Want to mix up your workout? Don't move a muscle
If you've ever quaked through the last 10 seconds of a forearm plank, you know that staying still can leave you drenched in sweat and work your core harder than hundreds of crunches.
But static moves can work much more than your core and offer a host of benefits that make them worth mixing in to your regular routines.
"You simultaneously work strength and flexibility, as well as mobility," says Jeremy Frisch, owner and director of Achieve Performance Training in Clinton, Mass. These exercises also build tendon and ligament strength, and you can do them all at home. "It's loadless training—you can use your own bodyweight to train, and it'll work you like crazy."
Holding a single position of an exercise can also help the body learn the right form for the normal, repetitive movement, says Frisch. And they're great for runners: "Because you're not moving, you can recover from injury or the stress from running while you build strength."
Mix some of these non-movements into your next workout. They're great between sets of repped exercises or strung together as a total-body workout on their own.
Even without weight, a static lunge can burn and shape your butt, thighs, and calves while reducing stress on your knees. And it will crush your core, Frisch says.
"To keep the position stable and solid, squeeze your abs as hard as you can," he says. "My clients feel it more in their abs than they do even in a plank."
To do the static lunge, take a large step forward and descend into the deepest position of the lunge you can hold—ideally, your knees will form two 90-degree angles. Hold this position for 30 seconds on each side, then switch sides. Work this hold into your workout between sets of an upper-body exercise.
Planks can work your core even harder with just a touch of movement and a towel under your feet. The exercise then becomes something called the body saw, a move made popular by users of Val slides.
With your toes on a towel, assume a forearm plank position. Brace your core as if you were about to be punched. Maintaining a straight body position from your head to heels, slowly slide forward so your elbows form an angle smaller than 90 degrees, then reverse and slide back until your elbows form a wider angle. The movement should resemble the back-and-forth movement of a handheld saw.
"As soon as you extend the distance between your elbows and your toes, you have less leverage, and you have to work harder" to maintain the rigid body position, says Nick Tumminello, owner of Performance University in Baltimore. Repeat the movement for sets of 10.
The superman (or, if you like, superwoman) can firm up your butt, lower back, shoulders, and hamstrings while giving your abs a strong stretch, says Jared Meachem, owner and personal training director at Precision Body Designs in Covington, Louisiana.
To do it, lie facedown with your arms extended straight overhead, your legs extended straight. Simultaneously lift your head, chest, arms, and legs up, so you're in a Superman-style flying position, gazing forward. Hold this position for up to 30 seconds, and repeat.
Chinups and pullups work your arms and back, but also engage your core, chest, thighs, shoulders… even your legs. The ability to do even one is a great sign of overall fitness, and a great goal to strive for—and you can get there with a few weeks of a static hold, says Mike Wunsch, performance director at Results Fitness in Santa Clarita, CA.
"Hold at the top of the chinup position for 20 seconds or more, and you'll get the biggest muscles in your body," he says. The top of the chinup is where many people falter, and this hold will strengthen the body to pull—and hold—your weight through the entire range of the movement.
Hanging at the bottom's good, too, says Frisch. "You're standing or sitting up all day, and your spine gets compressed," he says. "Hanging there, you lengthen the muscles, and everything stretches out."
To firm and tone your butt and the backs of your thighs—and give your body more control over the position of your pelvis—Frisch suggests static holds of 30 to 45 seconds of the hip-thigh extension.
Lie faceup with your knees bent, your feet flat on the floor. Squeeze your glutes to raise your pelvis until your body forms a straight line from your knees to your shouders. In this position, squeeze your glutes and core as hard as you can, and hold the pose for the prescribed period of time. (Too easy? Try it with one leg off the ground, with the knee straight.)
For a plank that works your arms as hard as the traditional move does with your core, bend your elbows to hold the bottom of a pushup, says Wunsch.
"Try to lengthen your body and hold the straightest line you can from head to heels," he says of the move. "If you're 5-feet-6, try to straighten so your 5-feet-7."
"Women struggle with strength in their upper back," says Chrissy Carter, a yoga teacher and trainer at YogaWorks in New York. Strengthening that area can help with your posture, lifting your chest to make you appear taller and more confident.
Carter suggests working on chair pose to get this benefit. Standing with your feet together and your arms beside your ears, bend your knees and push your hips back to hold a half-squat position.
"As your torso angles slightly toward the floor, keeping your arms straight up alongside your ears becomes exponentially challenging—your arms are being pulled down by gravity," she says. Concentrate on resisting this pull down to keep your arms straight and next to your ears—this will strenghten your upper back for the desired result.
Many core exercises work by rotating your torso. But your core muscles also work to keep your body stable, resisting rotation, says Nick Tumminello. With a cable machine, you can work this function of your core with an anti-rotation press.
To do it, attach a handle to the middle of a pulley machine. Hold the handle with both hands, and stand next to the machine. Pull away from the cable stack until the cable is taut, holding the handle against your chest. Brace your core, and slowly press your arms in front of you until they're straight. The cable will try to pull your torso toward the origin of the cable—your job is to keep your core from rotating (thus, "anti-rotation" press). Return your arms to the start position, and repeat 10 times on each side.
Sitting in a squat position not only improves your strength, but can make you squat better, says Frisch. Static holds at the bottom of the squat position will help build flexibility in your hip flexors, which will help reduce pain during running or other activities, and can make you squat deeper and with better form. For a bigger challenge, Frisch suggests adding weight with the sumo squat hold.
To do it, hold a dumbbell with both hands between your legs before you squat. Squat to the bottom of the squat position, with the weight hanging just above the floor. Hold this position for as long as possible.