… By Barry Oglesby, aged 41 and a half.
They’re everywhere. They won’t stop uploading! They’re on Yoga mats on patios, and in living rooms hugging their dogs! They’ve all got rubber bands! They’re telling me to lift cans of beans! They won’t leave me alone!
That’s right- personal trainers are everywhere.
So what else is there to do but add some more chaff? Here’s my contribution to the COVID-19 home workout routines.
I have been asked to detail my home training and what I’ve been doing to keep fit and sane here at home. I probably live much like you do, none of us are doing much, but actually in the 8 weeks since our gym closed, I’ve become considerably fitter and stronger. I’m larger in the muscular sense of the word, and although I’m not in the single digit bodyfat percentage, I am staying reasonably lean despite the absence of non-exercise activity and nice cooking and drinking more regularly than I normally would.
If you’re working out at home, by the way, and can’t figure out why there’s still blubber gathering at the midriff, it may be unrelated to diet and exercise. Your lifestyle has likely changed from a reasonably active person who gets up, walks to the bus stop (or the car door), climbs up steps to work, walks around from desk to desk, crawls under machinery, to someone who walks from the kitchen to the garden to the couch. That’s a lot of excess calories that you would have burned just by living a normal day that are hanging around. Adjust accordingly, or don’t, according to your preference.
So here we go. Here’s my plan. Follow it to the letter! Or don’t! Or cherry pick some bits you like! Or don’t take any! These are unprecedented times, I keep being told. This is the new normal! Eat cake in bed! Walk your cat! Paint your trousers! It’s up to you!
The new normal!
I am disciplined but I struggle like everyone. Staying within your four walls leading, essentially, a life free of purpose in a glorified waiting room, takes its toll on everyone. You doubtless feel demotivated or lazy at stages through the day. You probably feel even less motivated and more lazy once you fail to exercise. It’s a vicious circle. A cruel, self fulfilling, self destructive prophecy.
My current philosophy is called “Every Damn Day”. You might be wondering why I called it that. Well, you see, I came up with the term using my higher primate mammalian brain’s language centre. That’s about all there is to say about that except that mottos or mantras are helpful in keeping to structures that require personal discipline and struggle. Saying Every Damn Day helps me to train every day and not say things that can become unconscious mantras like “Oh I’ll do that tomorrow”.
My goals are to improve my conditioning and to build or maintain muscle. I have rarely if ever had the opportunity to do so with so much rest and recovery time available. Usually, a hard conditioning session would have to be followed by 2 days before I would lift any weights again because Jiu Jitsu training would be my priority in the interim, and I’d want to make sure I wasn’t exhausted by that. But now, with no actual training to go to, I’m able to recover by sitting on my backside in the sun and eating copious amounts of food. I can manage my meals much better as I’m not snacking on the go or running out the door to classes or school collections.
The days are filled by 3 types of session. High Intensity Interval Training, aka HIIT, Resistance training with the goal of muscular hypertrophy, and Low Intensity cardio. I have access to home equipment that I’ll detail below, but the kit is just kit. I don’t “do kettlebells” for example, I use them as a tool for strength or HIIT training.
What I’ve got is:
A Concept 2 rower
A weighted vest (20kg max)
Gym rings slung over a kid’s swing set
A pull up bar
A 12kg kettlebell
2 resistance bands- 1 heavy, 1 light
Push up handles
Alright, the C2 in particular is a big plus, but the other bits are easy to get or even made. Ross Enamait has some high quality material on stuff you can make for home training. I would say that a pull up bar is a must. Get a doorway one if you can’t get outdoors. A kettlebell or two is also a tremendous purchase as a really flexible piece of kit that you can do a lot of types of training with.
Right so, for strength training I split my body parts in 3 in a classic, old school, traditional bodybuilding style session. Upper Body Push aka Chest and Triceps
Lower Body aka leg day
Upper Body Pull aka Back and Biceps
The format is-
1) big compound exercise (weighted as much as possible within limits)
2) Assistance exercises
3) Isolation Exercises
4) Trunk training or conditioning to finish. I don’t say abs because no one who trains seriously cares about abs. They’re for underpants models. And I don’t say core because I’m sick of the word core. Core this, core that, activate your core here, this core band will train your core. No more core. Say it with me! No more core! Trunk is fine. Or call it what you want I don’t care.
Then I do 1 long interval row, 1 middle distance fast row, 1 HIIT session with the kettlebell, and about 5 or 6 walks of at least 45 minutes every week.
That’s the bones of it, and if you found that boring enough, you can sod off back to Instagram now to see what a girl in leggings is doing (She’s doing squats. They’re all doing squats). If you want more detail, hang around a bit.
There are two guidelines I use when weight is limited and you want to increase difficulty. If you want to make it big, go slower, and if you want to make it fast, go faster. You’ll get some of both effects anyway, every exercise exists on the same spectrum, but generally speaking in the limited environment in which we’re operating, a good rule of thumb is slow for bulk, fast for speed. As a quick example, a push up can be done very slowly or very explosively to very different effects. Jumping is something I use a lot for the lower body, but equally super slow squats or pistols are still going to build strength in the absence of a barbell.
So here’s a week in my training life right now-
Upper body push workout. My big compound here is the ring push up using the weighted vest,using the minus 1 protocol of leaving a rep in the tank each set until I get to 5 reps. Then I go for other pushes like incline push ups and direct tricep and shoulder work before finishing with about 200 reps of trunk work.
Tonight it’s hell on the rower for HIIT. 8x1000m intervals with active rest in between. You could do this with cycling or Fartlek style running. Essentially 4 minutes hard with a 2 minute easy period.
Lower body is the hardest to strength train without a barbell. I’m using the weighted vest for squats initially, then pistols, and I follow it up with jump training and explosive work. More trunk to follow, this time weighted and lower rep with twists as the main movement.
A long, easy distance on the rower for recovery. 12km was last week’s but I’ll vary this. For this one, I wear the heart rate monitor and keep an eye on it trying to keep around 130bpm. This is my dullest session so I listen to a podcast to switch off.
Back and biceps! The big compound is pull ups, which I don’t need to weight too much any more because I seem to have gained a little gravity the past few weeks. Then I do some more rowing and pulling before 3 bicep exercises for my vanity and then high rep trunk work. I usually finish out here with some kettlebell work for about 20 minutes, just playing around with it, swings, get ups, anything really.
Short distance, high intensity row. 5k usually. Heart rate in the high 170s for the entire pull.
Kettlebell HIIT. Here I do intervals with the bell in circuit fashion for 3 blocks of 10 mins with a 3 minute rest between. Usually something like a complex for the 10 mins, then a 30 on, 30 off 10 minute block, and I like to finish with 10 minutes of high intensity movements that replicate Jiu Jitsu somewhat. Sit thrus, get ups and so on. That last one is to keep me sane.
And then every day, or almost every day- Stretching, or mobility, and walking. I walk the dog or I might just go to the park with the kids. Or I’ll stretch in front of the TV or do a 10 minute yoga thing of my own design or that I pull from YouTube.
Now that sounds like I live like a monk, but I can assure you I do not. My diet is sub-optimal, and I enjoy a beer a few evenings at the weekend, which is from Wednesday to Sunday now I think. I drink coffee like it’s going out of fashion and if there’s cake, and I’m within a 20 metre radius and not under concealment, pretty soon there will no longer be cake. This is the rule.
But I do it Every Damn Day, as I may have mentioned before. Routine, structure, and discipline are more important now than ever, and the mental side effects of this fallow period for us are feelings of stress, anxiety, or perhaps hopelessness. These are relieved by vigorous exercise almost immediately, and exacerbated by it’s absence. I strongly believe that if you can maintain or build discipline in times of trial, then you will carry the ability into happier periods. Smooth seas make crappy sailors, as the saying sort of goes.
Oh, and one more thing. I never beat myself up for missing a session. I just pick up where I left off. That’s important. Actually that’s very important. I probably should have made this entire thing about that, but it’s too late now. A friend of mine works with severely obese people in a clinical capacity, and one of the things he has to deal with is breaking patterns of behaviour around eating. One such pattern he’s described to me previously is that when someone with eating issues opens a packet of biscuits and eats one, they then say “Oh I’ve broken my diet! Now I should just quit my entire diet and go back to eating everything I used to”, instead of saying “Shit. Okay. Just a biccy. Stay the course.” I’m probably not doing this important behavioural psychology concept justice by using terms like “Shit, just a biccy” but you may recognise this in yourself.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is my training life without Jiu Jitsu. I like it, actually. Not as much as I liked my old one, but I have definitely learned some things in the past week that I’ll be carrying into this New Normal, or into the post-vaccine world should it arrive. Not everything about the current situation is terrible. Listening to birdsong, clearer skies, cleaner air, and more time to sit and talk or play with my family is certainly something I’m thankful for. I’ll be keeping some of my new habits.