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Staying The Course Whilst Staying At Home: What is it you’re actually training for?

One thing I have been really impressed with since the Coronavirus pandemic started is just how obvious it is that EVERYONE is making a really clear and conscious effort to stay active and keep exercising. It might be that my professional and social circle through MSC Performance and through social media skews my perception of things, but it seems to be that everywhere I look people are outside running, walking, or cycling, and at home everyone is buying up home gym equipment and posting their home workouts. People I’ve never known to exercise are suddenly lifelong fitness enthusiasts. 

I’ll be the first person to say this is great. As long as people aren’t taking the piss and putting others at risk by spending hours and hours outside each day then more power to them. If people come out of this with a newly engrained training plan and a passion for fitness then at least there may be some sliver of a silver lining to all of this. 

BUT…. One thing that still perplexes me is that people seem to have lost all rational sense of where they want to go with their training. With the exception of the lucky few who managed to have secured barbells, plates, platforms, and squat racks making up great home gyms, I’m seeing a lot of people training in ways that are completely removed from any sense of direction or end goal. People have forgotten about the need for structure. People have abandoned the idea of progressive overload. Measures of intensity and any sort of metric tracking volume or load are worryingly absent.

At MSC Performance I think we are very lucky that we have a membership base that really appreciates the long-term value of proper training. Essentially, even if people aren’t in the gym training for a sport or for aesthetic reasons relating to body composition, our members understand how good it feels and how valuable it is to be strong, fit, capable, and benefit from the physical and mental health benefits that come with this. 

With this being said, the members who don’t train for a sport such as powerlifting or weightlifting, more often than not, still follow a structured training programme, either their own or class based through Barbell Club and/or Metcon. 

What I am now seeing as a trend all over the place (thankfully not too much within the MSC community) is people resorting to home workouts that don’t tick this box in the slightest. People are going from tailored and progressive strength training programmes to home workouts that simply prioritise ‘the burn’ over tangible improvements in the fitness and strength qualities that directly relate to health and wellbeing. 

Not having a gym shouldn’t be an excuse to throw reason and structure out of the window, but should actually be a cause to sit down, evaluate what you want from training, and put together a plan that actually moves you closer to that goal.

In my last blog I wrote about how these strange times will undoubtedly result in big changes in volume and intensity for most people but what should be said is that ANY good training programme will have these fluctuations built in as a matter of course throughout the training year. Instead of fighting these changes and going to some sort of cookie cutter YouTube HIIT class posted by a generic ‘fitspo influencer’, adjust your plan accordingly and go with the kit that you have in a manner that keeps you moving forwards IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION.

With this being said, here’s a bit of guidance on the modalities and the training methods you can use to suit your goals and make sure you are still training effectively:

Sports Performance

Football player, rugby players, and netballers, to name but a few, have wildly varying demands when it comes to performance so luckily don’t rely on heavy weights as much as powerlifters and weightlifters. 

Make sure to get outside 2-3 times per week and perform effective sprinting sessions as detailed in my last blog. Maintain maximal strength in some key positions (hinge, split squat, press-up etc.) using hard isometrics with towels or doorframes as resistance, pushing as hard as possible for 6-8 seconds. Contrast these sets with vertical jumps and broad jumps, or if you’re lucky enough to have them, heavy medball or sandbag throws. 

Alternate these hard days with low days of steady state jogging, strength and hypertrophy work using higher reps and slower tempos, muscular endurance work, and extensive, long hold isometrics for 30 seconds or more. Use the time do train lateral movements and single leg work that may often be overlooked in favour of heavy squats and deadlifts.

Again, as mentioned in my previous blog, maximal strength will hang around if you maintain your sprint work, jump, perform short and long isometrics, and maintain muscle mass with higher volume resistance training.

Body Composition

Building muscle mass isn’t going to be easy without weights, but can be done if you have even 1 or 2 dumbbells or kettlebells and maintain some level of high training frequency and volume. Lifting volume going up over a 6-12 week period will ultimately be the biggest trigger of muscle growth, so if you can’t do this by adding more weight to the bar, progressively add sets, reps, and even training frequency over time to get your overload. 

Add in drop sets and super sets as a way of adding volume or add pauses to stay under tension for longer periods of time, and when you can’t push this any further, work muscle groups 3 times each week instead of 2, and once you’ve maxed that out, change the exercises you use and go back to the start.

All of this being said, to truly get as much muscle growth as possible, you should still be mixing up high rep work with some more traditional high load ‘strength’ work, so skip on down to the max strength section for some ideas on that…

Finally, a key focus for you will also be to lose body fat through appropriate calorie control, keep protein intake high, and keep on top of your conditioning work. Use high intensity work in Sona and Bens Metcon sessions and compliment with skipping, jogging, and other forms of extensive conditioning work. 

Max Strength: Powerlifting and Weightlifting

This is probably the trickiest situation to be in if you don’t have much in the way of kit to work with, but it can be done with a little thought and if you’re lucky, a partner to work with really helps. Towel based isometrics are a fantastic tool for maintaining your deadlift and to some extent the squat; as they allow you to really exhibit high force with little to no kit. 

Look to keep reps at 4-6 seconds and aim to rip the towel in half (imagine Luke shouting “INTENT”). If you have a partner, then performing overloaded eccentric pressups will go a long way to maintaining your bench press. Aim to stay at the top of a pressup whilst they force you down by applying pressure between your shoulder blades. This should feel like you are failing a rep at 110% of your max. It’s hard, but effective. If you have a chinup bar or something you can use in place of one, then the same method of a partner dragging you down from the top whilst you try to fight them is also VERY effective. Partners can also be very useful in applying load to planks and side planks and making sure the trunk is kept as strong as possible.

Finally, using towel slides for eccentric hamstring loading is going to go a long way to maintaining some lower body posterior chain strength for overall strength and lower back health, and are just as hard as glute ham raises if performed correctly. 

This might be echoing the sentiments of Luke’s blog last week or my own going back 3 weeks, but it’s worth using some of this time to zoom out, look at your training in the wider sense and evaluate what your goals really are. Ask the difficult question of yourself whether you’re pushing toward these, or if you’re just spending time making yourself tired attempting to keep boredom at bay.

Train smarter, not just harder.

Stay safe, and stay home!

Max

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