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  • Writer's pictureLisa Stephenson

Quarantine Strong: Strength Training When Your Gym Is Closed

Nate Saunders - Ruck Strong Athlete

If you are used to working out in a fully equipped gym, you may worry about losing strength during times when you don't have access to barbells, squat racks and other heavy equipment, but don't worry! You can maintain, and likely even increase, your gains with limited equipment - you just need to alter your workout strategy a bit.

Here are some tips that will help you continue your strength training at home:

Increase the Difficulty of the Movements in Your Workout

At the gym, we often make movements harder by adding more weight because lifting heavier over time is the ideal of way of increasing our strength. Without access to equipment, we have to find other ways to make movements harder. Luckily, there are many other ways you can increase the difficulty. I'll use squats as an example:

  • Slow down each rep - Do goblet squats with whatever weighted object you have and take 3 or 4 full seconds to descend and 3 or 4 full seconds to come up.

  • Add an isometric hold - As you do your goblet squats, pause in the bottom position for a few seconds before coming up.

  • Switch to a similar, single-leg movement - Do goblet Bulgarian split squats, which are much harder to do at lower weights than barbell squats, or do pistol squats.

  • Do to a harder version of the movement - Do overhead squats with your ruck or other weight instead of goblet squats.

  • Add a band - If you have a resistance band, place it just above your knees and press out into the band for the duration of each squat.

  • Increase your range of motion - Go deeper on your squats (if you can). Or, say you are doing reverse lunges instead of squats. Start on a slightly elevated surface and lunge all the way to the ground to increase your range of motion compared to doing regular lunges.

Increase the Intensity of Your Strength Workouts

When you want to maintain or gain strength with lighter-weight or no equipment, it's more important to go closer to failure than you typically do on a regular basis when working with heavy weights in order to get similar strength gains. This doesn't mean you should work until you physically can't do anymore. It means that you should go until you can't (or almost can't) do any more well - form first always! Ways that you can do this include:

  • Doing more reps in each set, going almost to failure on each set

  • Increasing the number of sets you do

  • Taking less rest between sets

Other Things You Can Do To Help Maintain and Build Strength During Quarantine

  • Stay consistent - A strength workout here and there won't do much for you but strength training consistently is key to maintaining or increasing your strength.

  • Do the same movements more times throughout the week (adding frequency)

  • Cultivate your mind-muscle connection - If you're doing something like a single-arm row, focus your mind on feeling your back initiate and doing the work. If you're doing straight-legged deadlifts with your sandbag, focus on feeling your hamstrings stretch on the way down and your hamstrings and glutes doing the work to bring you back up - mentally connecting to your muscles helps you learn to better activate and recruit those muscles when they are needed.

  • Focus on form - If you know you have a form issue to work on (for example, knees caving in or your weight shifting forward onto your toes during squats, slow down and work on it during this time.

  • Do mobility work - If you know you have mobility issues, spend a little more time working on them than you usually do. Experiment and figure out which mobility exercises work best for you. Do the exercises that your PT gave you that you don't do as often as you should. Sometimes our ability to get into and build strength in good positions is due to limitations in mobility and this might be a good time to work on that.

  • Try some new movements - When was the last time you did single-leg glute bridges, side lunges (or Cossack squats), Z presses (seated overhead presses), single-leg Romanian deadlifts or reverse Nordic hamstring curls? There are lots of great movements out there that are harder to do with lower or no weight than your standard lifts that can help you build strength in ways that will help your barbell lifting when you get back to it.

  • Be creative - When you start looking around your house, you'll notice all sorts of things that can be used as equipment. Doorways to hang or even do pull-ups from, literal suitcases full of books to do suitcase carries, tables from which to do dips, objects to step up on, tables you can lay under and hold onto to do table rows, etc.

While it totally sucks to lose access to your gym and be without certain equipment, a period of strength training without that equipment could just be the change you need. Varying the equipment, load, reps, angles, movements, etc. from your usual gym workout during this time can have many benefits and help you build strength in new ways, iron out imbalances, improve your form and stability. You may just find that the work you put in now transfers over to your heavier strength training and barbell work when you get back into the gym in the form of new improvements.

When you do go back to the gym, don't be disappointed if those first lifting sessions feel less-than-stellar or you had to go lighter than expected. Even if you've maintained or gained some strength while you were away from the gym, your body may need a few heavy sessions to get back into the grove of moving big weights and to reestablish a little coordination that you may have lost. Basically, you may need a few workouts to remind your body that heavy work is something that it does. It will remember quickly and you'll be back in action in no time!

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