Author, Dr. Brian Grant, PT, DPT, CSCS
If there’s a silver lining society will come to reap from social distancing, it’s the creativity we’ve been forced to explore.
Music. Science. Literature. These are all capacities, which stand to benefit from this pandemic if our lenses are allowed to gaze far enough. The same goes for training.
Hopefully these trying times haven’t made you throw in the workout towel, and instead you allow your mind to ponder productive training strategies.
Of course, there’s also a point where creativity comes at a cost. Scroll through Instagram, and you’ll find many obscure methods of performing simple exercises. Don’t get me wrong, as a practitioner in this field, I’m flattered at the abundance of interest in creative training.
At some point though, we must ensure attention is aimed at getting an effective workout, not just an obscure or creative one.
The overarching principles of productive training don’t change during quarantine. However, the application of these principles may deviate. Here, you’ll find two training principles and/or techniques to ensure the things you’re doing are actually effective.
Continue to Overload
I’ve seen thousands of posts touting homemade squat racks and prescribing workouts guided by rolling dice or drawing cards, but I haven’t seen anything regarding progressive overload.
Otherwise known as the holy grail of physical adaptation, progressive overload simply means that to make your body change, you must force it to do so by lifting heavier, working harder, etc. over time.
I’ll admit that my first dozen or so workouts during lockdown were riddled with creativity but little to no overload. Yes, I was doing dips on the coffee table and squats while holding my 80-pound dog. However, I wasn’t tracking my sets or reps, so in a sense it was just action without intention.
This is a huge, huge mistake.
Given that no one knows how long quarantine life will last, do yourself a favor and start overloading now. This advice holds water regardless of your training goals.
If you have very limited equipment and increasing weight is out of the picture, I recommend counting and increasing your total number of repetitions performed for a given exercise day-to-day or week-to-week.
For instance, if this week you’re doing 80 push-ups each workout, make sure you’re doing 100 each time the following week; 120 the following and so on. The only caveat I feel obligated to assert is that intensity of effort surely matters.
For instance, if you can rep out 56 military-grade push-ups in one go, don’t get to your total of 80 by performing 4 sets of 20. Instead, get closer to failure on your first set and go from there.
Limited equipment does not lend itself to 3 sets of 10.
If you’re looking for yet another way to increase effective intensity of your coffee table dips, look no further than…
But first, a dose of physiology.
When our bodies do physical work, they obey something called the Size Principle. What this means is, as our muscles begin doing work, Type I motor units are the first players in the game. These muscle fibers are great at producing low levels of force over lengthy periods of time.
As our muscles begin to fatigue, Type II motor units are recruited to continue the force production process. Type II muscle fibers are more akin to gains in size and strength. Therefore, approaching muscular failure is when the return on investment is greatest.
So, how does this relate to Myo-reps (and training during lockdown)?
By performing your initial set of push-ups, squats, or any other exercise either to failure or close to failure, you ensure that Type II motor units have already entered the game. I grant you that without heavy equipment, this may take 20+ reps., but here’s where the benefits come in.
Instead of resting 1-2 minutes after each set, effectively allowing your muscles to recuperate and reset, take a few breaths and do another 5-10 reps. Wash. Rinse. Repeat for several sets of 5-10 reps.
If it’s the final five or so reps that reap the most benefit, those are the reps we should be focusing on by living close to muscular failure. In so doing, you’re ensuring Type II fibers are constantly working and exercise intensity remains high. Not to mention, this technique saves time.
In non-pandemic circumstances, I use this technique to pack my workout with increased volume for isolation movements. Nowadays, I’m using it as a means to satisfy my craving for intense, enjoyable training.