During this section, I am going to assume that you are a strength or power athlete, and you don’t have access to what you would typically utilize in a full strength and conditioning program. We discussed in the last article that you will need to shift focus onto some other goals since we can’t train meaningfully for the goals we would normally train for. If you are a powerlifter, weightlifter, or strongman, there isn’t anything you can do meaningfully to further your specific performance unless you're lucky enough to have a well kitted out home gym or you're a gym owner who has locked themselves down.
That is why I am pushing towards more of a conditioning and general fitness approach to my training over the coming period. My goal is to push my cardiovascular fitness and to lose bodyweight. If you are reading this recently (as I write this, it's March 28, 2020) and you want to follow along, I am keeping my training log on Instagram. Just search @castironstrength.
In more depth, this article will share how you can set up your training to make sure you can transition more successfully into your normal training routine when the time finally comes.
We are going to make assumptions on access to kit. We are going to assume you either have access to:
- No kit (so all you have is what is lying around the house: maybe a backpack full of books or water or some tins of paint) but only your bodyweight and space to work with.
- Limited kit: Maybe some dumbbells, bands, kettlebells, and maybe you are lucky enough to have a barbell and some very light weights.
- Light home gym setup: barbell, rack, perhaps a bench, and enough weight to do meaningful intensity at higher rep ranges (8-12+).
What Should I Do?
It isn’t the end of the world for you to lose some adaptation during this apocalypse. With the competition schedule out to pasture for 2020, it is unlikely that you are going to have to come out of this in fighting shape ready to set all-new time bests in competition. So what we are looking to do is to develop some more general physical qualities that are going to put us in better stead for the upcoming training and competing season. You can look at this as an actual offseason. Powerlifters and lifters call their hypertrophy training or their volume blocks an offseason or off-season training when in fact, they are still training their sport indirectly. What they are doing is more analogous to a pre-season.
Getting the Definitions Straight
I am going to put the following in terms more commonly used in team sports and other Olympic sports that are more established with a better-defined calendar of events. This is a bit of shoehorning for lifting. Still, I am doing it deliberately as I want you to disassociate yourself with your usual habits. Read the following in a new light so you can see this as perhaps an opportunity rather than a shit fight.
Off-season (Rest): A period of time where you are deliberately staying away from your sport and sports training. An off-season allows mental rest and recovery. This may include a period of de-training for maybe 1-3 weeks where we are deliberately allowing your body to lose some adaptation, to lose a bit of specific fitness to rest you mentally and physically. The goal for the first period is to allow you to want to train again. After a big focused period of training and competing, burn out is a pretty natural response, so to stop further burnout and stagnation, we take 1-3 weeks to do what you want and to allow a more sedentary pace of life if that’s what you desire. During this period, the only thing you really don’t want to do is to put on too much fat as it will just make the following periods of training more difficult than they need to be.
Off-Season (Pre-Pre season): Depending on the length of the off-season, you are going to need to engage in some physical training as we want to kick on in the pre-season and get fitter and stronger than we ever have been. So to do this, we need to come into the next period of training in reasonable physical shape. We can look at the lockdown as our forced offseason. So, after taking a week or two to just adjust to the new reality of the situation and to allow yourself to acclimatize mentally, we should begin to engage in exercise that is more structured and targeted towards the adaptations we want to pursue in our pre-season training. The frequency, intensity, and volume of work should be lesser than you intend to perform in your pre-season.
For lifters, we should be looking to:
- Maintain strength and force production with equipment available.
- Maintain mass with equipment available.
- Try and enhance fitness and muscular endurance to lay the ground for future more specific training blocks.
Pre-Season: When you get back into a full lifting program, you can use the groundwork we are setting in the following period of training to put in more work than normal and to set the groundwork for bigger and better things. We want to be coming into the next volume- or hypertrophy-focused training block (your pre-season) in better physical shape. You want to be more robust in general so you can handle higher volumes and intensities than we have been able to in the past.
In-Season (Competitions): This is the time of the year when you are moving from important competitions to less important competitions and how you schedule your time in between. This usually is when powerlifters consider “peaking.” Normally the training is specific to the sport, and you are overreaching either volume or intensity constantly. If we manage to follow this structure, we should be entering into this period with better fitness and more muscle mass than we have done in the past. This should lead to better outcomes than we are used to.
Henneman’s size principle describes relationships between properties of motor neurons and the muscle fibers they innervate and thus control, which together are called motor units. Motor neurons with large cell bodies tend to innervate fast-twitch, high-force, less fatigue-resistant muscle fibers. In contrast, motor neurons with small cell bodies tend to innervate slow-twitch, low-force, fatigue-resistant muscle fibers. To contract a particular muscle, motor neurons with small cell bodies are recruited (i.e., begin to fire action potentials) before motor neurons with large cell bodies. Elwood Henneman proposed it (Wikipedia 2020).
Size principle maintains that we can recruit all of our motor neurons in a muscle either by:
- High force output (maximal strength, i.e., 1RM squat or bench press).
- High velocity (maximal sprinting, jumping or throwing).
- Training to failure (concentric typically but also eccentric in the case of some bodybuilding programs).
It is the training of activating the muscle in this manner that leads to adaptation in strength, power, size, and speed. It is also what our standard training is based around.
However, without the ability to train the movements specifically, we need to use size principal to our advantage. We should be looking to use training at maximal velocities, and to failure, in the muscle groups and movements, we use in our sport.
Setting Up Your Training Outside of the Gym
Now hopefully, we have an idea where this training could fit in the wider picture of our periodization. We can start filling in some details as to how we are going to achieve this based on the equipment we have available.
Training goals (reiterating these goals, so we have it in our mind when we go further into the detail) of how to:
- Maintain strength and force production with equipment available.
- Maintain mass with equipment available.
- Try and enhance fitness and muscular endurance to lay the ground for future specific training blocks.
Implementation of Goals
Maintain Force Production - Power, Ballistic Training, and Plyometrics
The main goal of our training is to be as strong in the competition lifts. In our sports, this obviously varies if you are a strongman, powerlifter, weightlifter or CrossFitter. We would normally use external load (i.e., weights) in the exercises we want to get better at—the relevant exercises and events over anything else in training. When you don’t have access to high external loads (i.e., a barbell and weights), then training for maximal strength is pretty much impossible. So we should forget about that as a direct outcome of our training for the time being. What we can do however, is to train at maximal velocities using jumping, sprinting, and throwing to our advantage.
To use this training style, we need to use maximal intension EVERY time we do a rep. Once we are outside of warming up and we are doing an effort, every single effort we do should be with maximal intention. We are trying to use as much neural drive as we can every time (try and fire as many motor neurons and activate as much muscle mass as we can). We aren’t going to get any positive adaptation using this kind of training if we aren’t trying as hard as we can. This means:
- When we jump, we try and jump as high or as far as we can every single rep.
- If we are throwing, we try to throw for the maximal amount of height or distance we can every single time we throw an implement.
- If we are sprinting, it is a maximal effort to try and move across the distance we are covering.
- Frequency of Training: 1-3x per week. Minimal time between sessions should be 48 hours.
- Intensity of Training: 90-100% of maximal effort for every working rep and set.
- Exercises: 3-5 per session.
- Reps:1-10 per set.
- Sets: 1-5 per workout each exercise
- Rest: Total rest between sets. 3-5 minutes between each effort. If you want to make the session a bit more time-efficient, you can alternate upper body or lower body efforts.
Vertical Force Production (useful to help maintain squat, clean, jerk, snatch and throwing adaptations):
- Squat jumps (weighted and unweighted)
- Vertical jumps for height
- Hurdle jumps
- Repeat vertical efforts
- Box jumps
- Single leg vertical jump variations
- Push press or Jerk variations
- Overhead throws
- Throws for height
- Sprint efforts (30-100m)
- Horizontal Force Production
- Broad jumps
- Single leg bounds
- Sprint efforts (0-30 meters)
- Hill sprints
- Sled sprints
- Throw for height overhead
- Throw for distance (overhead)
- Upper Body Efforts
- Plyometric press-ups (clap press up, plyometric press up variations)
- Bench throws
- Chest throws (standing from static position for distance)
For sessions like this, we want to make sure we are taking our time to warm up, and session preparation is thorough as there is a real injury threat, especially from sprint efforts if you aren’t adapted to this kind of training. In the next part of this article, we will talk more in-depth about the other two kinds of training you can look to do in these coming weeks and how you can implement the whole thing into a training plan that will be more engaging and effective than just doing stuff x a bunch.
Header image courtesy of zabelin © 123rf.com
Marc Keys is a strength and conditioning coach and business owner. Marc's current full-time job is running Cast Iron Strength—a strength and conditioning online service and training facility in Edinburgh Scotland where he delivers strength and conditioning coaching both in-person and online to over 100 powerlifters, strongman athletes, weightlifters, and athletes from many other sports. Before opening his facility and moving to Cast Iron Strength full-time, Marc worked in professional rugby from 2013 - 2017 with Scotland and Edinburgh rugby. Prior to working in professional sport, Marc worked for the Scotland Institute of Sport where he was involved in the physical preparation of around 60 Olympic and commonwealth athletes from over 20 different sports, many of whom went to medal for Team Scotland or Great Britain. As a powerlifter, Marc has been lifting in the IPF for twelve years. He has competition best raw lifts of 645-pound squat, 465-pound bench press, and 675-pound deadlift at a bodyweight of 248 pounds. Marc also holds a master's degree in strength and conditioning and a bachelor's degree in sports science. If you would like to contact Marc, email speedpowerperformance@