I will admit, when the lockdown first happened I panicked a little. Sure, I had some bands and a TRX strap, but I was NEVER a fan of bodyweight and bandwork. Especially when it came to maintaining my physique. I always thought it was a waste of time. Thanks to COVID (is that the right word?), it forced me to face that reality. I’m also someone who tries to find a win in every situation, especially when things aren’t going the way I wanted.
So for this situation, I made the challenge to myself – If I don’t have access to the same equipment as the gym, what else can I do to either match my performance, or maintain my physique. I refused to accept that it wasn’t possible. This ended up being one of the best lifting experiments I’ve ever done.
Here are some of the methods I tried out and have helped me maintain, and even make the slightest progress in my physique.
Focus On the Eccentric
Time under tension is the name of the game when hypertrophy is involved. The muscle needs to be put under a certain intensity for a certain amount of time. The actual breakdown of muscle happens on the lowering part of the lift. If you slow down the pace, and let the muscle get put to work by slowly lowering the weight, you’ll find a burn builds up a lot quicker for a lot less reps.
Try This: Do 3-4 second eccentrics.
Example – Lunges – let your body take 3-4 seconds to lower back down to the bottom position. You’ll feel more lactic acid build up, and thus give your body a stronger muscle building signal to initiate growth.
Increase Your Reps
If you have weight then feel free to add weight as normal. For those who don’t have access to weights, we have to focus on reps. The research does show muscle growth can still occur if you are putting your muscle through enough fatigue anywhere from 6-30 reps. The caveat is you will have to push it way more to failure, and do a lot more volume.
Try This: So if you are doing push-ups and hit 15 in the first week of quarantine, try to hit 16 or more in the second. And keep focusing on progressing that each week. You should be able to progress week to week unless the exercise was too difficult to begin with or form was sloppy.
Ideally, make sure to stay in that range. Once you are hitting 25-30 find a way to make the exercise more challenging. The subsequent recommendations can help with that.
Although not as effective as the previous two in my opinion, it is still a very useful tool that everyone seems to forget about. A muscle needs to be able to fire properly in order to grow. If you are someone who spent most of their time in the gym just pushing big weight but never really felt that particular muscle work, give these a try.
Try This: Take a 2-3 second contraction at the top of the movement (squeeze as hard as you can when the muscle is fully flexed). That should help bring the reps back down to the 10-20 range. By focusing on a squeeze, you’re teaching your mind-muscle connection to KEEP that intended muscle working which is how it gets the signal to grow. You should feel a burn and connection to that muscle that you’ve never felt before. This will translate SUPER well when you get back into the gym.
Pre-Exhaust The Muscle
For movements like the lower body, at home workouts might be a challenge. I definitely don’t have enough milk jugs to match my deadlift numbers at home. A tool that might help with this is pre-exhausting the muscle. Pre-exhaustion is when you take a more isolating exercise and target the muscle more directly before hitting it again with a compound.
Try This: Don’t do squats first. Do lunges with your back foot elevated on a chair, and do 10-15 reps with each leg (using a 2-3 isometric contraction at the top), and THEN go into bodyweight squats. You should find those 30+ reps of squats you can do, drop to half the amount. You pre-exhausted the legs by isolating each one individually so that when you got to the main lift, they were already tired BUT you still properly fatigued the intended area you want to grow.
Weeks 1-4: add 1-2 reps from the previous week on each exercise
Weeks 5-8: 2-3 second isometric contractions for each exercise. If you can try to add a rep or two from the week before.
Weeks 9-12: Use a 3-4 eccentric negative for each exercise. If you can try to add a rep or two from the week before.
Weeks 13-16: Choose an isolating pre-exhausting exercise for the bigger movements (squats, pushups, rows, etc.) Shouldn’t really need it for smaller ones like shoulders or arms.
This should help shake things up if you’ve just been doing nothing but push-ups and bodyweight squats all day for unlimited reps. We may be stuck at home, but don’t use that as an excuse to victimize your situation. Get creative! Try each of these methods for a cycle and see what kind of results you get.