Worried about losing hard-earned muscle while limited to the rudimentary home workout equipment you’re stuck with in your basement? Here are nine tips to help you make the most of your home workouts to minimize muscle loss (and likely still gain muscle!) during this time.
- 1. Designate a space
- 2. Limit distractions
- 3. Dress as if you were going to the gym
- 4. Plan your workout
- 5. Gather everything you’ll need beforehand
- 6. Put on music
- 7. Warm Up well
- 8. Lift closer to failure
- 9. Refuel in caloric surplus
1. Designate a space
If you don’t already have a spot in your home dedicated to home workouts, now is the time to carve one out.
Having a single-focused space increases your performance on that task when you are in that space.
Have a spot in your home where you workout and when you’re in that spot, do only exercise, nothing else.
This trains your mind to be ready for and focused on your workout as soon as you walk into that space – just like that glorious feeling walking into the gym.
Okay, maybe not THAT glorious but still…
Even if it just a corner of your living room by that plant, make sure you give yourself a designated space.
2. Limit distractions
From housemates and pets to other home tasks, the biggest problem working out at home are all the distractions!
Ask whoever you live with (spouse/roommates/older children) to not bother you during this time.
It can be helpful to give them a set amount of time. When they know how long it’ll be until they can ask you for something, they’ll be more likely to wait until that time compared to an open-ended “whenever I’m done” timeline.
On the same lines, it can be helpful for older children if you set a timer somewhere they have access to, like a kitchen timer, on Alexa, etc where they can easily see how much time is left.
You can also ask them to join you and for some mutual accountability help!
If you have younger children, ask your spouse or older children to help take care of them during this time but be sure to reciprocate to give them free time as well!
It can also be helpful to time this with nap time.
Pets unfortunately can’t read kitchen timers … that we know about…
You’re going to have to set up physical barriers in this case.
Close doors around the room you’re in or set up gates to stop pets from visiting.
The best way to avoid these distractions is to plan ahead.
Time your workout around laundry and cooking timers so you aren’t interrupted in the middle of your workout to move the washed clothes into the dryer or take the casserole out of the oven.
I also keep a “Distractions” list on my Notes App on my phone where I write down distracting thoughts to take care of later whenever I am in the middle of a focused task. This lets me know that the thought is available to be reminded of and taken care of later so I can feel comfortable continuing my task without stopping to take care of that thing. I write down everything from “I left my wallet in my car” to “I’d like to shop for some white shorts.” This certainly comes in handy during workouts too.
3. Dress as if you were going to the gym
Dressing the part has significant impact on your effort at the task.
You’ve heard the saying “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.”
Well, dress for the kick ass workout you’d be killing at the gym today, not as the quarantined, stir-crazy, hasn’t-washed-her-hair-in-5-days-because-who’s-going-to-see-it-anyway lady you feel like.
I would make extra effort to make sure that your favorite workout outfits are regularly washed and ready to wear during this period of isolation.
When your outfit says “I’m ready to kill it”, you’ll be too!
4. Plan your workout
Making sure you have a clear idea of what you’ll be doing helps in many ways.
First, it lets you have an accurate idea of how much time it’ll take as far as #2, above, and requesting others avoid asking for your attention during that time.
Second, it limits the amount of distraction in the time between sets and lifts. And this distraction is much easier to let spiral out of control at home vs at the gym when someone else is waiting for the equipment you’re currently using.
Third, it helps you know everything you’ll need to gather ahead of time for #5 next.
5. Gather everything you’ll need beforehand
Gathering all of your supplies that you’ll need beforehand is a widely applicable tip for excellence at any task.
You know the term “Mise en place” for cooking?
This can really be applied to almost any task for increasing productivity and performance.
As you know what you have planned to do for your workout form #4 above, make sure you gather everything you will need for this workout and bring it to your designated workout space from #1.
Some ideas of things you might need to gather:
- A chair to use instead of a bench
- Filled water jugs instead of dumbbells
- A blanket to put down instead of an exercise mat
- Filling a backpack with canned foods
Dog leash to attach to backpack and loop over a pull-up bar to use as a cable (See this video)
6. Put on music
Whether it’s gangsta rap or latin club music, faster paced and stimulating music can help you perform better.
This stimulating music has been shown in multiple studies to decrease your perceived effort, leading to longer times to exhaustion, and allowing you to perform more reps/sets/volume (Beckett, 1990; Chipman, 1966; Copeland & Franks, 1991; Koschak, 1975).
7. Warm Up well
Warming up with LISS (low-intensity, steady state cardio) and dynamic stretching have been shown in many studies to improve performance (Barroso, 2013; Fradkin, 2010; McCrary et al, 2015; Yamaguchi, 2005).
In the same vein, ramping sets (or pyramiding sets) lets you take advantage of all the same benefits of warming up by LISS and dynamic stretching.
There is so much research on this topic, I can’t cite it all but check out my post here on effective, science-based warm up.
8. Lift closer to failure
We’re having to make-do at home with MacGuyver’d weights and machines at home that often don’t offer us as much resistance as we’d like.
With the decrease in resistance and lighter loads, it is more important to train closer to failure.
Many studies have shown that lifting light weights to failure (or 1-2 reps away from failure) leads to the same amount of muscle gain if volume was equated with higher weight sets (Lasevicius, 2019; Nobrega, 2018; Schoenfeld, 2017).
It’s worth noting here that there were some differences when it came to outcomes in hypertrophy vs strength using light weights.
Lifting light weights to failure saw similar increases in hypertrophy compared to heavy weights but mixed results in actual strength gain (or increase in 1RM).
For more information, read my article detailing the science behind lifting light weights to failure here.
Forget worrying about muscle loss, you’ll likely still gain this way!
9. Refuel in caloric surplus
If you needed another excuse to treat yourself during this stressful time, this is it.
One way to stave off muscle loss during a temporary time of decreased resistance training is by maintaining a calorie surplus.
When your body isn’t in need of energy sources, it won’t have much reason to break down the muscle you already have. It can just use what’s already in abundance circulating in your blood.
I don’t recommend going overboard with this, obviously.
But an extra 100-200 calories per day will only have you gaining an extra pound every 12-25 days (assuming 2500 calories to 1 pound).
Yes, you will gain some fat this way but you will likely be able to lose the fat relatively easily once we’ve returned to normal social functioning.
I hope this goes without saying, but this extra food should not be coming from empty carbs and fats.
It should be mostly protein, along with whole-food sources of fat and carbs.
Your protein intake should be on the high side of 1-1.2 g/lb of body weight.
Even for those still fresh to strength training and body building, planning your life around your workouts and food is nothing new.
Working out at home for the time being just involves some planning in different ways than normal.
Hope you find at least a few of these tips helpful in the coming weeks (and hopefully it’s only a few more weeks!)
- Barroso, R., Silva-Batista, C., Tricoli, V., Roschel, H., & Ugrinowitsch, C. (2013). The effects of different intensities and durations of the general warm-up on leg press 1RM. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 27(4), 1009-13.
- Beckett, A. (1990). The effects of music on exercise as determined by physiological recovery heart rates and distance. Journal of Music Therapy, 27, 126-136.
- Chipman, L. (1966). The effects of selected music on endurance. Master’s thesis, Springfield College. (From Completed Research in Health, Physical Education, and Recreation, 9, Abstract No. 462).
- Copeland, B. L., & Franks, B. D. (1991). Effects of types and intensities of background music on treadmill endurance. The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 31, 100-103.
- Fradkin, A.J., Zazryn, T.R., & Smoliga, J.M. (2010). Effects of warming-up on physical performance: a systematic review with meta-analysis. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 24(1), 140-8.
- Koschak, E. P. (1975). The influence of music on physical performance of women. Master’s thesis. Central Michigan University. (From Completed Research in Health, Physical Education, and Recreation 19, Abstract No. 99).
- Lasevicius, T., Schoenfeld, B.J., Silva-Batista, C., Barros, T.S., Aihara, A.Y., Brendon, H., & Teixeira, E.L.(2019). Muscle Failure Promotes Greater Muscle Hypertrophy in Low-Load but Not in High-Load Resistance Training. Journal of strength and conditioning research. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000003454
- McCrary, J.M., Ackermann, B.J., & Halaki, M. (2015). A systematic review of the effects of upper body warm-up on performance and injury. British journal of sports medicine, 49(14), 935-42.
- Nóbrega, S.R., Ugrinowitsch, C., Pintanel, L., Barcelos, C., & Libardi, C.A. (2018). Effect of Resistance Training to Muscle Failure vs. Volitional Interruption at High- and Low-Intensities on Muscle Mass and Strength. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 32(1), 162-9.
- Schoenfeld, B.J., Grgic, J., Ogborn, D., & Krieger, J.W. (2017). Strength and Hypertrophy Adaptations Between Low- vs. High-Load Resistance Training: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 31(12), 3508-23.
- Yamaguchi, T., & Ishii, K. (2005). Effects of static stretching for 30 seconds and dynamic stretching on leg extension power. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 19(3), 677-83.