With Malaysia's MCO relaxed, but gyms still remaining closed for the near future, we need to pay some serious attention to this unprecedented situation from a health & wellbeing standpoint. Over the next three articles, we’re going to provide advice and assistance across the three main areas that we, as coaches, tend to know best: training, nutrition, and mindset/habits.
First, training; like nutrition, this needs to addressed with multiple types of people, goals, objectives and training preferences in mind. Let’s start by taking a level-headed look at what your purpose was for training in the first place before this coronavirus chaos descended.
If you were previously training to build muscle and strength, and you had done so, FEAR NOT: your gains are not suddenly going to evaporate. It takes a considerable amount of time to lose muscle, particularly if you’re on maintenance level calories and not just sitting around doing nothing. We’ll look at how nutrition can affect muscle loss in the next article.
If you weren’t previously training to build strength and muscle: well, why? There are very few benefits to not having baseline strength levels and the ability to create contractile forces in one’s body. Not necessarily to be able to deadlift a 100kg shopping bag but having a reduced risk of injury, better independent longevity as you age and improved insulin sensitivity are just some of many good reasons to improve your strength. To the funky-pump cardio junkie, take this as an opportunity to stop running round in circles and actually put some decent resistance capabilities into that body of yours.
To the gym rat who has spent months, years even, with muscle and strength as your sole goal… where do you think it’s suddenly going to disappear to? Building muscle mass comes down to two factors: increasing musculoskeletal fibres and increasing the muscle’s ability to hold fuel in the form of water, creatine, glycogen and so on. If you stopped training completely, your muscles’ ability to hold fuel might decrease, so they will look smaller. However, it takes a great deal longer for muscle fibres to break down and disappear, particularly if you’re managing your diet correctly (see our next article). You can follow our guide below, but you may need to start with a bit more volume or with additional resistance tools or operating a bit closer to failure.
Now, if you’ve been keeping up with our Instagram posts, you’ll have seen that our ‘12 Days Of Lockdown’ series coached you through the intricacies of 12 good foundational movements that can easily be done at home with minimal equipment. We can’t say that all of these movements in their progressed form are suitable for everyone – the range of positions that all of your joints can reach with contractile abilities has a huge influence on this, and only working with a personalised coach assessing this can help you tailor them to your own abilities. Maybe you’ve also got more equipment, or maybe you’re more experienced and comfortable with a few other movements. The problem you probably have at the moment is not knowing how to put them all together into a program.
First of all, the key to building muscle is not variation. It isn’t in the gym, and that doesn’t change at home, just because all your favourite influencers are now releasing a completely random ‘Workout of The Day’ every day. They’re either naturally blessed, or that’s not how they got into that shape in the first place, they’re just promoting it because it’s fun to watch and do - and 'fun’ equals views. If you’re serious about making progress or maintaining previously acquired gains, you need to select a few movements and then make structured progress with them over time.
Now, very few people want to do the same exercise routine every day, even if that would probably still be effective over a short period of time. So, we’re going to recommend you build two of your own. There are a couple of ways you can split the two up (in ascending order of difficulty):
Day 1) Pushing Movements: Squats, Push-ups, Skull Crushers
Day 2) Pulling Movements: Glute Thrusts, Rows, Bicep Curls
Day 1) Chest, Back, Bilateral Legs: Push-ups, Squats, Rows, Glute Thrusts
Day 2) Biceps, Triceps, Unilateral Legs: Bicep Curls, Skull Crushers, Split Squats
Day 1) Upper Body: Push-ups, Rows, Biceps, Triceps
Day 2) Lower Body: Split Squats, Squats, Glute Thrusts
There are plenty of ways to combine your movements into two different workouts - it really comes down to personal preference. Even within these sessions, in Split 1 you could swap the bicep and tricep training, or in split 2 you could swap the leg exercises. You’ve also got the difference between working through all of your sets with one exercise before moving onto the next, or “supersetting” your exercises by choosing two that require different muscles and alternating between them. This comes down to whether you’re someone who is driven by cardiovascular intensity in your session, is in a rush to get it over with and finds rest periods boring… Or if you’re someone driven by optimum performance during each set and is happy (particularly with a whole day at your disposal at the moment) for their session to last a bit longer. You can read our guide to supersets here: Understanding supersets and compound sets
There is no set recipe, and in the coming weeks, you might find yourself moving between the variety of options as a means of “mixing things up”. The key, at the very centre of it all, is improving your mastery of movements and progressing your ability to generate more total force over time. You could simply do the same number of push-ups in every single session which requires them for two weeks, but through technical improvement increase your load to your pecs and control of your core, and this would constitute progress and an increased ability to generate force. The end result? Almost always an increase in or maintenance of muscle mass.
The much more quantifiable means of measuring progress is through increasing your volume: or, the total number of working reps you’re able to execute of a movement. This opens a huge can of worms regarding what most people define as a “working” rep, but most studies have shown that to cause sufficient muscle damage to maximally stimulate growth, one needs to be within four reps of failure. That is, if you could do a maximum of 12 reps of an exercise, you’re only seriously contributing to progress after you’ve hit eight. That’s why lower rep-range movements are often considered more beneficial for building muscle because you reach that zone much quicker. After all, if you’re lifting your 6-rep max for four reps, as soon as you’ve done two reps of the movement, it’s golden gains time.
That said, people’s ability to gauge failure changes drastically over time. Or, when dominant muscles have huge tolerances, stabiliser muscles can fail first on very high rep work. As a result, this guide isn’t for knowledgeable, mature trainees who should already have a decent idea of how much volume they require and how close to failure they need to be training.
This is for the enthusiast, not the expert, and it is a decent guide (in our humble opinion) to programming your training:
Day 1: Two warm-up sets of everything, with an intense focus on form and only half the number of planned reps. Then two working sets of everything, stopping when you feel like you have four or five easy reps in reserve (RIR) on your first set, and continuing that rep number for the next set. Chances are you’ll lose a rep or two from your max between the first and second sets, so you’ll be operating at 3-RIR by your second set.
Apply the same concept to your second session. If you’ve steered far away enough from failure on Day 1 you should be able to do Day 2 the next day, and Day 3 the day after that. The point here, staying far away from failure as well as only training each body part/movement for two sets, is so you can train again the next day without too much fatigue or soreness. Not only does this reduce the time between sessions containing the same movements, enhancing the learning process, but it also saves you from the boredom of a “rest day”.
Day 3 & 4: add a rep to every movement and do the same again.
Day 5 & 6: same again. This time, take a break if you feel your body needs it. At this point you’re probably doing two reps per set within that 4-RIR boundary, so six reps in total per exercise, per week.
Day 7: rest day.
On Day 8, you recommence back at the same number of reps as Day 1, but this time you add an extra set! So, whilst the first set is easier because of the gains you’ve made, the 3rd set consists of some reps within that 4-RIR range.
You make the same progression by adding a rep to each set over the course of the week. Take a rest day (if you feel you need it) on Day 14.
You can probably continue adding a rep to each set through week 3 too, since your maximum capable reps have increased dramatically over the course of doing the same exercise in six routines over the course of two weeks. By the end of the week you’ve practised the same session nine times each, and by the end of your last set on each exercise on Days 12 & 13, you’re close to not being able to do another rep. You should be around the 2-RIR mark.
Week 4 rolls around and you go back to the reps you were doing at the beginning of week 3, but now for four sets! Here, you spend another two weeks increasing the number of reps you can do per set. Not every session will you manage to add a rep to all four sets. Sometimes you might only be able to add a rep to two of them and match the other two. When you can no longer match the reps in the set whilst maintaining form, tempo and rest times, you have probably plateaued… But this shouldn’t happen for a good month.
Hey, maybe at this point you’ve bought some bands to do banded push-ups and can start the whole process again at a lower rep-range. Or, maybe you’ll try elevating your feet on a step to slightly bias the upper portion of your chest and increase the amount of weight placed onto your hands. Until that point, keep it simple, and keep working on mastering the basics.
Now, I know what you’re thinking… “But I love my Instagram Live workouts!”
Yes, yes, don't worry they have their place here. They’re a great excuse to get moving, they provide you with some charming pseudo-celebrity coach on a screen keeping you upbeat and energetic and saving you from the lonely insanity of being stuck at home. You get your heart rate up and a good sweat going. They are doubtlessly another healthy reason to get moving. But please maintain perspective – that is all they are. Yoga, boxing, dance: they’re all great ways to focus on just moving, burning calories and having fun.
However, the blanket-prescribed reps of resistance movements like jump squats and burpees, where you’re far more concerned with whether you can keep up with the instructor and their song of choice, rather than whether you’re executing them correctly… They’re not benefitting you. They’re adding volume and fatigue to your resistance tolerance without getting you close enough to failure to beneficially contribute to muscle gain. Save the complex, targeted muscle contractions for your own workout and use these movement sessions to make up for the fact that you’re not moving as much without leaving the house. Heck, filming TikTok dance videos is probably the best type of low-impact movement you can do right now!
Separate the two, for the sake of your joints, and for the gain of your muscles.
And if this all seems a bit complicated to assess and plan yourself, you’re in luck. By way of thanks for reading over 2000 words about training, we are offering new users 50% off an online consultation with a qualified Joompa coach. The session will last between 1-1.5hrs and they will ask you everything they need to know about your training history, as well as put you through your movements on camera to assess your range capabilities, before helping you put together a routine to execute.
Not sure you’ll have the motivation to get the ball rolling after that? Not confident with your form? No worries, just book in with them again to go through a full session with form coaching and someone to track your intensity as being appropriate… live! (P.S. you can bring your lockdown buddy along with you for free)
Just hit this link or contact our concierge on 0126955667 and quote the codeword "LOL" to qualify!