The Pandemic has drastically affected the way we live our lives and as a result, is causing most of us to adjust to new norms. Unfortunately, for Gym-Goers like you and me, developing a new strategy for gym shutdowns isn’t always easy. Losing access to free weights, mirrors with good lighting, and a plethora of cardiovascular machines will limit the opportunity to continue our wellness journey. So what is the best way to maximize your fitness results during a lockdown? First, let’s see what changes can occur during a prolonged shutdown.
How will your performance be affected?
Aerobic Exercise (Endurance)
If your exercise routine is structured for endurance here are some concerning effects. In as little as 12 days, you can begin to see a decline in your physical performance. This can feel like fatigue settling in much sooner, a diminished ability to train at peak levels, and a decreased tolerance to moderate and vigorous intensities. These effects are due to changes in your VO2 Max, also known as; the maximum amount of oxygen you can consume during exercise. This is a big predictor of your fitness level and how much moderate to vigorous exercise you can endure. Just 2 weeks off from moderate to vigorous exercise can result in a decreased VO2 Max (Exercise Physiology, 2019) a devastating blow to all the “one more mile” folks.
Anaerobic Exercise (Strength)
Strength and muscle size will also be affected, but at a diminished rate compared to endurance training. A gym shutdown could result in muscle loss, loss of strength, and changes to the nervous system. Studies have shown that an extended break such as 6 months from strength training, would elicit a 31% decrease in strength and an increase in muscle loss (Exercise Physiology, 2019). Assuming gym shutdowns could be extended until vaccines are accessible, it would require six weeks of retraining to get back to peak levels of performance after such a long break (Exercise Physiology, 2019).
I would reccommend making small changes to your workout routine, to be able to maximize your fitness results. Start with your programming and pay close attention to your workout structure. Consider some exercise principles that expedite the rate of success, such as frequency, intensity, and type.
Exercise principles to focus on right now
Frequency is the number of training days. Start by adding an extra day to your training schedule. Even if it’s 30 minutes, create another opportunity for you to improve your fitness levels during this lockdown.
- If your goal is weight loss, this would be an excellent day to prioritize burning extra calories.
- If your goals fall in line with increasing strength or muscle size, it’s likely that you are doing the necessary training volume for your desired goals already. Use this extra day to focus on improving deficiencies and technique.
For example, you may have noticed that your horizontal pulling strength of posterior chain muscles is significantly weaker than your horizontal pushing strength of anterior chain muscles. Maximize your fitness results by dedicating one more training day to improving deficiencies in your back and leg muscles. This will allow you to exit your shutdown on a more complete note by improving your performance.
Moreover, prioritize this extra day to focus on basic lifting technique and form. I would suggest using light to moderate resistance and doing 2 sets of 10-12 reps. This will contribute to new adaptations for your central nervous system, polishing your technique, and improving the quality of your weight lifting.
Intensity can be understood as how much energy is expended during exercise, ranging from light to vigorous. It could also be the amount of weight used during exercise.
If your goal is to lose weight, manipulate your intensity by incorporating more energy-demanding exercise. Exercising in the medium to vigorous range will result in more calories burnt and reduced body fat. Below are some exercise variations that you can try out if you are looking to increase your intensity:
- High-Intensity training, exercise lasting 20 to 30 seconds with shorter rest intervals.
- Aerobic Exercise, exercise ranging from low to vigorous intensity, and is associated with an increased rate of breathing. Examples of this type of exercise are long-distance running, cycling, swimming, and jump roping.
- Combining strength and endurance training.
- Circuit training that uses a combination of 4-6 upper body and lower body exercises per set, with a rest window of 30-45seconds.
For strength and muscle mass, prioritize major exercise movements such as squats, Hinge (deadlift), and Push/Pull exercises. These types of exercises require more than 1 muscle group, which means they have a greater effect on the body in regards to composition and strength. Depending on your goals and experience with weight training, follow the overload principle. This principle states that challenging exercises above a minimum threshold will result in sufficient upper and lower body strength. Apply this method as we remain in the uncertainty of this ongoing lockdown.
Type refers to the specificity of your training. This can range from bodybuilding, and powerlifting, to calisthenics, or martial arts, to movement-based exercise. Maximize your fitness by adding more variety to your training and learning new skills. Increasing your physical capabilities sometimes means going beyond just a desired weight loss goal or weight lifting personal record. Let’s face it, there’s only a handful of exercises you can bring home with you for which you can use household items and body weight to increase the intensity. Learning something new can be a challenging and fun way to stay fit during this time.
I understand that being strong is a goal for most people but what about the application of our A-B-C’s; Agility, balance, and coordination? Movement-based exercises such as primal movement or MovNat contribute immensely to this. This is an important time to be open-minded with your training and explore newer avenues because a lot of the exercises we do at the gym, we can’t take home with us.
Remote Exercise Programs
If exercising at home is not realistic, it’s best to reach out to professionals in your gym community and develop a training relationship. Following a customizable routine during a gym shutdown, would be excellent for the maintenance of your current strength, body composition, and for salvaging what’s left of your performance. Contacting a strength coach or personal trainer would be an excellent start to finding the right at-home program for you.
Even during a shutdown, other fitness advocates have turned to platforms like Zoom to find a fitness community. I’ve even found myself partaking in engaging movement-based classes like MovNat or spy school, which add a new meaning to have fun while exercising. Virtual fitness classes are also thriving during these times and are very affordable, making exercising at home much more convenient.
Gym shutdowns can be very stressful, especially under such short notice but remember, increasing each one of the exercise principles above will help you maximize your fitness results. Understand that this won’t be the case forever. Ensure you are planning accordingly and capitalizing on services that are available to you, like virtual and personal training. I am very dedicated to helping others establish their plan and a routine during these challenging times. If you have any questions, please contact me and I will do my best to help you.