Weeks deep into stay-at-home measures, many of us are missing our regular gym sessions and workout classes.
Gyms, which were ordered to close to help curb the spread of COVID-19, are full of professional equipment and heavy weights — items that many people do not have in their homes. This means that those who like to weight train and rely on things like barbells and squat racks to build muscle may be worried about losing their strength while indoors.
“Being home and forced to slow down and change your training is an opportunity,” said Cassie Day, a Toronto-based trainer and founder of All Day Fit.
“It’s time to get creative and recreate our favourite exercises from the gym at home.”
Day, who is now leading classes online, said that people shouldn’t be overly concerned with losing strength right now. It comes back fast, she said, and as long as you’re still exercising in the ways that you can, you will be fine.
“Right now, focus on establishing healthy habits so when life picks back up again, they have become routine,” she said.
How long it takes to lose strength
If you stopped working out completely, it can take a few weeks to a month to lose strength, said Michelle Roots, a Surrey, B.C.-based professional trainer.
“There is no single confirmed answer to how fast a person might lose muscle mass due to a break from strength training; however, many studies have shown that we can retain our muscular strength for approximately three to four weeks without seeing a decrease,” she said.
Every person is different, and age, diet and fitness level will all be a factor. Those who usually train four to five times a week will “atrophy slower than someone who is new to strength training and does not yet have as much muscle mass,” she said.
Roots, who trains clients online through Trainerize, added that muscle endurance, on the other hand, decreases more quickly — approximately two weeks after you stop training. (Muscle endurance is how long your muscles can sustain an exercise without tiring.)
Gabriel Lee, co-founder of Toronto’s Fit Squad and a former strength coach, previously told Global News that generally speaking, muscle mass — i.e. the size of your muscles — starts to dwindle after four to six weeks of inactivity.
How to maintain strength at home
Both Roots and Day say people can maintain strength at home, even if they don’t have all the equipment their gym has.
“Despite the common misconception, it is 100 per cent possible to maintain muscular strength and endurance as well as cardiovascular endurance training without any equipment at all,” Roots said.
She said home workouts like yoga, HIIT and dance classes are all great ways to maintain physical health outside of the gym, as are outdoor activities like running, walking and biking.
When it comes to strength training, heavier home items, like water jugs and laundry detergent containers, can be used for movements like deadlifts and rows. Soup or bean cans can also be used in place of light dumbbells. Chairs can also be used for step-ups, and you can do pushups off of stairs.
Many exercises can be done with just your body weight, too, including pushups, squats, planks, lunges and glute bridges.
Using resistance bands is another way to work on strength in the absence of weights.
Resistance bands are lightweight and relatively affordable, and they can be used for endless exercises. Day said you can tie bands to door handles to create tension.
Teddy Savage, a Baltimore, Md., certified trainer at Planet Fitness, said focusing on posture and range of motion is just as important as the amount of weight you are lifting when it comes to developing lean muscle.
With more time indoors, Savage recommends working on these skills.
“The best way to increase your range of motion and posture is to do a really good dynamic stretching routine before your workout and an equally effective static stretching routine afterwards,” Savage said.
“You’ll notice by doing so, you will be able to incrementally increase the strength output you achieve throughout your exercise regiment.”
Challenge your body
Now is also a good time to challenge your body in different ways, Day said. Try new movements, and practise any exercises you find challenging.
“Focus on movement patterns that need a little extra help, (like) your squat, lunge or pushup depth, for example,” she said.
“You now have the time to focus on and improve movement patterns without load. The (better) quality you can make these movements now, the better you will be able to add and support load when back in the gym.”
If you don’t have access to the same weights you use in the gym, try using your lighter weights for single-leg work, Day said, like single-leg deadlifts or single-leg Bulgarian split squats.
“They’re challenging at way lower weights than you’d use for bilateral moves,” she said.
You also want variety in your workout, said Savage. He said that generally speaking, the body commits movement to muscle memory after about four weeks, so it’s important to always do new movements and challenge yourself.
“By adjusting your regiment, you will shock your muscles, and confused muscles respond more effectively,” he said.
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.
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