I have had a bunch of people complain to me that they are going to lose all their gains during the quarantine because they do not have access to a barbell and big weights. I assure you that does not have to be true. You can still maintain and gain strength with whatever you have around the house. Here are some tried and true ways to get strong in austere environments.
The king and queen of upper body exercises are the pullup and the dip. You should continue to find ways to do both of these exercises to maintain that upper body strength and size. Some of you are saying you do not have access to a pullup bar, in that case, the next best thing is to do some body rows. You can do these by laying down under a table and pulling yourself up to the table with your heels on the ground. You can do dips between two chairs or off the edge of a bench.
If pull-ups and dips are too difficult, do negatives. The best way to develop the strength to one-day do pull-ups and dips is to do negatives. Use your legs to support you at the top of the movement, then stop using your legs and lower yourself as slow as possible. Three to five sets of three to five reps three to five days a week (The “325 Rule”).
If Pull-ups and Dips are too easy, add weight. What might be too light a weight to curl will be plenty when added to your body weight for pull-ups. The hardest part is often securing the weight to your body when doing the pull-ups and dips. You will have to be creative you can put soup cans in your pockets or hold dumbbells between your feet. If you want to keep your gains, you will find a way.
Put Yourself At A Disadvantage
Gymnasts have known for years that they can use body weight exercises to get incredibly strong by working in mechanically challenging positions.
If pushups are too easy, keep elevating your feet. Eventually you will be upside down doing handstand pushups.
If Pull-ups are too easy, try lifting your legs out in front of you so your body forms and “L” shape or try pulling up until your chest touches the bar.
If you only have a light dumbbell to press, try doing a sotz press where you do presses while sitting in the bottom a squat.
The lower body is slightly more challenging but not impossible to train without big weights. The first thing you have to do is train unilaterally, that means one leg at a time. You effectively cut in half the amount of weight you need if you are only training one leg at a time versus training bilaterally (both legs at the same time). A one hundred pound back squat is not very hard but a one hundred pound lunge, step-up, or pistol can be extremely tough. Additionally, training unilaterally can reveal and correct any imbalances that you have from side to side. So the main exercises to work on are lunges, step-ups, split squats, and pistols.
The next thing to consider when training lower body is holding the weight in different positions to make it harder. The hardest variation is overhead where the stability and strength required to support the weight is amplified by the distance it is held from the body.
Finally, when training lower body, you can make some good gains by doing plyometrics. Plyometric movements essentially use gravity and speed to overload the muscles. A classic example is a depth jump where you start standing on a box and step off and immediately do an explosive jump when your feet hit the ground. There are three important elements that a plyometric exercise can train. First, is the eccentric load of landing from an elevated distance. The further you fall the greater the speed as you hit the ground which means the more force your body has to absorb eccentrically as you hit the ground. The second thing you train is explosive force. Your ability to jump corresponds to how much force you can produce against the ground to overcome gravity. So working on jumping for height or distance develops force production without the use of weights. Third, plyometric training develops the stretch reflex and speed. Humans have a mechanism called a stretch reflex that we use to create explosive force. Before you jump you always bend your knees and load your muscles with a short eccentric contraction. The more efficient and powerful you are the better you are at converting the energy stored in the pre bend of the knees into the height of your jump. Plyometric training done correctly can improve your efficiency in converting the load phase to the explode phase. So when you do your depth jump, try to minimize the amount of time your feet are on the ground. It should look and feel like you’re bouncing off the floor, not landing and then jumping as two separate elements.
Be cautious, it is very easy to overload your muscles and get injured doing a lot of plyometrics. The most basic forms of plyometrics are jumping jacks, skipping and jumping rope. The next level of difficulty is broad jumps and high jumps and box jumps. The next level would be to do jumping squats and jumping lunges and potentially adding weight. Depth jumps should only be done after you are very adept at the basic jumping skills and they should only be trained in small doses after a thorough warmup. But if you’re afraid of losing gains, then work on some explosive jumping to keep your legs strong.
You are only limited by your creativity and your desire to stay strong. Good luck and keep training.