Published February 10, 2013
If you want to look pumped, put your weight training on hold. Isometrics can help inflate the veins in your muscles, according to a new research in The International Journal of Vascular Medicine.
In the study, U.K. scientists had men do four sets of an isometric exercise—holding a forceful muscle contraction without movement—three days a week. The result: After eight weeks, the participants’ veins were 11 percent wider. What’s more, their blood pressures also dropped. (Small changes can make a huge difference in your health. Start here: 20 Little Changes for a Healthier Life.)
“We think that the exercises caused an increase in nitric oxide in their blood,” says lead study author Dr. Tony Baross.
For the experiment, the men held an isometric contraction of the leg extension for two minutes, and then rested two minutes. That counted as one set.
However, you can perform isometrics with almost any exercise. For example, hold the down position of a pushup or squat, or the mid-way point of a biceps curl.
Of course, two-minute holds aren’t the only way to get a good isometric workout. You can also use a more challenging weight for shorter periods of time, says B.J. Gaddour, C.S.C.S. “It still gives you a great ‘pump,’ but it’s even better for improvements in strength and muscle.”
For this workout, you hold an isometric contraction for 10 seconds and rest for five seconds. That’s one round. You then repeat for a total of 12 rounds.
In the video, Gaddour starts with the easiest variation and progresses to a harder variation each round. You can follow along using the same variations as he does, or stick with a single variation throughout, based on your fitness level. (If you feel it’s too easy, you can start with a more challenging variation the next time.)
The result is two total minutes of maximum isometric contractions, which will result in a greater overall training effect than a single two-minute hold: “It’s a higher intensity routine that provides greater total muscular tension, and a more focused, higher-quality muscle contraction,” says Gaddour.
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