With gyms up and down the country shut down, and with it, no access to heavy barbells, dumbbells or plate loaded machines that are so often cemented in a strength building programme, finding ways to maintain our strength and power output, whilst training at home during quarantine, may seem like a lost cause, until we can finally step back onto the gym floor.
However, even for those of us who aren’t in the fortunate position of having access to a home gym set up or finding some weights hiding at the back of a cupboard, under a layer of dust, from yesteryear, there are training methods we can incorporate into our home workouts that will allow us to maintain our strength, or dare I say it, even increase our strength.
The best thing about it?
You don’t even need heavy weights, and in some cases, no weights at all, other than your own bodyweight of course.
What Is Strength?
Before we can start training specifically for strength, we must first understand exactly what strength is and how it can be trained.
The most common definition of strength is: “the ability to exert a force against a resistance”. Think pulling a deadlift of the floor or pushing up against a squat or bench press.
There are three different types of strength that fall under the above definition, which are:
Maximal strength – The greatest force that can be generated in a single contraction. (i.e. 1RM Squat)
Elastic strength – The ability to overcome a resistance with a fast contraction. (i.e. 100m sprint)
Strength endurance – The ability to generate force many times over. (i.e. CrossFit)
In order to train specifically for increases in strength, it is recommended to train at an high intensity, with low volume and long rest periods (1) and when we are training at home with limited equipment there are a number of training methods we can use to meet this criteria and replicate our the results from our normal strength training as closely as possible.
How To Train For Strength At Home
Plyometrics are a high intensity training method that relies on your muscles exerting maximum force for short intervals of time, using strength and speed to increase your muscles overall power output.
When performing plyometric exercises you are generating force through your muscle by utilising the pre stretch of the muscle tendons in order to enhance the muscle fibres ability to generate more tension and force production. (2)
You can incorporate plyometrics into your home workouts with exercises such as explosive press ups, plyo pull ups, jump squats, jumping lunges, knee tucks and burpees with max vertical jump.
When performing these exercises, you want to keep between 5-10 reps. Make sure you keep the eccentric portion of the movement controlled and then generate as much force as you can and aim to get as much air time as possible when you explode up from the bottom of each movement.
With training at home we don’t have access to heavy equipment, but we can still replicate the effort needed to move those heavy loads by incorporating isometric holds into our workouts. This can be done in one of two ways. Firstly by trying to move an immovable object and secondly by holding a weight whilst our muscle is in a contracted position, but without it lengthening or shortening.
Research shows that performing exercises in a sustained isometric contraction can have the same strength benefits as when the exercise is performed in a more standard training protocol. (3)
Exercises that can be performed using the “moving an immovable object” method
Press ups: holding the top position, whilst contracting as hard as possible and squeezing the hands down and inwards
Deadlifts: Place a towel under your feet and hold the ends in either hand. Drive downwards with your legs, pushing the ground away and keep your arms straight, holding for as long as possible, mimicking the initial part of a deadlift.
Side raises: Standing in the middle of a doorframe lift your arms out to the side and press as hard as possible against the doorframe.
In order to perform an isometric hold against a weight simply pick any exercise and hold the contracted position for as long as you can. Common exercise that use this principle are bicep curls, dumbbell rows, planks, bodyweight leg curls, and pull ups.
Blood Flow Restriction
BFR (or Occlusion training) requires wrapping a device such as a pressure cuff, band, knee wraps or strap around the top portion of the limb/s being trained in order to restrict the blood flow going out of the targeted muscle. The idea of BFR is to allow blood to enter the muscle, but not to let it leave, creating a pooling effect within the muscles cells, which has been shown to promote hypertrophy and strength when using lighter loads. (4)
The most common muscles groups that work with BFR are the arms and legs and require you to wrap at the top of each limb, with a discomfort level of 6/10 for arms and 7/10 for legs. If placed on too tight, then it can restrict blood flowing in to the muscle, which we definitely want to avoid.
When utilising Blood Flow Restriction training incorporate it into your training once per week and perform your chosen exercises (e.g. bicep curls, overhead tricep extensions, squats) as you normally would, just with a lighter weight.
Start off by performing 30 reps, then rest for 30 seconds, perform a further 15 reps, rest for 30 seconds and then finish with another 15 reps. Keep the wraps on for the whole 60 reps and rest periods. Repeat this through another 1-2 times and then continue with the remainder of your workout without the straps.
Working out at home maybe isn’t the most optimal way to increase our strength but with everything still in lockdown for the foreseeable future it’s what we have to work with. By incorporating the above techniques throughout our training week, then we should be able to walk back into the gym with a decent level of strength allowing us to pick up from where we left off with our workouts and goals.
- Mangine GT, Hoffman JR, Gonzalez AM, et al. The effect of training volume and intensity on improvements in muscular strength and size in resistance-trained men. Physiol Rep. 2015;3(8)
- Davies G, Riemann BL, Manske R. CURRENT CONCEPTS OF PLYOMETRIC EXERCISE. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2015;10(6):760–786.
- Myers NL, Toonstra JL, Smith JS, Padgett CA, Uhl TL. SUSTAINED ISOMETRIC SHOULDER CONTRACTION ON MUSCULAR STRENGTH AND ENDURANCE: A RANDOMIZED CLINICAL TRIAL. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2015;10(7):1015–1025.
- Lixandrão ME, Ugrinowitsch C, Berton R, Vechin FC, Conceição MS, Damas F, Libardi CA, Roschel H. Magnitude of Muscle Strength and Mass Adaptations Between High-Load Resistance Training Versus Low-Load Resistance Training Associated with Blood-Flow Restriction: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis, Sports Medicine, 2018 Feb;48(2)