minutes each.
Yes, that would mean a two-minute plank, or a two-minute wall sit, which may sound impossible at first. But you can scale these exercises by doing an easier version of them, one you’re capable of keeping up for the full amount of time.
Importantly, isometric exercise is about a continued contraction of your muscles, not a continual effort in which you’re holding your breath. Holding your breath while you’re working hard can temporarily increase your blood pressure and may not be appropriate for some people with high blood pressure. If you’re concerned, talk to your doctor about what kind of exercise makes the most sense for you.
Grab these supplies to help with your isometrics:
- A lightweight, adjustable hand gripper
- This training strap meant for a variety of isometric exercises
- A yoga mat to help with those warrior poses
Isometric exercises to try (and how to make them easier if you need to)
Wall sits. The classic wall sit has you place your back against the wall, at a level where your hips are roughly even with your knees—like you’re sitting in an invisible chair. You can make this one easier by keeping your hips higher than your knees so your legs don’t have to work as hard.
Planks. To do planks, get into the top of a push-up position, and hold it. Traditionally, planks are done on your elbows and toes, but you can lower your knees to the ground to make them easier. You can also do planks with your hands on a bench or table, or even with your hands on the wall. Move to a lower surface when the two-minute hold begins to feel easy.
Grip squeezes. Use a grip-training device or a soft ball. Squeeze for the two minutes, and then release.
Bicep holds. You can hold a pair of dumbbells for this one, or just press your hands, face-up, against the underside of a table. (Pretend you’re about to flip the table over. Do not actually flip the table over.)
With a little imagination, almost any exercise can be an isometric. You can hang with your arms flexed at the top of a pullup bar, or pause when you’re halfway down into a pushup. If you like yoga, many yoga poses are isometric holds (chair pose, for example, or any of the warrior poses). All may offer benefits traditional exercises don’t.