Home exercise advice to stay fit during the lockdown

Paul Myers MBA

If you're working out at home it’s time to learn the best approach

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As a competitive swimmer for almost 14 years, it wasn’t until the last 4 or 5 years of my sporting career that I learned how to train properly.

Knowing how to build strength as opposed to muscle mass is crucial for swimmers.

The reason for writing this article is that since I retired from swimming, I’ve witnessed so many people over the years training incorrectly. Working out constantly, with little gain, yet spending hours toiling every day.

How demoralizing this must be, wasting hours for little gain. By gain, I mean measurable results:

  • Increased strength
  • Reduced weight, and/or
  • Lean muscle

Below is an insight into the world of exercise from an athlete's point of view with five key takeaways.

Avoid the horror of bad technique while working-out

Walk into any gym, anywhere in the world and you’ll see men (mostly), overweight, doing dozens of bicep curls in ignorant bliss that big biceps will negate the fact that a 40-plus inch waist isn’t damaging. It is.

No amount of this ego-massaging and inches added to your biceps will ever compensate.

I also noticed skinny men doing likewise, the inverse, working chest muscles without ever glancing at the squat rack or chin-up bar where anyone will gain more lean muscle than all other routines in the gym together.

This applies to everyone.

Meanwhile, the overweight guy spins on a cross-trainer for 45–60 minutes every day; what’s worse he leans on the support-handles (with his elbows) transferring his entire body weight.

A complete waste of time and effort.

The perceived gain is water loss (through sweat), soon regained after hydration.

Bad workout form is hard to watch

I find it hard to standby and say nothing. Fair enough, a raised heart rate is perceived by most as a health benefit —but is this true?

Being overweight puts pressure on your heart anyway. So raising your heart rate while remaining overweight as you age is actually more damaging.

“If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got”—Abraham Lincoln

Doing hours on a treadmill, hundreds of half-crunches, lifting heavy-weight with bad form, is counterproductive.

Period.

It's energy-sapping too.

My point is that the aforementioned are fruitless if you wish to gain strength, lean balanced muscle.

Evolution of human anatomy

Our bodies are incredible machines and our muscles are highly intelligent.

Muscles have an incredible memory.

Repeating the same thing over and over causes your body to adapt — it’s a normal physiological function. When your body adapts it has learned to be more efficient in order to conserve energy.

An evolutionary fact that’s preserved our survival.

What’s more, pounding your joints or isolating muscles over time can lead to wear and tear, even injury. To avoid the natural evolutionary conditioning we must shock our bodies, yes ‘shock’. I don’t mean impact or torture by means of a stun-gun, that’s just neurotic. To shock is to keep your body guessing, changing movement randomly — planned of course.

This type of training intercepts what we’re genetically predisposed to, bypassing millions of years of evolution.

This article is enriched by the lessons that I learned while training as an elite athlete. Tips to share with those working out at home during Covid-19.

So let’s begin.

Lesson № 1—To build lean muscle, you need to build strength

Strength is not proportional to muscle mass and vice versa. It takes a lot of energy and effort to build and preserve muscles.

Big muscles are metabolically expensive.

There’s a reason why Bodybuilders wake throughout the night to eat a protein meal, every three hours. This is the cost of muscle mass. Ironically, your body will resist building big muscles due to the metabolic cost.

If muscles need to develop to carry out specific tasks, they will grow accordingly, as long as you provide sufficient fuel and nutrition.

For example, a swimmer develops triceps, shoulders, lateral and oblique muscles as a direct result of the most important muscles to increase propulsion through the water.

Similarly, a sprint cyclist or speed-skater will build quadriceps.

Lean muscle growth through increased strength was always the goal at the gym or in the pool. Swimmers compensate overworked muscles in the pool on dryland — training in the gym for muscle balance. For example:

  • 15 Chin-ups (or deadlifts)
  • 15 dips
  • 15 oblique press-ups
  • 1-minute rest and repeat 4 times

All the good things you want from strength training come from building leaner, stronger, more powerful muscles. Muscles help control weight due to our bodies’ natural metabolic processes.

Resistance training burns calories for up to 48 hours.

Also, lean muscle growth and maintenance slows the ageing process, defends against injury, increases stamina, and as a bonus, libido.

Lesson № 2—Use your body the way it was designed

Okay, I have to admit that swimming is unnatural for us humans. We are dry-land mammals after all. Our bodies have evolved over millions of years, developing to accomplish crucial tasks:

  • Running
  • Jumping
  • Throwing
  • Climbing
  • Twisting
  • Hitting
  • Pushing
  • Pulling
  • Twisting
  • Lifting
  • lunging
  • Squatting

So our natural body movements can create dozens of exercises aligned with natural actions. Exercises we can do at home during a lockdown.

Now for the next lesson.

Lesson № 3—Coordinate, don't isolate

Working muscles in isolation have a place, such as learning the basics of training. However, the average person in a gym gains little by doing biceps curls, leg extensions or lat pulldowns over and over.

It may seem intuitively wrong to most people but If you want bigger biceps, why wouldn’t you repeat bicep curls?

If you refer back to lesson #1, your muscles were never intended to work in isolation. Therefore exercising them in that way is a poor investment of your valuable time and energy.

If you want more out of your workout in less time in the gym (or home) then you must do something differently. Too many people devote hours, weight lifting, focusing on isolating muscles.

This is a mistake.

The solution is simple. Stop doing exercises in isolation and start doing movements that your body was designed for.

Lesson № 4 —‘Seven’ is the magic number

Let me introduce a new concept made up of seven movements. Seven, fundamental movements that I call the Essential Seven, as follows:

  1. Dead-lift
  2. Squat
  3. Lunge
  4. Push
  5. Pull
  6. Twist, and
  7. Core

All these engage the body’s major muscle groups in a coordinated fashion, by design, again what your body was built for.

You see to use your biceps in isolation, for example, is redundant in practical instances unless your surrounding muscles are proportionally as strong.

Let’s say you’re in a life and death situation such as a tsunami or flood and you need to lift yourself quickly out of harm’s way, would you curl yourself up? I hope not…the likelihood is you would run, leap and pull using every muscle in your body to hoist yourself from danger, as our ancestors did.

Our survival as a race today was accomplished by movements—a coordination of muscle groups.

The reality is your body will resist growing muscles out of proportion to surrounding muscles so as not to become mechanically dysfunctional.

Imbalance causes … well ... imbalance.

Your body has no reason to develop your biceps, or any other muscle group, out of proportion to other muscles. You can force your body to override its natural resistance, spending a lot of time in the gym working on muscles in isolation, but why?

To be honest, biceps are insignificant compared to other muscles — your chest, legs and back — biceps offer little in terms of real-life functionality.

You’ll be much better off doing workouts that incorporate the ‘Essential Seven’ movements.

Lesson № 5—To increase strength, increase recovery and reduce the frequency

In order to get results, you must train hard but less often, with plenty of recovery time between each workout.

This seems to rebel against popular wisdom, even common sense, but to get the maximum benefit of strength training it’s better to train harder and less frequently than to take it easy—be efficient and work out more regularly.

The obvious question is why wouldn’t more exercise equate to better results?

The reason is simple and the law of nature. Resistance exercises inflict damage to your muscles, they tear. Not the kind of damage caused by an accident or injury, so you don’t need to kill yourself to put meat on bones ... although many do try.

Never forget that recovery is vital.

Physiologically, your muscles need to recover between workouts, growth occurs post-workout i.e. during recovery. By growth, I mean the balanced development of strength.

Remember mass and strength are not correlated.

Final thoughts

The application of the ‘Essential Seven’ movements in your workout will enhance your all-round health and fitness, in a more sustainable way. You will notice improvements in:

  • Overall Strength — your ability to generate force
  • Mobility — lower/upper back and hips
  • Balance — lateral strength
  • Stability — your spine, pelvis, shoulders, and legs
  • Endurance — your ability to repeat and recover quickly
  • Stamina — your ability to maintain
  • Libido — enough said

So during the lockdown, invest more in your physiological mindset as you do in your actual workout.

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