Can I Keep my Strength in Quarantine?

A major concern for strength and power athletes and fitness enthusiasts during quarantine is losing strength without access to traditional training modalities, such as heavy weights. This is particularly true for athletes with more experience in strength training and a concern for lower body strength where athletes handle more load. Like many others, it is a concern for me too.

So, can you keep your strength in quarantine?

Well the short answer is no. You cannot. Without access to training modalities that provide intensity through loading you will probably lose strength. The reason you lift weight is because it is the best tool to provide the stimulus your body needs to improve its ability to produce force and increase strength.

The long answer is still no. Although, there are ways you can mitigate this loss in strength during this time. Obviously if you have the time/space/money get weights or access to them to continue strength training as soon as possible. For most people this is not an option and adapting and overcoming these issues is now your primary goal way above complaining you cannot train.

For athletes who have multiple fitness qualities they need to work on, make use of this time to focus on other components of your fitness such as any underlying injuries, balance, control, core strength, and cardiovascular or repeated effort training. Running or whole-body circuit training is a great way to improve base fitness even using the most minimal of equipment. Your own body weight. Time or reps or rounds can be varied to your level of fitness.

So glossing over other fitness qualities, basic strength training can be done to keep as much strength as possible and using body weight any non-traditional equipment such as household items, goods or furniture can be used to add load or intensity. Heavy resistance bands can be a cheap(er) space friendly alternative to add load and would be my number 1 go to practicality-wise so long as you can be creative and have something strong to anchor bands you can do most upper body exercises, and you have a way to load up  the lower body passed just body weight.  While it will never be a substitute for traditional loading methods, making do with what you must in order to add load is the number 1 way to keep as much strength as possible, as there is no substitution for load in strength training.

Once you have established the equipment you have available to add what little load you can there are ways to increase the intensity or challenge in order to improve strength.

Exercises can be made more challenging by adding a pause at the bottom of each rep for 1-5 seconds for example the bottom of a push-up. Coupling this with slow eccentric or downward movement (taking 3-4 seconds rather than 1 or 2) can significantly increase the difficulty of some exercises and reduce the need for external load to keep intensity.

Exercises can also be coupled with a pause at the end of a set in a challenging position again for an extended time. For example performing 12 squats then holding bottom position for 10-40s each set.

As far as actually producing force is concerned as you cannot substitute load, there are 2 ways left to try and stimulate the higher order muscle fibres responsible for force production.

The first way is to do movement fast. Turning movement into explosive movements, like jumping lunges, jump squats, bounding, hopping and short sprints you are practising the ability to produce force fast. This will still have good transfer to any sporting movement and more carry over to strength then pounding the pavement or endurance-based circuits. The quality of movement must be kept high, movements lasting 2-15 seconds are ideal, and think about taking 3-10x the amount of rest as the time it takes you to complete the movements in order to repeat these with the same intensity.

The second way is isometric holds. These must be a maximal contraction of 2-9s against an immovable force. Such as a car push pull or picking up a sofa with 3 people on it. Unfortunately, these have good strength carryover in and around the position held so multiple points i.e. bottom middle and top deadlift might have to be done for 2 sets of 5 s each for example to have good carryover though full range of motion.

If you chose not to work on other fitness qualities, there is no substitute for external resistance. However, training with whatever you have, using pauses and isometrics and explosive exercises will minimise the strength losses you will have. So, keep training. Improvise, adapt and overcome.

Coach James Warren MSc ASCC