The gyms are still closed, my dudes. And even though we’ve had three months to get used to quarantine life, days still seem to pass with a disheartening lack of movement and activity, and maintaining one’s body is just harder without a place to pump iron or beat personal records on a treadmill.
Some are getting by with coaches holding online classes, but not everybody has that, let alone a home gym with the works. It’s a tricky situation to be in, trying to live a healthy, active lifestyle when options are so freakin’ limited. So you start to worry. Am I losing muscle? How do I stay lean if I can’t jog in my neighborhood?
To the restless athletes, the demotivated lifters, and to everybody still trying to find their center, we know these are important questions, and they deserve an answer. We consulted Gab Palanca, an ACE certified trainer (look up StrongerWithGab on Instagram!) about the fitness conundrums that leave us restless in these quaran-times.
The gyms are still closed, and I have no access to the heavy weights I’m used to lifting. Will I lose my gains?
The short answer is no. Severe muscle atrophy usually only occurs if you’re confined to your bed, or if a limb is immobile in a cast and recovering from injury. Visible muscle loss has a low chance of occurring as long as you’re remaining relatively active, and moving around as you go about your day.
For those with experience in training and are totally used to pumping iron, a lack of a home gym isn’t a terrible predicament. “Fortunately for people who train and have trained for a considerable amount of time, there’s what we call muscle memory,” Palanca says. “It’s basically how your body can retain most of its motor patterns and regain strength, muscle size, etc once the training stimulus is back at par.” Basically, when the gyms do open up again, getting back your pump will be a cinch.
The longer answer involves changing up your regimen to maintain the physique you’ve cultivated. So instead of lifting hundred-pounders, why not try time-under-tension exercises, or adding more reps to your sets?
“And if you have absolutely no equipment, or if the one for sale online is above budget, you can utilize everyday household items. Those old textbooks you lugged around in school? Put them in a bag and do a bunch of tempo squats.” Until you get back to the fancy equipment at your gym, try being inventive with what you have lying around at home! “Feel free to get creative: do pushups with that same loaded backpack if normal ones are too easy, hug a gallon of water and squat or take the handle and practice deadlifts with it, use a towel or a leash to row and pull things and simulate machines.
Maintaining your physique also means managing your physique accordingly. “Preventing muscle loss at this time definitely is a challenge, but with enough engaging training stimuli and a diet that is isocaloric or conservatively hypocaloric”—which is basically coach talk for please, for the love of God, don’t give up carbs—“you up your chances of retaining muscle while minimizing fat gain, which is another concern of most people.”
Think of it this way. Keep these habits up, and by the time you get back on the bench press, you’ll still be in fighting form.
I can’t jog around in my neighborhood. How do I practice cardio?
Depending on where you live, lockdown rules and restrictions can be pretty strict, and authorities might discourage any outdoor activity that doesn’t involve going to work or shopping for rations. What’s a runner to do? Thankfully, beating your feet against pavement isn’t the only way to get your heart pumping.
“Cardio training, at its core (no pun intended), is just trying to increase the capacity of your heart and lungs to do a given activity,” Palanca states. "Running and jogging is the most common form, but given these quaran-times, I have some of my clients doing jumping jacks, mountain climbers or lunges in place for time—things that can be done at home even with a small pace.”
You have other options too! YouTube is full of instructional videos for HIIT (high intensity interval training) workouts, and if you have a jump rope at home, that’s perfect too. Palanca also recommends Flow yoga, which involves cardio and mobility work.
“Just don’t forget to open the windows, hydrate and have an electric fan going!” Here, here. What a shame it’d be for you to strengthen your body, only to burn out in this ridiculous heat. “Training cardio can be sneakily demanding, but has great benefits for heart health and even everyday function.”
I still don’t have access to my usual supplements and superfoods. Should I worry?
Nah. “Supplements are not the foundation, not the ice cream in your sundae,” Palanca says. “They’re the sprinkles on top: just a little touch to enhance the experience. It’s in the name: they’re supplemental.”
We understand that a regimen without a supply of whey can feel lacking, but it’s not like that’s your only supply of protein. What are you having for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? Are you getting your glow foods in? Meeting your macros is important, but what about your micronutrients?
“I think at this time, it’s a good time to really ask, ‘What is essential in my diet?’ And if you can find supplements and you have a bit of extra cash lying around, sure, they can be useful,” Palanca says. “But it’s also an opportunity to try to understand your current nutrition, do a little research on the foundations of healthy eating, and just how much you can get from the food that’s already available in the markets.” Maybe that’s a little much to ask, considering how quickly your favorite foods can fly off supermarket shelves these days. But we promise, there’s not supplement or superfood that can replace a lifestyle of good ol’ fashioned healthy eating.
I’m stressing out. This pandemic sucks. Quarantine sucks. How do I manage my mental health at this time?
The easiest answer to give is to stay active and sweat your frustrations away, but human mind and body are more complicated than that. What with everything going on, it’s really easy to lose one’s sense of motivation when you’re confined to one spot.
“Hormonally, stress, and anxiety can affect muscle mass, sleep quality and heart health negatively too, so I really do hope people are seeking help to cope with anxiety in these times.” Do you have a support system and are you reaching out? Do you have a way of booking online therapy sessions? And for those of y’all working at home and feeling swamped, do you allow yourself to step back a little bit and take a break? These little things, which don’t involve lifting heavy or getting your heart rate up, are important for your body too.
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Let’s not forget the basics either. Are you even eating or sleeping enough? No judgment if you’re having a hard time with those things, but it might be wise to lay off any strenuous activity for the time being, if you’re struggling to nourish yourself in these ways.
All that being said, if you find yourself having rough days (and over the past couple of months, who hasn’t had a rough day), exercise is there for you as an emotional outlet. “I think exercise should be viewed as something you can do for yourself,” Palanca says. “It’s your little reward at the end of a long day at your desk, your body’s time to get activated after some mental fatigue, something that makes you feel energized and literally helps you breathe deeper, helps you to be present and even builds character. The potential rewards are not just a healthier body, but also a mind more at peace and with something to look forward to.”