Miss Dolores Wettach, the young lady with the towel around her head in the picture at the left, is pulling forward as hard as she can on the ends of the towel while she pushes her head back, also just as hard as she can, against the middle of the towel. This, at first glance, looks like a novel way to tense up and accomplish nothing. In actuality, without moving, merely by creating tension, Miss Wettach is doing a lot. She is developing a stronger and—what is probably more important to her—a trimmer neck. In exercising her neck in this curious way and in stretching and tensing other muscles as shown here and on the following pages, Miss Wettach is using the particular magic of the technique known as isometric contraction. After a month she will feel—and even look—better all over.
In the past two or three years the isometric principle has been tested and approved by a variety of competitive athletes (SI, Oct. 30). It is just now catching on as an equally worthwhile technique for ordinary men and women who somehow never can find the time for regular exercise. The new technique has a special virtue: most of the best isometric exercises take little time and no special equipment. To firm up her neck muscles, for example, Miss Wettach merely exerts pressure for six seconds, then relaxes for one second. She does this exercise only three times for a total of 20 seconds.
Dr. Jay Bender, one of the physical education experts who advocates isometric exercise for everybody, serves as fitness consultant to the Pittsburgh Pirates and the San Francisco 49ers. As a professor at Southern Illinois University, he actually spends most of his time studying how the nonathlete can put his muscles to use. The 10 exercises demonstrated by Miss Wettach are the ones Bender believes can do the most good for the sagging forms of the deskbound executive and the housebound wife. These exercises take less than 10 minutes a day and require only simple props.
Bender's 10 exercises do not affect all the muscles of the body but instead concentrate on those that get little use in normal living. To perform isometric contractions, the necessary pushing or pulling must be done as strongly as possible. When stretching, the body should be extended fully. Tension must be felt in the exact area indicated. (Some isometric exercises require such precision they can only be done under expert supervision, but the strengthening and stretching exercises that Bender recommends here can be learned quite easily—they affect large muscle groups, and the need for precision is not so great.)
Isometric exercises will not, of course, do the whole job if it is a big and neglected job. They will not help a nondieter lose weight nor will they increase stamina. But they will take off inches and increase strength. Any conscientious man or woman who spends 10 minutes on isometric exercise every day is assured noticeable improvement within a month.
For a sturdy back (left): 1) Sit on stool several inches from wall. Keep spine straight, abdomen in, feet firmly on floor. 2) Thrust arms downward, squeeze shoulder blades together. 3) Keeping elbows straight, press palms as hard as possible against wall until tension is felt directly between shoulder blades. 4) Hold six seconds, relax one second. Do three times.
For strong shoulders (right): 1) Sit on stool in doorway. Keep spine straight, abdomen in, feet firmly on floor. 2) Raise the arms overhead in V, placing hands outside door jamb, palms facing. 3) Keeping elbows straight, pull in with open palms as hard as possible until tension is felt in upper shoulders. 4) Hold six seconds, relax one second. Do three times.
For a taut trunk (far right): 1) Sit on stool in middle of doorway. Keep spine straight, abdomen in, feet firmly on floor. 2) Raise the arms overhead in V, placing hands inside door jamb, palms facing. 3) Keeping elbows straight, push out with backs of hands as hard as you can until tension is felt in upper sides. 4) Hold six seconds, relax one second. Do three times.
Few men or women care to maintain the ramrod posture of a West Pointer, but all would like an appearance at least better than that of a slouching gargoyle. Trimming the waistline, as shown at the bottom of this page, obviously improves posture. Another less obvious but equally important exercise is the hamstring stretch shown below. Hamstrings that are tight for want of regular vigorous exercise promote an abnormal tilt of the pelvic girdle: a sagging abdomen results.
For supple legs: 1) Cross right leg behind left leg so that feet are parallel. 2) Fold arms, bend deeply from waist (above left). 3) Extend arms downward, touch the floor (or as close as possible) just to the left of the right foot with fingertips of both hands (above right). Tension should be felt behind right knee in the hamstrings. 4) Hold six seconds, relax one second. Do three times. 5) Reverse legs and repeat exercise. (Anyone who finds this exercise painful should consult a physician before continuing it.)
For limber shoulders: 1) Stand in the middle of doorway. Raise the right hand overhead, resting hand against top of door frame. (If doorway is too high, place hand against side of door jamb.) 2) Lean as far forward as possible, keeping the shoulders even and the knees locked, until tension is felt in the shoulder joint. 3) Hold six seconds. Relax one second. Do three times. 4) Place the left hand on top of frame and repeat exercise.
For a trim waistline: 1) Lie on a hard or a semihard surface (a hard mattress will do) with the muscles of the abdomen completely relaxed (left). 2) Breathe in deeply, pushing the abdomen out as far as possible (center). Hold one second. 3) Exhale fully, pulling the abdomen in as tightly as possible (right). Hold six seconds. Do six times. Done consistently, this exercise can take from one to three inches off the abdomen in a month's time. The contractions can also be done in a sitting position (e.g., while working at a desk or while driving a car). They can even be done in a standing position. Ideally, this isometric exercise gets the individual into the habit—no matter how sedentary his occupation may be—of keeping his abdominal muscles tight at all times.
While both sexes may profit from them, the three exercises on this page are of greater value to women. One of them, stretching the heel cord, offsets the foreshortening of the calf muscle induced by wearing high heels—and the discomfort that results when a girl wears flats. The other two exercises firm up the muscles in the back of the arm and in the thighs and are, naturally, of special worth to those women who want to improve their looks in bare-armed evening dress and in bathing suits.
For pliant calves (right): 1) Step forward with right foot. 2) Bend right knee as far forward as possible, keeping left heel flat on floor until tension is felt first in calf muscles, then in heel cord. 3) Hold six seconds, relax one second. Do three times. 4) Step forward with left foot and repeat the exercise, keeping the right heel flat on floor.
For firm thighs (above): 1) Stand with feet comfortably apart. 2) Pull in the abdomen and tighten buttocks. 3) Keeping the knees locked, try to pull thighs toward each other. Continue pulling the thigh muscles in this manner until tension is felt. 4) Hold six seconds. 5) Relax the thighs, the buttocks and the abdomen. Do three times.
For lithe arms (left): 1) Sit on stool or chair, keeping the spine straight, abdomen in, feet flat on floor. Place fists, palms facing, on table. 2) Keep forearms as parallel as possible to floor, elbows close to sides. 3) Press down with fists on table until tension is felt in back of upper arms (the triceps muscles). 4) Hold six seconds, relax one second. Do three times.