Let’s cut to the chase: You’re slathered up in a mixture of soap and hand sanitizer all day long, and your gym is closed. Neither of those is probably going to change for a few weeks at best. Sounds like a perfect recipe for losing your gains, doesn’t it?
To the average person who is worried about having enough frozen pizzas to last through the week, it seems frivolous. But to plenty of us—call us “meatheads” if you must—it feels legitimate. We’ve put in time, effort, blood, sweat, and tears to achieve whatever degree of swoleness we’re currently rocking.
And to be clear, those gains aren’t all about, well, gains. As someone who has spent over 30 years picking shit up and putting it down, I understand the need to pit yourself against the iron and the never-ending struggle that exists within a gym. It’s where our community is. It’s our stress outlet. It’s where we find, and build, new versions of ourselves.
The gains are simply the manifestation of the love we have for exerting those efforts. It’s like finding a job you really love to go to each day. The paycheck is great, but the fact that you have joy and appreciation for what you’re doing is the real payout.
So let me lay out a few rules to help you out during this time. Here’s why you shouldn’t worry about losing your gains during lockdown (or whatever this is), and how to keep from losing ground.
Rule 1: Re-Focus on the Basics
No, you don’t need to find a bunch of weird or novel exercises in order to maintain some semblance of fitness. During this time, even if you don’t have a single barbell, dumbbell, band, or kettlebell that you can use for added resistance, the classic bodyweight movements will work just fine.
What are we talking about here? The basics, my man. The real basics.
- Lunges, both walking and reverse. Split squats with your rear foot elevated.
- Bodyweight squats, with, you know…your body weight.
- Push-ups, both flat and with your feet elevated. Push-ups with different grip widths.
- Dips between chairs, if they are solid enough for it.
- Sit-ups, crunches, and reverse crunches.
If you can find something to do chin-ups on, then you have your whole body covered in terms of being able to apply stimulus to all the major muscle groups. If not, bodyweight rows using a solid table or a pole between two chairs can work.
Yes, you’ll have to do a lot of reps. But if you’ve been doing a lot of low-rep or moderate-rep work, doing higher-rep bodyweight work will be a novel stimulus. Which leads to adaptations. Which, if you stick with it for long enough, will mean gains.
No, those gains might not necessarily mean a higher 1RM on a big lift—but so what? If you can take this time to lift for health and aesthetics rather than for one very specific definition of “strength,” you’ll be fine with the above movements.
Rule 2: Let Go of the Need to Progress
This might seem like a contradiction after Rule 1, but hear me out here.
Right now, the most important thing to worry about is simply taking care of yourself and your loved ones.
If you’re in a position where you can base your whole day around some bodyweight training and cardio, then sure, get after it and see what you can accomplish. Set some bad-ass goals, drink raw eggs like Rocky in the morning, find a big log to throw on your back, and walk up and down the stadium stairs. Go all in, bro. Get after it.
For the rest of you, let go of the expectation that you need to be a badass during this time because you might not be able to live up to it. You might do no better than simply staying right about where you are—and that’s OK.
Ask yourself: Can you change this? Can you suddenly make access to all of the gym equipment that you previously had access to appear like magic?
No. You can’t.
And worrying about that isn’t going to make it better. In fact, it can make it worse. If you need a physiological explanation, remember that excessive worry releases more cortisol. More cortisol means more muscle wasting.
You’re literally shrinking from worry, bro. Stop it.
Progress on what you can, with what you have access to. And if you don’t have access to all the things you were focusing on before, then let go of the idea of progress.
This seems obvious, but I’ve talked to guys who were upset about losing access to a hack squat machine, because they feared they would lose out on gaining an advantage over competitors in future shows.
Put your efforts into what you have control over.
Rule 3: Keep Life and the Gym in Perspective
If doing bodyweight stuff isn’t “fun” for you, and you don’t have access to any equipment, then you’re at a crossroads. You’re going to have to shift your mindset, or you’re going to be OK with sitting there, getting fat and binging on Netflix.
That means when this is over—and it will be over at some point—you’ll end up feeling worse. When you get back in your perfect little gym, you’ll be incredibly detrained and deconditioned. Your recovery and work capacity will suck, and any type of metabolic work done will cause you to feel drained and achy.
Does that sound like where you want to be?
This moment should absolutely be giving you pause. Plenty of new people are seeing right now how important this whole fitness thing is, but plenty of others should be seeing how relatively unimportant setting their training goals are when compared with real-life priorities.
While you’re not obsessing about fitness, maybe you can read some books and exercise your brain. Maybe you can make some phone calls to friends you’ve not spoken to in a while and catch up with them. You can journal your experience of this fiasco and write down all of the things you have gratitude for each day.
One thing to start your gratitude list: Staying fit is one way you may have protected yourself against getting sick over the years. A healthy body usually has a healthy immune system. No, it doesn’t give you any guarantees, but it’s certainly a better option than doing nothing.
So do your best to be well. Use the workouts below to hold onto what you’ve got, if you have no equipment at all. And remember all of this when you have access to a gym again and you’re complaining about the noob members around New Year’s next year.
Want to experience these simple principles in action? Check out the full bodyweight program Jacked at Home, only on BodyFit by Bodybuilding.com.