By Yohanan Burket
The “more is better” mentality is prevalent among those who exercise in a gym. When I first visited a gym, I was rapidly propelled through a series of exercises, all of them involving a relatively low weight and many repetitions, typically three sets of 10 reps. Although it got my heart pumping and my muscles sore, I thought that there could be a better way.
Back in the ’60s, I had heard of an exercise technique called isometrics, so I thought I would give it a try. As it turns out, it is the best way to strengthen tendons, which is fundamental for increasing muscle strength and minimizing injuries when lifting heavy weights. The drawback of isometrics is that it requires exerting tension at several different angles, and even then, it cannot compare with the results achieved with movement. The movement is important because it gives the mover a feeling of accomplishment. This is probably the reason that isometrics never became very popular. A sports figure popularized isometrics, and about a year later, it went the way of blue suede shoes.
Is Isometrics a Waste of Time?
The short answer is: definitely not. Body builders flex their muscles all the time – this flexing in itself builds muscle as it is a form of isometrics. Isometrics can be performed on a bus or in the office at any time, anywhere. It is a very valuable technique for the elderly so that their muscles do not atrophy.
It doesn’t take long for one to get out of shape, either. In just two weeks, your performance starts to dip, and in two months, you can be altogether out of shape. Our bodies were meant for “work”, meaning force times distance, or at least static force. It is the absence of the force of gravity that causes astronauts to get out of shape very quickly.
The elderly should never stop exercising, as the lack of it causes pains associated with sagging muscles. They should forget about electric carts and the like and start walking and doing push-ups. They benefit greatly from isometrics if their wind capacity is deficient.
If someone gets out of breath too easily, then they should push forward to build their wind capacity. In other words, perform those initially painful exercises that stress the lungs and also the heart. An example would be riding a bicycle uphill. Your body will reward you afterward, giving you a feeling of exhilaration and boundless energy after resting for a time.
A few years ago, I invented an isometric device which would allow one to perform virtually any exercise and monitor strength. It was compact and portable, owing to a built-in battery display. It was called Chain Exerciser, but almost no one was interested. The explanation of this device is on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jc8RYRTLtGM . I also tried to invent a device that would simulate the movements associated with free weights, but the cost was prohibitive and the dangers of injury from such a device was equal to that of free weights. Although the Chain Exerciser was safe, it is boring to use compared to sophisticated gym equipment. I suppose that the Chain Exerciser would only be useful for someone who did not want to visit a gym or lived in some remote area. Most people do not have room for a home gym, and I thought that the Chain Exerciser would be useful as it could be easily tucked under a bed or in a closet after use.
How Frequently Should You Exercise?
If a poll were taken, most would probably say that you should go to a gym 3-5 times each week and work out for 2-3 hours each time. It is precisely this type of thinking that causes zero results, the simple reason being that muscles need time to grow – lots of time. The only way that muscles grow is if they are allowed to relax.
So how do you know if you are over-doing it in the gym or in the park? If you cannot do more repetitions than the last workout, then you are over-doing it. You simply must take more time off between exercise sessions.
Also, if you are using a relatively low weight, you will not stress your muscles enough to encourage further growth. A good rule of thumb is not to do more than 6-9 repetitions of any exercise. If you are able to do more than 9 repetitions, then you must increase the resistance.
For example, if you are able to perform 15 pull-ups, then your body weight is too light. In this case, you can put on a backpack full of water bottles before performing the pull-ups. Just an extra 20 pounds of weight from a backpack can reduce the number of pull-ups by one-half.
Simply stated, if you don’t stress your muscles beyond what they experienced in the last workout, you’re going nowhere. And you’re going nowhere if you don’t force yourself to rest between workout sessions. In my case, if I exercise more than just once per week, I cannot achieve any strength gains. At the other extreme, if I wait two weeks between exercise sessions, I actually lose strength. I suspect that others will have a similar experience if they carefully monitor their results.
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