Today I want to share 3 of my top tips to challenge yourself while working out at home. Right now the vast majority of people are struggling to figure out what to do to continue to develop fitness or, at the very least, to minimize the loss of fitness without the access they’re accustomed to. To be clear, when I use the word “fitness” I am not talking about aesthetics but about athletics, about what tasks we are capable of doing.
When it comes to developing physical capacity, it’s easy to fall into the simplicity of increasing weight as the only variable of progressive overload. We set our hearts on doing 3 sets of 10 reps forever, and then grab a heavier weight when one starts to feel too light. Now that the vast majority of people can’t follow this approach, it’s hard to know what to do.
If you’re looking for a catch-all way to improve how you move, strengthen a variety of tissues, and make things feel harder, I’d suggest that you explore isometric training and meticulously controlled tempos. The next two workouts that I post will be about isometric work and tempo work so that you can follow along and see exactly what I mean, but here are some quick action steps to get you sorted right now:
Quality Over Quantity.
In the absence of heavy weight, we’re perfectly positioned to focus on, well, position! Most un-coached lifters rely on what we call “extension strategies” because our bodies are fantastic at figuring out how to make things easier. If your brain has a chance to shift you into a position that requires less metabolic effort to maintain, you bet your ass it’s going to shift you into that position. Developing the sensory awareness and body control to resist these extension strategies, like excessive “Ribcage Boner” or “Porn Star”, take a lot of focus and work, and that’s work that we can do right now while we’re mostly weightless. My goal in every lift right now is to work like crazy to keep my ribs down over my pelvis or to keep my pelvis aligned under my ribs, and to use my hamstrings, obliques, and serratus as much as possible in maintaining that position.
Isometric exercises are, by definition, exercises during which your muscle contracts but doesn’t noticeably change length, and the affected joint doesn’t appear to move. Isometric exercise can be fantastic for developing your awareness of certain positions because minimal movement tends to mean maximal control. Basically, if the goal is to create tension but not move out of that position, it’s far easier for you to perceive when you actually do move. My goal with practicing isometric contractions is to create as much tension in positions where my body would prefer to rely on extension strategies like Ribcage Boner or Porn Star, to “cheat” me out of tension.
You could try to overload yourself in position for a set duration of time, but I think right now a better course of action is to focus on increasing the duration that you maintain a position, either by timing yourself in seconds or by focusing on increasing the number of high-quality exhales that you have in a certain position. Let’s say that a high-quality exhale is 10 seconds long, so start with 30 second / 3 exhale holds, and build out from there!
Move on to meticulously controlled tempos.
Alright, so you’ve sorted out your core control and you’re able to maintain that position in the presense of isometric tension. The next step is to maintain that position while moving! Tempo work has always been used in elite-level performance training, and it’s one technique that can be extremely beneficial for all of us simply because meticulously controlled tempos improve quality of movement.
Remember, our priority is to be able to identify the sensations of extension strategies and resist them as much as possible, and it will be easier to do this when we’re moving slowly. Some training programs, like Triphasic Training from Cal Deitz and Ben Peterson, specifically focus on the tempo of the eccentric or concentric movement, and we’ll get there in the future. For right now, I’d say start by moving both up and down for 3 seconds first, then stretch that out to as long as 10 seconds for both lifting and lowering before re-evaluating your strength and thinking about next steps.
All of these tips are summarized in a single quote from Dean Guedo on the Barbell Mesearch podcast:
“Right now we collectively have a great opportunity to slow down, refine our movement and resist using extension strategies, and learn how to better take care of our bodies if our typical training is beating us up.”
Okay friends, that’s it for this episode of HGTV, thanks for joining me! Let me know how you apply this information to what you’re currently doing, and be sure to subscribe and turn on notifications so you can get the isometric and tempo workouts coming later this week. Next time we meet, we’ll talk about what it means if your body is feeling *better* now that your gym is closed.
As always, you can watch these words here: