Building Strength, Without Moving a Muscle
Think you need a lot of equipment to build strength? Well, you can do it on your own without moving a muscle. This article outlines how.
When you think of strength training, what image comes to mind? Probably someone is struggling and sweating with barbells and dumbbells, or straining against a shiny high tech machine. But there’s another way to build up your muscular strength and endurance. For most exercises, you don’t need any equipment. You can do them in your home. And you don’t have to move a muscle.
I call these exercises static exercises. You aren’t moving. Instead, you’re holding yourself in a position that forces your muscles to contract and strengthen. Even though you’re not going through a range of motion, load and stress are training on your muscles. You’ll feel it. Best of all, the static exercises in this article target all of your major muscle groups.
If you’re already on a fitness program, the exercises in this article are a great complement to your plan — especially on those days when you don’t have time for a full workout. If you’re trying to get back into shape after a long layoff, or plan on starting an exercise regimen, then static exercises can help you start building or rebuilding your strength before you move on to more advanced exercise routines.
You’ll notice that most of the exercises are the ones that you might have done in school or a gym. The positions will be familiar to you, so there won’t be much of a learning curve. And the exercises that are unfamiliar are easy to learn.
Before you begin
If you haven’t exercised for a while, or if this is the first time doing an exercise program, talk to your doctor before you start. And if you feel any sharp pain while doing these exercises, stop. Your body is telling you something is wrong, and you should listen before you hurt yourself.
As for the exercises themselves, hold the positions for as long as possible. How long will that be? Well, it depends on you and the exercise. It might be 10 seconds, or it might be two minutes. Also, when you are doing a static exercise routine, mix the workouts up. Do a couple of the upper body exercises, then one of the abdominal or leg exercises. Keep rotating through the exercises until you’ve done them all once.
Working the upper body
Everyone, male or female, wants a firm and toned upper body. The static exercises that I’m going to describe hit all the major areas of your upper body: arms, shoulders, upper back, and chest.
Pushups are a staple of physical fitness programs. From school gym classes to the military, pushups are famous because they are easy to do and require only a stretch of floor or ground. Pushups also do a great job of working the upper body.
The static version of the pushup is easy to do. Get into pushup position and lower yourself down until your chest is a few inches off the ground. Make sure that your back is straight and that your chin is up, with you looking forward. Hold the position for as long as you can.
Pushups are probably the most versatile of all upper body exercises. And you can incorporate that versatility into your static exercise routine. How? By simply varying the pushup positions that you use. For example:
- Position your arms at twice your shoulder width apart.
- Extend your arms all the way out and hold that position
- Place your hands side-by-side so that they form a diamond and lower yourself two-thirds of the way down
- Raise one leg off the floor while in the down position
You’ll notice that each of these positions works different sets of muscles. And by tossing these variations into the mix, you’re ensuring that you’re not getting too bored with the exercises that you’re doing.
Nothing beat pullups for building arm and upper back strength. Static exercises based on pull-ups are demanding, but they also bring some excellent results. The only drawback is that these exercises require special equipment — a pull-up bar.
But, that’s not a significant drawback. You can find a pull-up bar at most sporting goods stores. These are usually the kind that hangs in a doorway, so you should be careful where you use it. Also, you can use a sturdy tree branch to do this exercise.
This exercise is simple. Grab the chin up bar with your palms facing you and arms shoulder-width apart. Then, pull yourself up so that your nose is just over the bar. And, of course, hold yourself in that position for as long as possible. Another, more challenging, variation of this exercise is to lock yourself in position with your palms facing away from you. It not only works the arms but the upper back as well.
But what if you can’t pull yourself all the way up? Try hanging from a chin-up bar to build up your strength.
Hanging from a chin-up bar may seem pointless. But if you do it, it works your arms, shoulders, and grip. The fact that it’s a simple exercise shouldn’t put you off. Hanging is simple, but it is challenging.
To do it, grab the bar and hang. Make sure that you aren’t extending your elbows. Instead, they should be slightly bent. It reduces the risk of injury to your elbows. If you’re using a chin-up bar that fits across a doorway, you’ll probably need to tuck your legs up underneath yourself, so your feet don’t touch the floor. Try not to swing while hanging.
There are some ways you can spice this exercise up. One way is not to use your thumbs when hanging on to the bar. It works your grip. Another way is to pull yourself half way up and hold yourself there for as long as possible.
If you want a real challenge, hang and stretch your legs out in front of you. Doing this works your abdominals, while also putting more load on your arms and shoulders. An even more challenging variation on this hang is to haul yourself up into the full pull-up position while extending your legs. In addition to working your arms, shoulders, and abs, you’ll feel this in your upper back.
Like pull-ups, dips are an fantastic upper body blaster. They work your shoulders, chest, and triceps. Static dips do the same thing, and they’re easy to do.
To perform static dips, you’ll need two kitchen or dining room chairs. Position the chairs slightly more than shoulder width apart, with the seats facing each other. Move into the gap between the chairs, and place your hands firmly on the seats. Then, lower yourself until your arms form right angles. You should immediately feel the load on your shoulders, triceps, and chest.
If you’ve ever watched gymnastics, you’ve probably seen competitors on the rings or the pommel horse hold themselves in an “L” position. That takes a lot of strength, the kind you can build by doing what I call an L sit.
To do the L sit, take two chairs and place them slightly more than shoulder width apart, with the seats facing each other. Move into the gap between the chairs, and put your hands firmly on the seats. Lift your legs off the floor and try to hold them straight out in front of you. You’ll feel it in your shoulders and abs.
If you can’t do a full extension of your legs, try raising your knees up and let your lower legs dangle. When you get strong, try extending your legs. It will take a while to be able to do that, but you’ll notice your gains in strength as you keep doing the exercise.
Working the abs and core
Everyone wants a flat stomach. And core training, strengthening the work the area that supports your torso and spine, is all the rage. You don’t need to resort to fancy equipment or body-contorting exercises to build a strong core and abs.
As an abdominal exercise, the leg raise has gone in and out of fashion and back many, many times. But one fact remains: it’s an excellent exercise for building hard stomach muscles.
To do the static leg raise, lie down on your back. With your feet together, lift your legs six inches or so off the ground. At the same time touch your chin to your chest. Keep your hands to your side, or across your chest. Try to keep your legs together, and as straight as possible.
The core stretch hits all the muscles in your midsection. The key to its effectiveness is that in addition to working your muscles, you’re also trying to balance yourself. It adds to the load on your midsection and can generate good results quickly.
Get down on the floor in the pushup position, with your arms extended. Then, raise and extend your right arm and left leg. Try to hold yourself in that position for at least 10 seconds. When you can no longer maintain that position, then lower your arm and leg, and then raise and extend your left arm and right leg. Again, hold the position for at least 10 seconds.
The core hold (sometimes called a side plank) is somewhat more comfortable than the core stretch, but it too works your midsection by forcing you to balance yourself while your muscles contract.
To do this exercise, lie on your right side. Make sure that your legs are on top of each other. Then, using your arms, raise your upper body off the floor. Once you’re up, extend your left arm to help balance yourself. Hold this position for as long as possible. When you can no longer hold it, then lower yourself to the floor, roll over on your left side, and repeat the process.
Working the legs
Even though they’re the most significant and most active muscles in our bodies, we tend to overlook the legs when exercising. But strong legs make many tasks — from walking to climbing stairs to rock climbing and martial arts — a whole lot easier. Static leg exercises can help you build up weak leg muscles, as well as increase your muscular endurance.
For most people, sitting is very natural. So why not incorporate it into your workout? With the wall chair, though, sitting becomes less and less comfortable the longer you do it. But the benefits of the wall chair are more significant than sitting in your favourite chair.
To do the wall chair, stand with your back against a wall. Slowly lower yourself until your legs form right angles. Keep your back straight against the wall, and your feet planted firmly on the floor. The position you’re in resembles sitting in a chair. Hold this position for as long as you can. After about 30 seconds or so, you’ll notice the load on your thighs. After a couple of minutes, you probably won’t be able to hold this position.
While the wall chair works the upper leg, you can also blast your calves by raising yourself up on the balls of your feet. You’ll notice the effects quite quickly.
In many martial arts, people use the horse stance (sometimes called the horse riding stance) when practising basic blocking and punching techniques. While pretty much useless in combat, the horse stance is useful for building leg muscles. One karate instructor that I had as a teenager had the class spend 20 minutes in a horse stance each class, performing basic techniques. You can imagine the leg strength we all gained.
To perform the horse stance, place your feet about twice your shoulder width apart. Then, lower yourself down as if you were getting into a horse’s saddle. Don’t go too deep, but don’t go too shallow, either. And remember to keep your feet planted on the ground and your back straight.
As with the wall chair, you can also blast your calves by raising yourself up on the balls of your feet. I don’t advise doing this, though, unless you have relatively right balance.
The static calf raises if a great way to strengthen your lower legs. But what I like about this exercise is that you don’t notice the effects until you stop doing it.
To do the calf raise, place your feet at slightly more than shoulder-width apart. Then, raise yourself up on the balls of your feet. Bend your knees slightly for balance, and keep your back straight. Hold the position for as long as possible. As I mentioned earlier, you probably won’t notice he effects until you put your heels back on the ground.
Whether you’re trying to get into shape, get back into shape, or are already pursuing a fitness program, static exercises can benefit you. They’re easy to do, and they produce results. Best of all, you can do static exercises anywhere.