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Article written by Cosimo Simeone, Msc, PgdDip, Bsc, Physiotherapist

Introduction

During Covid gyms were closed, so many of us started to train at home adapting to the lockdown. So for this reason many people have consulted coaches or physiotherapists remotely. But some questions can may come spontaneously to us. Was this effective in building muscle mass and strength? Which kind of equipment or weights should we use? and finally can we increase mass with the equipment available at home?

Benefits of workout at home

Certainly training at home could help to reduce time wasting in taking, for example the car and staying in the traffic for hours to go to the gym. But also important is less pollution into the atmosphere. Perhaps you are now wondering what about the social aspect of working out with your friends and neighbors. Yes, it is also vital, but why not invite a friend or partner along with you?

What evidence we have so far?

Thus let’s have a look what the science shows in terms of increasing, maintaining or loosing the muscle mass. A study of Cegielski, J et al. aimed to assess the efficacy of an unsupervised, 4-week, whole-body home-based exercise training (HBET) programme. This was used into daily living activities, on skeletal muscle mass, power and strength (1). 

In total the exercise programme consisted of: 

  • Squats,
  • Lunges
  • Calf raises
  • Bicep curls
  • Triceps extensions
  • Semi-incline press-ups
  • Oblique twists 
  • Deadlifts

For each exercise, participants were informed to complete each phase (eccentric and concentric) in 2 seconds and to hold (isometric) for 2 seconds at the mid-point. Volunteers were required to complete 3 sets of 12 repetitions across 8 different exercises every day for 4 weeks with 1-2 minutes resting per each repetition, using weights or resistance bands are advised as long as you complete the sets and repetitions indicated. In addition, a progression based on increased resistance was encouraged.

Here some video links to explain the different phases of training and muscles contractions. Isometric calves: https://www.youtube.com/shorts/7Udb4E3Uks8. Eccentric squats: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lweUB-4SF5w. Concentric and eccentric phases of a deadlift: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kCYXkkpFYS0.

To conclude, our findings show that significant increases in muscle mass, maximal voluntary contraction, maximal power and isokinetic strength can be achieved with just 4-weeks of HBET in older adults. Furthermore these improvements were achieved via cost-effective means. Without the requirement for specialist equipment, facilities or supervision. With high compliance and beneficial physiological effects in only a 4-week period. This study highlights the potential for lifestyle-integrated HBET to improve skeletal muscle ‘health’ in older adult. 

Training to failure for building mass?

Some authors also wrote previously that can be helpful training to the failure to build muscles mass. I want to dispel another myth in fact accordingly to these researches there is no evidence about it. For some authors is considered more harmful than helpful. Maybe due to the higher risk of injuries related probably to a lack of technique too (2).

Moreover another study showed resistance training to muscle failure or non-failure is similarly effective in promoting increases in muscle mass, strength, architecture and fibers length. While also resulting in similar muscle activation in trained individuals (3).

But what about professional athletes? 

How they managed training during Covid? The pandemic impact on exercise has been substantial due to closures of training facilities. This was especially the case for European weightlifters. They experienced a larger impact on exercise routines and trained a lot less compared to pre-pandemic levels. Coping strategies for weightlifters during the pandemic were the use of online tools (37%), remote coaching (25%), and finding new ways to be physically active (55%). Following gym closures and distancing requirements, it may have become necessary to train alone. The 32% of the weightlifters indicated that they do not enjoy training alone. 

During the pandemic weightlifters were not equally affected. Virtual competitions stimulated them to keep training at high levels. Offered competition opportunities to others who would not have been able to compete otherwise. As can be seen from athletes representing more countries, their performances were the same to pre-pandemic levels in the virtual World Master Weightlifting Championships.

A large proportion of participants in this survey would like to see the continuation of such virtual events. The performances in the world championships in 2019 and the virtual one in 2021 were comparable on average. Indicating that the athletes were able to train at a high level. This may have been possible due to more athletes having access to strength equipment at home. This can help maintain minimum performance levels (4). 

Obviously, there will be always some limitations. We cannot compare an home training to a gym or sports centre. Here you can have better and high quality facilities but training at home could be an option for athletes who want to maintain muscles mass. If they are not able to go to a sports or training centre, for example due to an injury.

Conclusions:

In conclusion if you are an amateur weightlifter and you want to build muscle mass you can do it. Following for example the program exercise present above. In addition if you are a professional weightlifter we recommend to train from home where necessary. As described above a professional training centre or gym will never have the same equipment to your home equipment.

Finally, if you want to have a specific program exercises tailored on yourself and your needs, we advise you to book an appointment with our physiotherapists and nutritionists to also have a tailored nutritional plan that can lead to a better results, https://mundushealth.com/make-appointments/. You can also find some training equipment here to train at home,https://mundushealth.com/training/.

References: 

  1. Cegielski, J., Brook, M. S., Quinlan, J. I., Wilkinson, D. J., Smith, K., Atherton, P. J., & Phillips, B. E. (2017). A 4-week, lifestyle-integrated, home-based exercise training programme elicits improvements in physical function and lean mass in older men and women: a pilot study. F1000Research, 6, 1235
  2. Nóbrega, S. R., & Libardi, C. A. (2016). Is Resistance Training to Muscular Failure Necessary?. Frontiers in physiology, 7, 10.
  3. Santanielo, N., Nóbrega, S. R., Scarpelli, M. C., Alvarez, I. F., Otoboni, G. B., Pintanel, L., & Libardi, C. A. (2020). Effect of resistance training to muscle failure vs non-failure on strength, hypertrophy and muscle architecture in trained individuals. Biology of sport, 37(4), 333–341.
  4. Huebner, M., Ma, W., & Rieger, T. (2021). Weightlifting during the COVID-19 Pandemic-A Transnational Study Regarding Motivation, Barriers, and Coping of Master Athletes. International journal of environmental research and public health, 18(17), 9343.

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