I was halfway through my first official powerlifting program when the coronavirus hit and gyms closed indefinitely.
For four weeks straight, I trained for six days a week following the hypertrophy phase of my program, which meant performing the same grueling sets back to back with a progressive overload of weight. In this phase, the focus is on building up muscle — and I had built up a sizable amount.
The second phase in my program was the strength/peak portion. This has a focus on heavier lifting and going for maxes, or what I refer to as the fun part of the program.
Coming to an abrupt stop was frustrating. I was not going to be able to lift the personal bests that I had been conditioning my body to hit. A gym hiatus also meant I was likely to lose a lot of the strength, and some of the muscle, I had worked so long and hard to gain.
In an effort to salvage my gains, I had to adapt my workouts to what I had access to at home: a 20 lb barbell, four 10 lb plates, four 5 lb plates, two 5 lb dumbbells and one 10 lb dumbbell. Considering I was previously working sets of at least 145 lbs on squat, 75 lbs on bench and 225 lbs on deadlift, this adjustment was a big one.
My priorities shifted from building up muscle and strength to maintaining the muscle I had built, staying within the SBD movements, increasing my mobility and, as with all of my fitness endeavors, taking care of my physical and mental health.
For my workouts, I took the exercises I was doing with free weights and increased the reps to compensate for the lighter load. For all the exercises I was performing on gym machines, I came up with variations using the weights available to me, such as the hip abduction movement. I now do this motion standing while holding a weight plate on the side of my leg.
I am constantly looking for new ways to stimulate my muscles and taking my sets to exhaustion.
On days where I feel like ditching the weight for something more fast-paced, I do at-home bodyweight circuits — some of my favorites come from YouTuber and Gymshark athlete Whitney Simmons.
I have also taken this time as an opportunity to work on my form for big lifts, which means practicing the movements and working on my flexibility. When I was on my official program, I often neglected working on my hip mobility. In quarantine, I have taken up a consistent stretching routine — doing so will allow me to perform better during my main lifts, especially my sumo deadlift, and will prepare me for my overall goals to lift heavier once I return to the bar.
While I accept that I might lose some of my strength, I do believe I’ll still be in good condition to start building up again once I am back on my program from my at-home training regimen and from muscle memory.
According to a 2011 study, when people reduced their training volume to as low as 1/9 of what they were doing before, they were able to maintain the muscle mass they had built for eight months. Whereas, those who had done no training at all lost all the muscle mass they built.
Contrary to my original belief, there may still be opportunity for me to build muscle.
A study conducted in 2017 showed that muscle retention and even building can be equally achieved across a spectrum of loading ranges, meaning progress can still be made with reduced training.
If you’re worried about losing your prior gains, remember: fitness is a journey, and setbacks like these are a part of the trip and will only make you stronger in the long term.
Cover image credit: Linn Lowes FitPlan’s