Pritchard: Tips for progressing your at-home fitness training
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Insanity is as they say “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result,” therefore, consistently training with the same stimulus expecting a different training result is insane. I believe that most people are aware of this and do their best to improve in the gym by way of progressive overload. Whether or not they understand the intricacies of a properly periodized program or how to most efficiently meet their goals, they do know that in order to get something they want, they’re going to have to do something they’ve never done before. That being said, the majority of people I know are also highly aware that they cannot continue to progress day in and day out, otherwise they would be the incredible hulk. That leaves one to ponder the question then, “How can I improve in an effective systematic fashion?”
Most people will answer the aforementioned question by either adding more sets/reps (volume), increasing their number of trips to the gym (frequency) or increasing the load they lift (intensity) in some organized fashion or another. This is much better than no plan at all, but as you can see it carries its own problems, particularly during the current state of society.
What happens when you can’t make more trips to the gym? When that gym’s not open and you don’t have access to heavier weight, how do you go about increasing your training load? Restricting yourself to these three methods of progressive overload can be extremely frustrating and limiting if they’re all you’ve got. It’s important to note that volume, frequency and intensity (load) are certainly the backbone of any successful training program that employs progressive overload, however, there are so many other ways one can alter their workout program in order to drive adaption. All it takes is a little creativity and thinking outside the box.
There are more strategies for inducing progressive overload than I can even manage to type, but below I’ve included a list of some that you can easily do from home with little to or no equipment at all.
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- Tempo: You can adjust the tempo of an exercise to induce different physiological responses. A slower eccentric contraction (lengthening of the muscle) will increase mechanical tension and metabolic stress of an exercise. An explosive concentric contraction (shortening of the muscle) will assist with rate of force development or power, and a pause at the bottom of an exercise (i.e. squats) can assist with postural stability.
- Changing exercises: Changing the exercises you perform is a simple way to progressively overload, particularly when you move to a more advanced progression. You could move from a regular body weight squat to a single leg pistol squat and instantly change the stimulus response of the movement pattern. Unilateral work will require greater stability and ultimately change the motor unit recruitment pattern. It is important not to change exercises simply for the sake of doing so however, and only progress when you’ve mastered the previous movement.
- Density: Training density simply refers to the amount of work you can get done in a given amount of time. One of my favorite ways to do this is by setting a timer (i.e. five minutes) and performing as many sets of push-ups and squats as I can within that given time frame. You can do this with nearly any exercise or series of movements and aim to do more work over a given amount of time. Most importantly, ensure that technique remains sound and your exercise selection is logical.
- Isometrics: Most people forget that isometrics are even an option within strength training. Isometric contractions are those that involve no change in muscle length, thus they are simple to execute. Notice I said simple, not easy, as isometrics can be extremely taxing. A movement I really like for at home isometrics is lying on the floor in a prone position with my arms spread out wide as if my body was making the shape of a “T.” From there, I’ll drive the palms of my hands as forcefully as I can into the floor for five to six seconds feeling a huge contraction in my chest then relax. I repeat that for a few sets and then move on to other similar types of isometric movements. The nice thing about these movements is that they require no equipment and assist in training maximal force production (strength), which is often the most difficult attribute to address while away from the gym.
- Drop sets: Drops sets are fantastic because they provide a way to tax an already fatigued muscle and increase the stimulus necessary for growth. Simply squatting a 50-pound kettlebell for as many reps as possible, immediately followed by a set of 20 body weight squats would be considered a drop set. There are numerous ways to incorporate this method, but the main benefit is that they bolster the response you are getting in a particular exercise without the need for greater loads.
There are multiple ways to progress in a training program beside the obvious methods we are all accustomed to. A creative at-home program with multiple different techniques can provide you the stimulus you may need to continue progressing and ensure you do not stall out. The list above is by no means exhaustive in terms of the options available for progressive overload, however they provide a solid starting place with which you can adapt your program for the time being with no gym available. Thanks for reading, as always.
Jimmy Pritchard has a bachelor’s of science in exercise science from Colorado Mesa University and is a certified strength and conditioning Ssecialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the director of strength and conditioning at Ski & Snowboard Club Vail. Contact him at 970-331-3513 or email@example.com. Check out his website at http://www.pritchardperformance.com.
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.