By Dan Murphy and Sid Atkinson
During this current time, it’s very difficult to try and maintain the same level and intensity of training that you were doing before Lockdown. The majority of people will be in a situation where they probably only have little bits of gym kit, maybe a pull up bar or some dumbbells and kettlebells if they’re lucky. Lots of us are spending more time outside either on a bike or running for our fitness too.
It can feel quite worrying thinking that all the hard work and gains you’ve made in your fitness or physique may be lost, especially since the current situation is out of your control.
On top of that, your motivation to train at home can sometimes be lacking - it’s a completely different environment from the gym and honestly during this time sometimes a beer just sounds more appealing!
Many of us will be going through the effects of detraining. Detraining is the partial or complete loss of training-induced adaptations due to an insufficient training stimulus. There is a lot of scientific research in this area, and the good news is that we’ve compiled a full list in our summary and table below, full of strategies to minimise these detraining effects. These findings are backed up by research and offer a guideline for those unsure on the best training methods at this current time. To get started, we’ll cover some of the scientific terminology.
VO2 max: The maximum rate at which the body can utilise oxygen as an energy source. Measurement of VO2 max is a strong indicator of a person’s aerobic fitness and capacity.
CMJ: A counter movement jump (CMJ) is a common test used to examine vertical jumping ability and surrounding strength/power characteristics of the lower body.
CSA: Cross sectional area (CSA) of a muscle refers to the size of the muscle at its largest point. Changes in CSA are measured to observe training responses and adaptations.
Plyos: Plyometric exercises are defined as jumping exercises with a rapid lengthening (Eccentric), static (isometric/amortization) and shortening (concentric) phase. However, the term is also used in coaching practice to describe most jumping exercises even if they do not fit these criteria.
Strength and Hypertrophy
So, what does the research say? What can we do to fight against atrophy and maintain levels of muscle mass?
One method is to induce hypertrophy and strength with lighter weights. Don’t worry that you’re limited to bodyweight as a few light dumbbells or kettlebells lying around the house can do the job! Lifting even 20% of your 1 Rep Max (1RM) to failure is still enough to elicit gains, though they’ll obviously be a bit lower than those if you were lifting with 40-80% 1RM. Regardless, with 20% we can still create adaptation and that is something to shout about during lockdown!
The key to this is lifting to, or close to, failure.
The reason is this; in order to stimulate hypertrophy, we need full motor unit recruitment of your muscle fibres. Lifting lighter loads requires less motor unit recruitment as it’s easier but as you continually rep out, it gets harder, your reps slow down and the last few reps become a struggle. During these last slow reps your Central Nervous System (CNS) recruits all your motor units in your muscle fibres (everything you’ve got!). This slow speed, coupled with the mechanical stress of the exercise simulates muscle hypertrophy.
It's important to remember that some training is better than no training! Research has suggested just 4 sets per week, per muscle group is enough to elicit muscle size and strength compared to higher volume protocols. Doing just 20% of your normal training volumes per week can help fight against Lockdown atrophy by cutting your strength losses by over half in comparison to no training at all. Maintaining what you have is much more achievable.
When we’re allowed back to regular training it’s not all bad new either. Research suggests that after 12-24 weeks of training followed by 12-24 weeks of detraining, a further 12 weeks of retraining resulted in faster and more substantial gains in muscle strength than the initial phase of training. Even just 4 weeks of retraining, 75% of the losses of detraining were gained back and by 6 weeks subjects were back to peak strength.
This doesn’t mean you can rush straight back in, you need to remember to take it slowly, act as if you’ve done no training over lockdown and start building your foundations and retraining movements. Rush straight back in and you could be looking at injury. In the German Football league, they’ve had 8 muscle injuries in 6 games, and they’re professional athletes.
The biggest key to maintain your VO2 Max and aerobic qualities during this period is keep your intensity high. How can we do this? We can achieve this simply by running a few high intensity 5ks per week. In elite runners, studies have even shown that by reducing training plans from 6-10 hours per week to just 35 minutes/week, although other areas of fitness reduced was still enough to maintain their VO2 Max, as long as intensity stays high.
Speed and Jump Performance
One of the best things about plyometrics is that they require little to no equipment. Utilisation of small bouts of plyometrics, as little as 20-50 contacts (jumps/hops/skips) 2 times per week can aid in maintaining speed and jump ability. Combined with minimal resistance training, dynamic stability, and agility, minimal sessions of plyometrics during a detraining period is enough to sustain strength gains and CMJ performance.
Perhaps one of the best examples on how a little goes a long way is shown in this 2017 study. Participants were separated into two groups and subjected to 2 months bed rest to measure the effects on muscle, bone and the cardiovascular system. While one group was confined to bed rest for the full 60 days, the other group did 3 minutes of jumping per day. 6 sets of 12 jumps, taking just 3 minutes to complete.
At the end of the study the bed rest group suffered massive decreases in adaptation. Bone Mineral Density ↓ 2.5%, Lean mass of leg ↓ 5.0%, knee extension strength ↓ 41%, knee flexion (bending) strength ↓ 16%, VO2 Max ↓ 29% and Peak Power Output ↓ 29%.
The jump group however, with 3 minutes of jumping over 24 hours were able to prevent losses to muscle, bone and the cardiovascular system. A little really does go a long way.
During this time, worrying about losing strength performance is frustrating, but another stress we don’t need on top of what is already going on! Do what you can, stay active and maintain good health and mental wellbeing. When the time comes and you’re back in the gym training, know that those workouts you’ve completed in lockdown will all have helped you reduce adaptations lost from being away from training. Remember, a little goes a long way.
When the time comes and you’re all back with us at Locker, take it slow and treat it as if you’ve done no training (even if you’ve been doing loads), allow time for retraining and to gain back your losses and reduce injury risk.
Below is a summary table putting it all together.
1. Schoenfeld, B. J., Ogborn, D., & Krieger, J. W. (2017). Dose-response relationship between weekly resistance training volume and increases in muscle mass: A systematic review and meta-analysis. JOURNAL OF SPORTS SCIENCES, 35(11), 1073-1082.
2. Suchomel, T. J., Nimphius, S., Bellon, C. R., & Stone, M. H. (2018). The importance of muscular strength: training considerations. Sports medicine, 48(4), 765-785.
3. Cunha, P. M., Nunes, J. P., Tomeleri, C. M., Nascimento, M. A., Schoenfeld, B. J., Antunes, M., ... & Cyrino, E. S. (2020). Resistance training performed with single and multiple sets induces similar improvements in muscular strength, muscle mass, muscle quality, and IGF-1 in older women: A randomized controlled trial. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 34(4), 1008-1016.
4. García-Pallarés, J., Carrasco, L., Díaz, A., & Sánchez-Medina, L. (2009). Post-season detraining effects on physiological and performance parameters in top-level kayakers: comparison of two recovery strategies. Journal of sports science & medicine, 8(4), 622.
5. Kramer, A., Gollhofer, A., Armbrecht, G., Felsenberg, D., & Gruber, M. (2017). How to prevent the detrimental effects of two months of bed-rest on muscle, bone and cardiovascular system: an RCT. Scientific reports, 7(1), 1-10.
6. Henwood, T. R., & Taaffe, D. R. (2008). Detraining and retraining in older adults following long-term muscle power or muscle strength specific training. The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, 63(7), 751-758.
7. Blocquiaux, S., Gorski, T., Van Roie, E., Ramaekers, M., Van Thienen, R., Nielens, H., ... & Thomis, M. (2020). The effect of resistance training, detraining and retraining on muscle strength and power, myofibre size, satellite cells and myonuclei in older men. Experimental Gerontology, 133, 110860.
8. Morton, R. W., Oikawa, S. Y., Wavell, C. G., Mazara, N., McGlory, C., Quadrilatero, J., ... & Phillips, S. M. (2016). Neither load nor systemic hormones determine resistance training-mediated hypertrophy or strength gains in resistance-trained young men. Journal of applied physiology, 121(1), 129-138.
9. Mitchell, C. J., Churchward-Venne, T. A., West, D. W., Burd, N. A., Breen, L., Baker, S. K., & Phillips, S. M. (2012). Resistance exercise load does not determine training-mediated hypertrophic gains in young men. Journal of applied physiology, 113(1), 71-77.
10. Lasevicius, T., Ugrinowitsch, C., Schoenfeld, B. J., Roschel, H., Tavares, L. D., De Souza, E. O., ... & Tricoli, V. (2018). Effects of different intensities of resistance training with equated volume load on muscle strength and hypertrophy. European journal of sport science, 18(6), 772-780.
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12. Huang, G., Wang, R., Chen, P., Huang, S. C., Donnelly, J. E., & Mehlferber, J. P. (2016). Dose–response relationship of cardiorespiratory fitness adaptation to controlled endurance training in sedentary older adults. European journal of preventive cardiology, 23(5), 518-529.
13. Bliss, A., & Harley, R. (2017). Training aerobic fitness. In Advanced Strength and Conditioning (pp. 72-86). Routledge.
14. Houmard, J. A., Costill, D. L., Mitchell, J. B., Park, S. H., Hickner, R. C., & Roemmich, J. N. (1990). Reduced training maintains performance in distance runners. International journal of sports medicine, 11(01), 46-52.
15. Madsen, K., Pedersen, P. K., Djurhuus, M. S., & Klitgaard, N. A. (1993). Effects of detraining on endurance capacity and metabolic changes during prolonged exhaustive exercise. Journal of Applied Physiology, 75(4), 1444-1451.
16. Rønnestad, B. R., Nymark, B. S., & Raastad, T. (2011). Effects of in-season strength maintenance training frequency in professional soccer players. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 25(10), 2653-2660.
17. Chelly, M. S., Ghenem, M. A., Abid, K., Hermassi, S., Tabka, Z., & Shephard, R. J. (2010). Effects of in-season short-term plyometric training program on leg power, jump-and sprint performance of soccer players. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 24(10), 2670-2676.
18. Paz-Franco, A., Rey, E., & Barcala-Furelos, R. (2017). Effects of 3 different resistance training frequencies on jump, sprint, and repeated sprint ability performances in professional futsal players. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 31(12), 3343-3350.
19. Nunes, A. C. C. A., Cattuzzo, M. T., Faigenbaum, A. D., & Mortatti, A. L. (2019). Effects of integrative neuromuscular training and detraining on countermovement jump performance in youth volleyball players. J. Strength Cond. Res. doi, 10.