When you are passionate about training, not being able to go to the gym can be a mental (and physical) torture. Not only because of the fear of losing your fitness levels but also because hard training gives us a neurological response that makes us feel good and can frankly be addictive. When I can’t train for a few days I become less positive and have more frequent mood swings.
All is not lost! There are plenty of things you can do to make the most of this frustrating situation.
1.CHANGE YOUR MINDSET
Here are several things you can do to avoid going insane and maintain or even improve your physique and capacities.
Not being able to go to the gym for some timecan be a blessing in disguise by “forcing” you to work on things that you need to work on, but rarely do because you don’t like to, or because you’d rather lift. Why not to focus on things that you would normally not train but could help you in your future progress?
You could work on mobility, on mind-muscle connection (by doing isometrics or long-duration sets with isometric holds or a slow eccentric). You could read a lot about training or watch videos to learn as much as you can so that your understanding of training becomes a lot better, allowing you to design a better training plan.
You could work on conditioning or fat loss by doing intervals or even steady-state cardio: being in better cardiovascular health can actually help you add more muscle to your frame afterwards.
All of these things will make your comeback to the gym more effective.
2. DO ISOMETRICS
Isometrics are as old as physical culture. They were likely around earlier than any other form of structured training. It consists of contracting your muscles without any movement. The version is called “overcoming isometrics”: you are trying to lift a weight that can’t move.
For 6-9 seconds you are trying as hard as humanly possible to move that object. This is very effective to strength development: you recruit as many muscle fibers as you do during a regular max effort lift.
The effect on neurological efficiency will allow you to come back strong to the gym.
Here are two home examples. With some imagination, you can easily find exercises for every muscle group.
The first one is for biceps. Hold on to something immovable (in this case a tabletop) as if you wanted to curl it. Use an angle anywhere from 110 to 80 degrees and produce as much “curling force” as possible. Focus on your biceps, not front delts or traps.
The second one is stand up in a doorway and try to push the sides of the doorway with your arms. If you want to maintain/increase strength is to perform each set as follow: 6 seconds max effort/10-15 sec rest x 6… in other words each set has 6 reps lasting 6 seconds with 10-15 sec of rest between reps. You only need 1-2 sets per exercise.
3. USE HARD BODYWEIGHT METHODS Isometrics can help you maintain or increase strength. Bodyweight training, with the right methods, can allow you to maintain or gain muscle mass.
If you are decently strong in the gym, bodyweight exercises, performed normally, will not be great at helping you maintain muscle mass. The reason is that you are too strong for most of them.
To make bodyweight training effective at stimulating growth you need to rely on secondary factors like lactate production and growth factors release.
To get both of them you need to reach the “pain zone”. Where the muscles feel on fire. Yes, you can do it by doing normal reps to failure. But on movements like a bodyweight squat, you might need to do 100 reps, which might kill you of boredom before the virus does.
Instead, you can use intensification methods like a slow eccentric (up to 8-10 seconds per rep) or holds during the set or at the beginning of the set. 4. DO MOBILITY WORK Let’s be honest: few of us really do mobility work. Moat lifters hate it. And we justify our avoidance of them by saying how ineffective they are.
They aren’t. They are not a waste of time. When properly done, they can help you improve the range of motion. Reducing the risk of injuries and helping performance in the long run.
Just to mention the countless Crossfit participants and athletes that I worked with who couldn’t properly hold a front rack in a power clean/front squat: they had to “hold” the bar on their fingertips in the best case scenario, or simply couldn’t raise the elbows high enough to the bar on their shoulders. You can absolutely improve mobility if you work at it, and this is the best time to work on this neglected training component. It will add years of hardcore training to your trainings.
5. GET IN BETTER SHAPE Jogging doesn’t require a gym. Sprinting doesn’t require a gym. Pushing your car like a prowler doesn’t require a gym. Going bike riding doesn’t require a gym. Going for a ruck walk with a loaded backpack doesn’t require a gym.
Sure, most of these won’t build muscle on you (pushing your car can do it) directly. But they will get you in better shape. When you are a natural trainee, your body will limit how much muscle you can build if your cardiovascular system is deficient. Think about it: your body doesn’t care about looking jacked. It cares about survival. Your muscles require blood flow to bring oxygen and clear metabolites. The more muscles you have, the more oxygen you need, the more CO2, lactate and hydrogen ions you produce, the more blood flow you need.
Having an insufficient cardiovascular system is actually dangerous for your health. It will require a higher heart rate and will likely lead to high blood pressure.
As such the body will limit muscle-building if it “knows” that it won’t be able to support it.
The take-home message that investing in your heart and vascular system will allow you to build more muscle in the future. Doing hard conditioning 2-3 times per week is also an investment in future gains. And when you can’t go to the gym for a few weeks, it’s the perfect time to do it.