In the age of always-on-the-go and busy-till-you-burn-out, the idea of static anything sounds like the antithesis of modern-day living.
But since the start of self-isolation, static has become something of a norm for most of us — and as luck would have it, it’s exactly what could give your fitness routine an #upgrade! Introducing: static holds.
Sometimes called isometric holds, static holds involve… remaining completely still. “You get into a position where the targeted muscles are engaged and there’s tension in the body, and then you hold it,” explains Alena Luciani, certified strength and conditioning coach and founder of Training2xl. “You’re not lengthening or shortening your muscles, you’re not moving up and down or side to side, you’re literally just holding that position.”
If that sounds easy, consider the quintessential static hold, the plank. You may not be moving, but admit it: those last fifteen seconds? S-P-I-C-Y.
Because life/work/etc has probably conditioned us to think that not moving is the enemy, we asked Luciani and Erwin Seguia, founder of match fit performance, to break down the benefits of static holds. Ready?
So, how long should I hold that hold?
According to certified personal trainer Daniel Bubnis, the basic rule of thumb is to hold it as long as you can maintain proper form, since poor form can lead to injury.
Beginners can start with short holds of 5–7 seconds. But if you can hold a chin-up with proper form for only 2 seconds, start there and work up to longer holds over time. For planks, start with 10–15 seconds and work up to 1 minute.
During any static hold exercise you’re creating and, here’s the key word, sustaining tension in the muscle(s), says Luciani. “Increasing time under tension is going to increase muscle breakdown. More muscle breakdown means more muscle growth when those muscle fibers repair,” she says.
One 2005 study points to these strength-boosting benefits. In the study, researchers had athletes use static holds to train one leg and dynamically train the other for 9 weeks.
The result? The quad gains of the static hold leg were greater than the other leg. While I won’t go on the record calling this The Perfectly Designed Study, subsequent research backs up that static holds build strength.
Luciani calls out that static holds are especially effective at strengthening your core. “The powerhouse of the body, no matter what kind of hold you’re doing, your core is going to have to engage in order to keep you still,” she says.
“Static holds can also be used to build joint resiliency,” according to Seguia. He explains: When you put a muscle under tension at its end range of motion (think: the bottom of a squat, snatch, or squat clean), you’re helping your muscle tissues and joints adapt to that weight.
This can help reduce injury risk during heavy lifts, he says. And if you’re not getting hurt? You get to *toot toot* stay on the Gain Train.
To be clear: Muscles need some movement to get stronger. So don’t go reneging your barbell back squats and shoulder-to-overheads for wall-sits and handstand holds. Still, “they’re part of the package,” says Seguia, “and used in conjunction with concentric and eccentric exercises they can help you get stronger and reduce the risk of injury.”
Below, the best static holds to add to your strength program, according to experts.
Ah yes, the aforementioned plank. Chances are this love-to-hate-it move is already in your circuit, but in case it’s not, here’s a reminder of muscle groups it works: core, shoulder, chest, arms, back, legs, and booty. “It’s full-body,” confirms Luciani.
Try it: Start on all fours. Fingers spread, stack your hands under your shoulders. Next, step one foot back at a time. Line up your heels over toes. Hold.
Cue MKTO because this core-strengthening move is a gymnastics classic. “It’s often used to help athletes develop the prerequisite strength they need for moments like toes-to-bar, muscle-ups, and pull-ups,” explains Luciani. “But I use this core-burner with all my athletes. It’s effective, and harder to mess up than other ab exercises, like bicycles.”
Try it: Lie on your back, with arms overhead in divers position, biceps pressed against ears. Draw your belly-button to the floor, then keeping your arms and legs straight, lift legs and shoulder blades off the ground. Hold as long as you can without your belly or butt sagging or shifting weight.
According to Seguia, “These are super valuable to people trying to build enough strength to do a strict pull-up.” They’ll work your lats, biceps, back, core, and grip, he says. And TBH, who doesn’t want a yoked upper bod?
Try it: Stack a box or bench under a pull-up bar so that your chin is above the bar. Grab onto the bar with hands about shoulder-width apart, palms facing you. Pull down on the bar to engage lats and pull your shoulders back and down. Next, brace your core and step off the platform (or bend knees back).
Because of where you hold the weight during this double kettlebell hold, your entire bod has to be engaged to counteract gravity and keep you upfront, explains Seguia.
So if, after like 20 seconds, your veins aren’t basically popping out of your face from all that t-e-n-s-i-o-n, you’re probably doing it wrong.
Try it: Start by clinging the kettlebells to your chest. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, ribs tucked down, and core engaged. Now, adjust position so that your wrist is in a neutral position, the knuckles of each hand facing each other. Tuck your elbows down by ribs so the bell is between your forearm and bicep. Now hold. Or, walk with weights, keeping your back and core tight.
“It’s one of the best exercises for improving grip strength,” says Seguia, which will translate onto the pull-up bar and barbell. It’ll also tax and strengthen your traps, core, and forearms. Trust, this is one you’re gonna wanna do on Tank Top Tuesday.
Try it: Stand between two dumbbells. Keeping your back flat, hinge at the hips and bend at your knees to deadlift bells up. Keeping arms straight, draw your shoulders back and down. Tuck your rib cage under, tighten your core, and hold.
Having flashbacks to middle school PE? Same. Do it anyway. “Wall sits are a great way to load and strengthen your quads,” says Segiua. Bigger quads? Tighter pants. Oh, and heavier squats.
Try it: Press your back against the wall, your feet 2-feet in front of the wall and hip-width apart. Slide down the wall by bending your legs until your thighs are parallel with the ground. Adjust your feet as needed so that they’re directly above your ankles. Hold.
Advanced athlete: If you’ve been looking for a way to build boulder shoulders and abs of steel in one move, this is it, according to Seguia. If you don’t have the prerequisite strength, he recommends sticking to downward dog or wall walks.
Try it: Set up a yoga matt against a (sturdy!) wall. Place your hands 6 to 12 inches from the wall, shoulder-width apart, and kick your feet up into a handstand. Point your toes, squeeze glutes and quads, and tuck your rib cage so there’s a straight line from toes to fingertips. Hold.
Gabrielle Kassel is a New York-based sex and wellness writer and CrossFit Level 1 Trainer. She’s become a morning person, tried the Whole30 challenge, and eaten, drank, brushed with, scrubbed with, and bathed with charcoal — all in the name of journalism. In her free time, she can be found reading self-help books, bench-pressing, or pole dancing. Follow her on Instagram.