How To Prevent Muscle Loss & Possibly Gain Some At Home
You may have heard it’s easier to maintain than to actually progress, and that’s true.
This is a common observation from people and something we can understand intuitively from our life experiences.
Most people can go about casually doing things (beyond just the fitness scope) and stay at a relatively similar level of ability; but to actually make progress, we usually need to step up and increase our efforts.
For fitness, we use the principle of progressive overload: doing more than the prior session/training block and repeating the process over again. If you do this consistently and in an intelligent format, you should be able to make progress.
But what happens when you can’t do what you were doing before? For example, a world wide pandemic happens and you are required to stay in your home and can’t go about your regular routine.
If relegated to just bodyweight exercises, will you shrivel up, become weak and frail? Will you lose all your efforts and gains? Will you be set back weeks, months, years of grinding?
2912 – approximately how many times I’ve worked out in my life.
Four times a week, 52 weeks a year, 14 years.
*Let’s be clear, I’ve missed a workout or two, but I’ve also trained 5 times a week for a good portion of that, so it equals out (or it’s higher).
During that time, I’ve almost always had access to a gym or weights of some kind. There’s been the odd stretch of a few days or a week where I had to make do with just body weight, go Rocky IV style and train with trees and farm equipment.
Outside of those instances though, fortunately, I’ve never really been limited from an access point. Then, much like all of you, my life took a huge turn as COVID came and absolutely smashed that and flipped my life upside down.
At first I was at home, nothing more than a few bands, and my household items, trying to figure out how to get a good session in. I was digging deep and channeling my inner Macgyver to figure out how to workout and not just do the same boring, limited movements.
That led to me developing our upcoming Citizen Athletics Home Muscle Building Program which utilizes nothing more than common household items (watch out for it being released next week).
Surprisingly, at least to me, there are some really hard (like really hard) bodyweight movements that aren’t just calisthenics tricks – yes I’m looking at you human flag.
Exercises like deficit underhand push ups and sissy squats don’t take a lot of skill to perform, but can bring the challenge many need to help stimulate them like a heavy set of bench press or squats to maintain their gains.
However, you might be asking “are these movements enough to maintain my strength and muscle mass? Is it possible for them to actually make me stronger or get some hypertrophy?”
These are valid questions and concerns to have – I know they’ve circulated in my head.
If we consider what it takes to build muscle and strength, it’s easier to tackle this question.
When we workout, we challenge our muscles to contract. Through this, we stimulate the mechanisms of hypertrophy:
Collectively these function to drive a cascade of reactions that lay down new muscle tissue, increasing our cross-sectional area of our muscle (how big it is). This is particularly effective when our body has a surplus of protein substrates present for it to utilize. When we have both a stimulus encouraging the mechanisms for hypertrophy to occur, and sufficient substrates, then we have hypertrophy occur.
Through this act, we also stimulate strength adaptations to happen. This is from a combination of different means, most notably increasing motor unit coordination and the actual increase in cross sectional area itself.
For anyone who wants more info on this, check out this video we made on the topic:
Our body is very smart, if it doesn’t think we need something, it will stop supporting it. This is exactly what we see happen to muscle mass.
When people go on bed rest, or are placed into a cast, there is a drastic reduction in stimulus, we no longer encourage those mechanisms of hypertrophy.
Due to this, atrophy occurs, and it can occur fast.
In the case of bed rest or immobilization, those people start to see serious drops in muscle mass within one month. This loss in muscle mass isn’t quite like losing everything you’ve done as we do often retain strength longer than size, indicating that we keep much of the neurological side of things and a lot of the contractile adaptations.
It’s probably for these reasons that we see a quick increase in muscle mass when someone returns back to mechanical loading after a time off.
When quarantine first started, I had so many people write me and tell me how they were going to get absolutely shredded from quarantine. All day to workout, bust out home workouts all day long and just get absolutely cut up.
From seeing instagram stories, doesn’t seem like that’s panned out for too many people.
We’ve written previously about the challenges of training right now. It’s hard enough to go and workout for a lot of people, let alone when you take away all of their habitual triggers, it can be really challenging.
In our recent blog we outlined why you should be training during quarantine – discussing the mental and general health side of things – not so much the aesthetics.
However, aesthetics are relevant for many people and it’s worth discussing. There are a lot of people out there who have spent a considerable amount of time grinding and working for their physique and don’t want to lose it while isolating at home.
So what can you realistically do?
We outlined above that hypertrophy occurs when we have sufficient mechanical tension and protein balance.
When it comes to maintaining, it’s the same thing, we just don’t need quite as much of each.
This doesn’t change whether you can leave home or not, so we need to figure out a means to get this at home.
The first part of that equation, mechanical tension, comes from an effective home workout. This is something we’ve been discussing a lot recently and next week we are going to be really digging into.
At its core, you need to get into challenging effective reps, that encourage your muscles to maintain – or increase in size and strength. This doesn’t mean do a workout that gets your lungs burning, we aren’t looking for cardio.
Most of the home workouts we’ve seen people post about are more towards cardio than strength & hypertrophy. If your goal is to keep your muscle mass, then we need to ensure that. Next week we will break this down specifically with lots of practical tips.
The second thing we need is sufficient protein intake. This hasn’t changed from before, so make sure to figure out ways to keep it up.
M&M’s and bite size brownies are delicious, but they’re not going to be delivering the amino acids our muscles are looking for.
If you’ve fallen off your regular diet, totally understandable, but it’s time to try and get back on track and start doing what you need to to not get set back.
For most people, eating about 0.7 to 1 gram per pound of body weight is ideal for protein intake. This is based off of people who do challenging resistance training, so if you’re not in that category, then feel free to eat less – but I’m not sure why you’d be reading this, so safe to say everyone reading this should be in that range.
Being in lockdown is hard, but we will get through this and making choices now that will pay off later is going to be really beneficial. Try to focus on the long term and maintain – or progress – to the best of your abilities.
Catch you all next week with some practical training tips!