Unless you literally live under a rock in the middle of the rainforest you know how much the COVID-19 epidemic is upsetting daily life around the world. Without getting into the political aspects of the matter, I want to acknowledge how difficult and frustrating this type of disruption can be for a diligent fitness advocate – whether you’re a weekend warrior, a competitive powerlifter, or anything in between.
Many gyms in the US have closed their doors temporarily, and unless you’re lucky enough to have access to a home gym, you might be looking at a forced layoff from your training regimen.
Instead of harping on that frustration (and trust me: I could harp for quite a while), I’d like to focus on ways you can make this unanticipated time off work for you rather than against you. Here are three creative ways to do so.
Strategy #1: Increase Your Work Capacity
When most lifters hear the phrase “work capacity,” they think training volume – but there’s more to the story than volume. Work capacity also includes your anaerobic fitness (which can limit your performance on high-rep sets), frequency tolerance, and mindset. Time away from the gym is a great way to work on all three!
First, when it comes to anaerobic fitness, there’s nothing better than high-intensity interval training. In case you’re new to that, here are a few intros to get you started:
My absolute favorite form of HIIT uses the Prowler, and if you have access to one, here’s what I recommend:
- Load the sled to a weight that forces you to get your hips low to move the thing. This will vary widely depending on your size, strength, and the surface you’re pushing on. For me, it’s usually somewhere between 100-150 pounds.
- Sprint 25m forward, then immediately turn the sled around and sprint 25m backward. No rest between “sets.”
- Shoot for 8 total runs per session. You can repeat this workout and try to beat your best time to complete it, or you can add weight!
Now, if you don’t have a Prowler, no problem: you can perform hill sprints instead. Just find the steepest hill you can (don’t worry about the length) and sprint up it as fast as possible. Walk back down, then repeat. Still no rest! The number of intervals here will depend on your hill, but a 15-minute total session should be plenty if you’re working hard enough.
Then, for frequency tolerance, I like “extra workouts.” These are short sessions using light resistance to be performed after a full session. However, if you can’t perform full sessions, you can instead try to accumulate as many of these 15-minute bouts as possible throughout the day.
This is great for the current situation because the loading requirements are low – bodyweight and a couple of resistance bands should be all the equipment you need. Here’s an example for the bench press, courtesy of Westside Barbell:
- Start with close-grip pushups. You’re going to accumulate 40 reps as quickly as possible, even if you have to break that up into multiple sets.
- As soon as you finish the pushups, immediately do 40 reps on band pushdown with a light band.
- Continue this process by doing 30 pushups/30 pushdowns, then 20/20, and finally 10/10 for a total of 100 reps on each with absolutely minimal rest, taking only as long as needed to complete the session.
Finally, you can’t beat meditation for building a stronger mindset. As a bonus, it’s a great way to deal with the stress of uncertainty as well!
Strategy #2: Heal Your Injuries
This one is pretty straightforward. When you’re training full-bore, it’s difficult to find the time to perform the necessary pre- and rehab movements that will allow you to have a long, productive training career. At the same time, if you’ve been prepping for a meet or show that has suddenly been cancelled, you’ve probably pushed through a few aches and pains that you might normally have avoided.
In those cases, complete rest from resistance training for a week or two can actually be very beneficial. Instead, use that time to perform the aforementioned pre- or rehab movements, to stretch, and to give your mind a break as well. Don’t worry: you won’t suddenly lose your gains, and in fact, it might help increase them when you get back to the gym.
As a caveat, this is really only a good idea for people who truly train hard year in and year out. If you can’t honestly say that’s the case, I’d instead focus on one of the other two methods explained in this article.
Strategy #3: Improve Your Movement Patterns
In Strategy #2 I mentioned how a short layoff from the gym won’t cause you to lose your gains. However – especially if you’re a newer lifter – you might lose the groove on your competition movements if you fail to practice them. Fortunately, you don’t need a loaded barbell to practice movement patterns!
A PVC pipe or broomstick will work just fine. Instead of focusing on the weight, focus on your body and building kinesthetic awareness. For example, if you have trouble hitting depth on the squat (or you can’t stop from going to deep), you might perform some air squats and practice just breaking parallel on each and every rep. Of course, it will feel different when you have weight on the bar. The point is more to avoid losing progress rather than making significant gains.
That’s not to say you can’t have a breakthrough in this way. Here are some advanced strategies that might help you to do exactly that:
- Break the movement down into stages. For example, in the deadlift you might separate the “off the floor” phase from the “past the knees” phases.
- Practice with your eyes closed. This is incredibly difficult because it will throw off your sense of balance, but it will rapidly build that kinesthetic awareness if you have the discipline to maintain good patterns with your eyes closed. I find this is especially beneficial if you have trouble rooting your feet.
- Do speed work. If you can get a beater barbell and some resistance bands, you can perform speed work without any weights (and without worrying about noise complaints from the neighbors).
Now, none of these strategies are intended to replace a full resistance-training program and I would not advise intentionally taking extended time off from the gym to focus on them. This is an uncertain time for all of us, and so we have to make some compromises, including with our training strategies. At the very least, try to include some bodyweight training to maintain your strength during the interim.
And of course, do your best to stay healthy and sane until things are back to normal!
Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.
Feature image by By Jules43 / Shutterstock