How to improve strength from home? A holistic approach

This morning, I sat down to discuss the pros and cons of active recovery and how to implement this into a training regimen. As I was starting to write, one of my athletes sent me a video of him doing tempo squats in his kitchen and I decided to turn this around and elaborate about the best practices for at-home training and strength adaptations. I feel like this blog post would motivate more people during the current pandemic by mitigating the effects of quarantine on our fitness. Obviously, not everyone’s in the same boat, while some people have a fully equipped garage gym, some others exercise in their living room. This blog post could help anyone struggling to stay motivated while training at home by giving them necessary tools to, not only maintain, but improve their strength. Don’t hesitate to share with anyone in needs. If you want to get stronger and build a solid base, you’re at the right place. As a coach, the first things I do are:

1- Asking my athlete what outcomes/adaptations he’s trying to achieve? We already established in this blog post that it’s for strength gain, don’t follow my recommendations if you’re looking to improve your cardiac output. If you’re looking at another type of adaptation, just DM me.

2- I look at the disposition of my athlete. This will give me a great overview of the training routine and tools we’ll use. We need to look at schedule, space and equipment.

3- I make an optimal plan for my athlete based on mechanisms that support his desired adaptations (strength gain in this case study).

Here it is:

A: The Limiters

A1: Technical Limiters.

The first you should do at home to get stronger is putting your ego on the side and performing a physical introspection of our capabilities and seeking for what’s missing. What about fine-tuning your Snatch or Clean & Jerk techniques?

You’re Jumping forward? Backward jump.

You’re lifting the butt too fast? Lift-Off

You’re too slow? Tall SN/CL

You’re Not using the hips or pushing the bar forward? High hang.

Every single technical limiter has a solution. Make an ASSESSMENT of the problem. If you’re an athlete, you might want to send some videos over to your local affiliate coach and ask him for advices. Then PRESCRIBED yourself accessory exercises to correct the problem. The beauty of this is that you don’t need the gym to do just that, only your own willingness.

A2: Movement Limiters

I get a lot of my athlete better at Olympic Weightlifting by having them do this, it’s so easy and can be done from home: STRETCHING It won’t get you stronger, especially static stretching – it will potentially reduce your power, speed & velocity. Although, if my athlete is strong and powerful, but can’t snatch 225lbl because he lacks ROM. I would rather lose some strength adaptations to win over some contractile force and stability in further range of motion. Find what’s limiting your movement from a mobility stand points and work on it, you won’t comeback stronger, but you potentially will come back with a heavier squat snatch.

B: The Tools

B1: Isometric Contractions

Characterized by a contraction of your muscle when this one is at fixed length, isometric contractions are performed when there’s no lengthening or shortening of the muscle, the length remains constant throughout the contraction. This training tool will allow you to maintain your neuromuscular power adaptations and better them by keeping your PNS and CNS sharp and ready to go. In fact, this type of contraction increases the neural drive to the muscle and reduce muscle inhibition, which mean you’ll get a stronger signal to them and an easier/stronger contraction of the desired muscle. The athletes that keep working their strength at near-maximal contraction effort during the pandemic will comeback in the gym with a huge strength advantage over the ones that did not. Isometric contractions can be easily implemented to an athlete with limited space or equipment. Prior to prescribing this to an athlete, try to figure which joint angle he wants to prioritize so he’s working on the correct strength limiter. For example, if you know the problematic height on his back squat, performing the ISO hold at this height (i.e., the sticking point) would be beneficial to him, different joint angle will give you a different stimulus and adaptations.

B2: Blood-Flow-Restriction Training (BFR)

Over the last decade, BFR training with low resistance weights has been shown to be one of the best tools to build strength and hypertrophy without the stress on joints and muscles associated with high resistance training. BFR training is easy to apply, you only need a pneumatic cuff or voodoo bands to restrict blood-flow into or out of the limb, we would usually apply the bands on the upper arms or upper thigh so the adaptations are applied to all the tissue downstream that will receive the hypoxia stimulus. In fact, the hypoxic condition makes the cells deprived of oxygen and increase their rate of fatigue, which drive metabolic stress and results in positive outcomes. For example, to increase strength and hypertrophy in your lower body, you could do this well-known protocol 2-3 times/week with back squats: 30-15-15-15 reps at 30% of 1RM with 30-60s rest b/t sets with a maintained restriction level of approximately 50-60% of arterial occlusion pressure - Self-directed if using voodoo bands. This protocol provides sufficient volume and weights to drive strength and muscle growth adaptations.

*Side Note - Before starting your journey with BFR training, make sure to go read the safety recommendations associated with this Meta-Analysis:

B3: Alactic Power Training (Deoxygenating Training)

This type of energy system training (EST) is known to increase the rate of oxygen utilization, neuromuscular recruitments of fast-twitch fibers and maximal power output. That sounds like some good qualities if you’re looking to get strong. This type of training is characterized by very short intervals at near maximal or maximal intensity with long and complete rest periods. This is the type of EST you develop with a 1RM Snatch, which you can’t do from home, but it’s also the type of EST developed when working how far, how high, how fast can you go in 1 single effort, which you can absolutely do from home. I’m explaining myself – You’ll get similar adaptations from a heavy deadlift, then from plyometrics exercises, 100m sprints, 10s max effort AB, 50ft dash sled push, etc. Although cyclical modalities would give greater magnitude of adaptations, Speed-Strength or Strength Speed Training for mixed work athlete, such as CrossFitters, can be beneficial to keep it sport specific and varied. An example of this would be a 15s max effort Hang Power Snatch 115/75# - I would recommend using this only for advanced athlete and keep it cyclical for the beginner/intermediate ones.

B4: Breathing Exercises

I won’t elaborate on this because I already did a blog post on Intra-Abdominal Pressure (IAP) and the relation between the strength of your diaphragm and your ability to hold yourself in a good posture when under heavy loads – You’re starting to see the correlation with strength eh? Although, knowing how to breath when lifting heavy weights is the first step towards in right direction (i.e., breathing awareness), having a strong diaphragm will increase your strength number by allowing a better stability of your abdominal wall and decrease your chance of injury by stabilizing your spine. Diaphragmatic breathing is relatively simple to do:

1- Lie Down, 1 hand on chest and the other on stomach.

2- Inhale slowly, drawing the air down to the stomach, not the chest. You should feel your stomach pushing upward while your chest remains still.

3- Exhale slowly, taking the air out from the stomach, not the chest. You should feel your stomach pulling inward while your chest remains still.

4- Try to perform this exercise as often as possible, at least once a day for 5-10 minutes.