Has the gains train left the station?

With your gym closed, you’re probably finding it a little bit harder to lift some weights, and maintain your lean mass. It’s time to broadened your horizon and discover some new techniques that can be used to maintain muscle mass, or even build muscle mass, during this time.

First thing though is to set up your new environment, and create a new routine, a new set of habits, around your training and your nutrition. Sit down and ask yourself these questions – What is your training schedule going look like? What can you actually commit to? How often do you want to train? What do you have access to? What kind of equipment, what kind of space do you have?  How often are you at home? How often do you go shopping? What food do you need to buy? If something’s changed, you need to come up with new strategies to solve the same problem. Even though we’re in lockdown the same principals still apply, train hard and eat right.


The Training

Muscle can be built without heavy weights and machines, you’ve likely only got bands, some dumbbells, maybe a barbell and your body weight. Although, this is all you need so long as you know how use them properly, here are a few techniques you can add to your training:

High Reps: This isn’t just a set of 12-15, I’m talking 100-plus reps, just pure lactic burn. This can be done with any exercise – push-ups sets of 50, band, curls sets of 100. The higher reps create a build up of lactate and other metabolic products which create a signalling pool for growth.

Eccentrics: An eccentric is the lowering portion of an exercise, where the muscle is being lengthened. Loaded lengthening can cause micro trauma to the muscle tissue (muscle damage), which forces the body to respond with repairing processes. The eccentric component of an exercise is really important to muscle growth. By slowing it down, we can put that muscle under more strain, and potentially create more myofibril (muscle cell) damage , which will repair and grow bigger (by adding more cells). Slowing down the eccentric portion of an exercise to four to six seconds increases the demands of the exercise, whcih can make easy exercise become very challenging. Take a push up for example for most a set of 10 is quite easy, add a 6 second eccentric to that exercise and you’ve got an entirely new experience!

Isometrics: An isometric is without movement in this context you can also think of this as a pause. Pausing in the stretched position of a muscle seems to be particularly effective for increasing the demands on the work muscles and creates muscle synthesis cellular signalling (makes muscles grow bigger). For example, lower down into the bottom of a push up with your chest just off the ground and hold for 3-10 seconds then push back up.

Tempos: Tempos are a combination of speeds which can help increase the total time under tension (TUT) of a muscle. TUT has significant influnce on how a muscle adapts, if the time is very short you will likely develop speed and power, if the time is long you’ll be creating more stress to the working muscle causing it to grow. For example, try a push up with a three-second lower (eccentric) ,a three-second pause in the bottom (isometric), and then even a three-second up (concentric) as well. One rep takes 9 seconds, as opposed to 2 seconds for a normal rep ( 1 sec down, 0 sec pause, 1 sec up).  All of a simple set of 10 now takes 90 seconds.

Variation: Load is usually the answer to progressive overload (important for muscle growth), however that may not be an option for quite some time so we need some other tricks. We’ve discussed increasing time and increasing repetitions, another to promote muscle growth is through variation and progression. For example, the push-up can be progressed from an incline push-up, to a ground push-up, to a feet-elevated push-up, to a weighted push up. With each progression there is an increased intensity, these subtle changes to the exercise can also promote muscle growth.


The Nutrition

You can pump as much bodyweight iron as you like, if you are not supporting it with good nutritional habits then it could all be in vein. Here are a few stratigies you can workon to help:

Get enough calories: Regardless of what situation you’re in, if you want to build muscle, you’ve got to eat enough to build/maintain muscle. You have to create either a caloric balance (to maintain) or be in caloric surplus (to build). The first thing you need to prioritize is total caloric intake. You just need to make sure that you are eating enough calories to support muscle growth/maintenance.

Eat enough Protein: Your next priority should be protein intake (chicken, beef, beans, yogurt, protein powder supplement). You need to be eating enough protein every day to preserve your muscle tissue. One palm for a female and two palms for males at each meal.  The bigger you are, the more protein that you’re going to need.

Eat frequently: Schedule when you are going eat, because skipping a meal is probably the worst thing that you could do. Eating frequently ensures that you’re going to get enough calories in throughout the day, and enough protein throughout the day. If you don’t schedule your meals to be eaten at regular times, there’s a good chance you might miss a meal. And if you’re trying to shoot for a large amount of calories in a day, and you miss a meal, you’re gonna find yourself having to catch up.


The gains train may have left the station for now but it doesn’t mean you have to start again, there are plenty of things you can do to ensure that when the train comes around again you be able jump right on!