I heard a great quote the other day. I can’t remember who said it. But it went something like this – “If this is the first time you’ve ever thought of getting some equipment for your house, you don’t need any.”
It’s spot on. So many people are using a lack of equipment as an excuse that they’ve just ceased training altogether.
The problem isn’t your equipment. The problem is you.
There are multiple ways to improve your fitness in some aspect during isolation. You should actually come out of this better in most areas (with strength potentially being the only exception – depending on how strong you are). Your speed, endurance, mobility, and relative bodyweight strength should all be going through the roof.
There really is no excuse. As we’ve said before, lack of motivation is a cop out. Are you motivated to brush your teeth? No, but you do it, because you know it’s good for you. So stop being a baby, grow up, and start training. It’s good for you.
Now that the rant is over, I think it’s important to say that if you’re a strong guy or gal, your bodyweight is never going to feel like a 200kg deadlift – nor will it have the same strength stimulus. Anyone that tells you different is full of shit.
What we can do, however, is minimise the gap by using the methods described in this article.
To improve strength we need to stimulate the body to recruit more motor units. These are the little things that activate the muscle tissue. The more motor units we can recruit, the more muscle tissue we recruit, and the stronger we get. A huge problem when training with bodyweight only, it can be harder to stimulate a large number of motor units. But it’s not impossible. In this article you’re going to learn how to stimulate more motor units and the different types of training methods you can use to get the results you’re after.
Factors affecting motor unit recruitment are load, velocity, and biochemical situation. Biochemical situation is just a fancy way of saying the environment around your muscle tissue. When we train hard and start to feel that burning sensation, the environment around your muscle is becoming more acidic due to a cascade of chemical changes. We can use this to our advantage to stimulate the change we’re after.
If you’re training for strength, speed and power, focus on methods that target load and velocity such as unilateral work, overcoming isometrics and dynamic exercises.
If you’re chasing size then you should be geared more towards changing the biochemical situation with eccentrics, isometrics, pulses and supersets.
Every session during isolation should NOT be turned into a breather. If you follow us, you know that we respect the need for a big engine and a high work capacity. But don’t neglect strength, power and speed while you don’t have access to the gym. There are still ways to improve them, so let’s get into it.
What are these training methods and how do we implement them into our training?
We’ll start with methods for improving strength, speed, and power.
Or simply – single limb training. The exercise shown is a reaching push-up and increases the demand placed on the pressing arm while taking load off the reaching arm. This can be done with the lower body in exercises like split squats, lunges and single leg squats. Moving to one limb automatically adds a stability component which recruits more of the stabiliser muscles. Obviously, your body is required to shift the load using predominantly only one limb which increases the number of motor units recruited = greater strength stimulus.
This is arguably the best way to get a strength stimulus with zero equipment. We wrote a long post on overcoming isometrics a few weeks back (head to our website and search overcoming isometrics if you’re interested). But it basically involves putting maximal effort into shifting an immovable object. We like to use a towel for these and if you’re concerned about losing your strength, this would be the first thing I’d recommend. Yeah, it might look a bit silly but don’t knock it until you try it. The exercise in the video here is a split squat but you can do it with squats, deadlifts, and all the upper body movements (again, head to our website where we go into more depth). You can substitute these for the main lifts that you would normally do. It’s important to warm-up before these and breathe throughout the movement. I’d recommend doing 1-5 sets of 5-10 seconds or so. You can also pair it with a dynamic exercise (see below).
The force-velocity curve is something we have spoken about at length before (again, head to the website and search force-velocity curve). Basically force x velocity = power. More powerful athletes are better athletes. So increasing power should be a high-priority. We can do this by increasing force production (strength), which can be more difficult without equipment (use the two methods listed above). Or we can do it by increasing velocity (speed). There’s also a range of exercises in between pure strength and pure speed but let’s keep it simple for now. To become more powerful we should aim to get stronger or get faster. Exercises requiring maximal speed require no equipment anyway. Sprinting is my number one recommendation for anyone looking to increase their speed (duh!). I like hill sprints for this because you get to move with maximal intention without as much impact on the joints (you’re also forced into a great sprinting position). You can also add in various jumps – simply jump as high or as far as you can on one or two legs. Or you can add in throws – light medicine balls or dead balls are good for this. If you have zero-equipment, then just do explosive push-ups like the one seen in the video. You can also pair up the overcoming isometric exercise (let’s say a towel deadlift) with a dynamic exercise, (let’s say a broad jump). This stimulates more motor units to be recruited during the isometric lift. Because more motor units are being used the result is a more powerful or explosive dynamic exercise. You could do a 10 second isometric deadlift, rest 20-30 seconds then do 3 broad jumps for distance.
Now we’ll focus on gaining or maintaining muscle mass... Let’s start with eccentrics.
The eccentric phase of a lift is the lowering phase (think of the way down in a squat). We’re a fair bit stronger in the eccentric phase than the lifting phase of any exercise. We can manipulate this by slowing it down. Try slowing the eccentric phase down to say 5 or 10 seconds for each rep. This increases the time your muscle is under tension. Doing so causes a more acidic environment and damages the muscle tissue a little more (beneficial for muscle growth). For example: instead of doing 5x10 push-ups. Do 5x5 and slow the lowering phase (as seen in the video below) to something like 10 seconds.
Not to be confused with Overcoming Isometrics, isometric contractions are when the muscles are working and under tension, but we see no change in joint angle. As you can see in the video we can pause at different ranges of the squat (1/2 way and at the bottom). These also work on increasing time under tension and changing the environment around the muscle tissue – much like eccentrics.
These are exercises involving 1 and ¼ or 1 and ½ reps. Seen the video is an example of a 1 and ¼ rear-foot elevated split squat. You could still do something like 4 sets of 6 but the ¼ rep adds another dimension to bodyweight training. Again, the increase in time under tension and the acidity around the muscle tissue help stimulate muscle growth.
This involves pairing one exercise (let’s say a bodyweight squat) with another exercise that targets the same muscle group (let’s say a walking lunge). You could also pair up the same exercise (squat) with some sort of hold that builds up that ‘burn’ in the same area (a wall sit). This is a pretty effective method when training with only bodyweight. We like to use push-ups and an isometric push-up hold in the bottom position as seen in the video. But you can do it with any exercise.
**Quick note on supersets** You can use these in your programming to add a conditioning component or to save time. If you’re not necessarily chasing that burn, then you can use non-competing exercises such as a squat and a push-up. Your heart rate stays higher (hence the conditioning component) but your legs are resting while your upper body works and vice versa – cutting down rest time (hence time saver).
And that’s it. There’s 7 ways get stronger, faster or bigger with zero equipment during isolation.
On a final note – it’s important to remember the WHY behind each training session.
If your goal is to get stronger, then don’t turn every workout into a burner or a blowout. Use unilateral training or overcoming isometrics to get the strength stimulus you need.
If your goal is to get faster, then don’t use the eccentrics that are focused on muscle growth. Use dynamic exercises like sprinting and jumping to improve this area. Pair up overcoming isometrics with dynamic exercises for the most bang for your back.
If you’re looking to get bigger, slow the movements down, use pauses or supersets and chase the burn. We want the burn and the muscle damage to stimulate the muscles to grow.
Good luck, and if you’ve got any questions, feel free to reach out. #one22