Updated: Jul 25, 2021
So your gym has been closed and now you’re stuck to the confines of your home. The idea of lost gains and all your hard earned muscle melting away begins to creep into your head. You dig around in your basement and you find that 20 pound Dumbbell you bought 5 years ago to prop open your front door to make it easier to unload groceries from your car, head to your computer, and pick one of the million free at home workouts available to follow. Maybe it involves some circuits, maybe you have to get creative with a couch or your doorframe, maybe it focuses on you doing hundreds of pushups every day. Whatever it is, it’s better than nothing. For some these may be some of the hardest workouts of their lives, leaving them in pools of sweat, gasping for breath on their living room floors. Assuredly, if the workout was hard, and you get sore, you must be doing enough to keep al; that muscle….right? Well a few weeks of doing the same workouts goes by and you start to get bored as these workouts get easier and easier. With the self quarantine advisement end date getting pushed further and further back, you start to question your sanity. “How many more times can I squat this couch? Is my sack of rice for front squatting heavier than my bag of potatoes? Eventually the monotony of curling you dining room chair catches up to you and you abandon ship, instead choosing to focus on the memories of the gym and hoping it's enough to keep you in shape. With the fitness community stepping up to the plate and offering more free at home programs than there are confirmed Covid-19 cases, it has been a large eye opener for many as to what you can actually accomplish without any equipment. I think the simplicity of these programs leaves many to lose focus on one major component of programming: a progressive model. Getting a workout and following it over and over again, walking away drenched in sweat, is a good way to maintain your level of fitness, to a point. We have to start thinking long game here! We are being told that this quarantine could last well into the Summer months. This means 3+ months with no gym access. Like most fitness enthusiasts, you probably cringe at the idea of not making progress for ¼ of a year. What follows are several methods of progression you can implement to your choice of at home workout to keep your body being forced to adapt! The basic premise of overload is still in play, and when you can't just slap 5 more pounds on a bar, you have to get creative. I'll warn you, some of these methods are brutal! They may cause insurmountable amounts of soreness and discomfort. Luckily, most of us are doing little more than sleeping in and laying on the couch trying to complete Netflix….like all of it. So grab your heaviest bag of rice and lets get started! The Density Method The Density Method is simple in premise, brutal in execution. It requires that you do more work in the same amount of time, or the same amount of work in less time. An example of this may be setting a clock and doing as many reps of push ups as possible in 20 minutes. You may do sets to failure, sets to 5, however you want to break it up is up to you, but just make sure you record the number of reps you get and don't go over the time frame. Now the next time you come back to this workout, try to add no more than a minimum of 1 rep to that total in that same 20 min time cap. Now you're probably reading this thinking that one more rep won't be so hard, and that's true, but after a few workouts doing this you’ll quickly be shaking your pecs out trying to clear just enough of your massive pump away so you can squeeze one more rep in before that timer goes off. If you reach a tipping point where you can no longer get more reps in you could make the time block longer, or you could focus on mini goals in the same time limit. How many can you get done in the first 5 minutes of the 20 minute block, how about just doing sets of 10 and seeing how many sets of 10 you can get done. Or you can begin to combine other methods I am going to mention here and get creative. The real key is having something to beat every time the workout comes along. Increasing Range of Motion Work is force times distance. Since we can’t increase the force in our exercises through load, lets make our muscles “work” more by making them move that load further. This method is two fold as it not only makes the exercise more difficult, but allows you to work on increasing your active range of motion and mobility, something most people should be focusing on with all this free time anyways. Again super simple, make the range of motion you are doing you exercise in bigger. Can do 50 pushups in a row with your chest to the ground? Great! Put your hands on some books stacked 2 inches high and try it, still making sure your chest touches every rep. The muscles will be under greater stretch and tension. Mastered Bulgarian split squats with your foot on your couch? Awesome! Prop that front foot up on some books and try to make you back knee touch the ground every rep! You probably have the idea. Just make your exercise harder by making it longer. Just make sure not to negate the effect by cheating! You can continue to overload with this method by making the range of motion longer and longer, however at some point the exercise may become unsafe, so combine it with other progressive models to continue! Tempo Nothing makes a goblet squat with an 8Kg bag of rice feel heavier than adding some tempos into it. Lengthening the eccentric and concentric phase while adding some pauses in at either end is a sure fire way to make your muscle feel like they are taking a bath in battery acid. Increasing the time your muscles have to continuously contract is going to increase the occluded effect leaving you with a pump so big people are going to notice it even while they are secluded in the safety of their own homes. This incredibly humbling means of torture is simple. Slow down the movements you're already doing. Pick a cadence that you can reliably keep in your head and try to keep the speed of your movements in sync. 3 count negative, 2 count pause in the stretch, and a 3 count lift with no rest at the top is sure to make even the greatest pushup master wish they took up a different hobby. You can get creative with this, even adding a really long eccentric at the end of your sets (think 20,30, 40 or even longer). You can try to get more reps with the same tempo, lengthen the tempo, or try to beat the end set eccentrics as ways of marking progression. Volume… and more Volume! Sometimes more is better, and in the case of low load calisthenic exercises it usually is. You don't necessarily need to get super creative with you at home exercises to get results. Sure pushups and lunges can get boring, but they work! So if you don't want to get fancy, just stick with the basics and do a lot of them. Not like 50 reps a lot, like 500 a lot. Or at least in that ball park. I am not, I repeat NOT, saying go out and do a 500 rep push up workout. That is just an example of where volume could be for some individuals. I am saying if you have been doing 50 pushups in your workout, try 75. If that gets easy then go to 100, only progressing if your form stays true for all these reps. If you are more advanced you may need 300,400,500 reps to get some sort of growth stimulus with this. With smaller numbers I may advise taking your sets to muscular failure, while shooting for bigger numbers may be more achievable by stopping just short of failure. Whatever the case, strive for crazy high numbers over time and you’ll elicit some good gains! This method would work really well when combined with Density Training. Up your frequency With minimal equipment, the bro split may not be ideal. Switching to a routine where you are alternating upper and lower, or a full body plan, may be required to hit the volume needed with bodyweight exercises to stave off muscle loss. It may mean going from training 3 days a week to 5 if you have the time and motivation. Now, again, I am not saying jump into 300 pushups a day as that is a really good way to get injured...but slowly add a day here, or workout a muscle group twice in a week instead of once, adding a third workout in a couple weeks down the road. You could even undulate your workouts with the methods above. Monday you focus on density doing as many pushups and lunges as you can in two 20 minute blocks, Wednesday you use some variations of these with a longer range of motion, and on Friday it's slow and steady with some Tempo work. Not only does this keep things interesting, but it makes progress more manageable with options vs doing the same thing over and over again. Conclusion The main point of this whole article wasn’t necessarily the methods presented, but to highlight the fact that employing some version of progression is key while we are stuck in doors. So whatever kind of plan you are on, try to make sure your workouts are progressively more challenging week to week. I hope this article gave you some ideas of how to do that!