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Key Considerations for Making the Most of At-Home Training

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance - Massachusetts coach, Drew Cobin.

Due to the current status of our country and gyms being closed, a lot of trainers, coaches, and fitness influencers are posting at-home workouts all over the internet. This article will seek to help sort out some of the clutter and help coaches, trainees, and anyone interested to make better at home training decisions.

Now, the first logical question to ask when organizing at-home health/performance training is, what is the goal? This will dictate a lot of the important variables in the at home training program. While just doing something is probably better than nothing, not having a goal in mind will likely lead to mediocrity. This is because without a specific focus, the training strategy will likely be less successful, as it is pulled in too many directions.

It’s kind of like switching majors in college. If the goal is to get a specialized degree, the best course of action is probably to stick to one major and take all the classes that it requires. Getting the degree isn’t going to come easily or quickly, but sticking to one major will definitely lead to steady progress toward the end goal. Training is the same, working towards one goal and staying the course will lead to faster and longer lasting progress.

When choosing an at-home training program, you need to make sure that you consider three important factors: Specificity, Overload, and Fatigue Management/Recovery. Let’s look at each in a bit more detail.

Specificity asks, “Does the program involve exercises, volumes, and intensities that reflect the goal.” So, doing four sets of 50 jumps squats holding a baseball will likely not help that baseball player in search of his baseball performance goal because the exercise itself is not very sport specific, and the repetitions are too high to train for power given the intensity of this exercise.

In consideration of Overload, in order to improve the human system, getting temporarily worse will result in getting better according to Hans Selye’s GAS Model, and the principle of supercompensation. This means that resistance training itself does not build muscle, improve cardiovascular function, or shred body fat. In fact, it is the cessation of training when adaption or the physiological improvement, supercompensation occurs. A good training program will overload the system over time through appropriate periodization or the manipulation of volume and intensity over time allowing for adaption to occur.

Third, we have to account for Fatigue Management and Recovery, since the resistance training or exercise itself does not improve the system; rather, the subsequent tissue recovery and repair does. Too much fatigue can disrupt the system by inhibiting our ability to recover sufficiently. Fatigue is absolutely essential for improvement, but without proper management, it can cause diminishing returns. For example, going too heavy, training to failure too often, or inducing massive amounts of high intensity work can cause an acute or chronic performance decline. With the aforementioned 4x50 jumps squats example, imagine trying to do sprints right after: the sprints will surely be less effective than if you had done something less fatiguing prior. The same can be said for over-fatiguing in a more chronic manner; an example is training to failure multiple days in a row on deadlifts for multiple weeks. In this case, initial acute improvements may be made, but over time, injury may occur and/or performance will decline by neglecting to get enough recovery between high stress training sessions.

So, with that said, making sure the training stimulus is one that allows for quality stress or fatigue distribution daily, weekly, monthly, and even yearly can be crucial in search of maximizing progress. One might ask, is this an exercise that is challenging enough, but allows for proper execution of the rest of the exercises in the program? For example, what might be more effective for strength gain: a) supersetting a high threshold compound strength movement like a deadlift with a low threshold coordination movement like a bear crawl, or b) doing four high threshold compound strength movements in a row back to back, like doing heavy deadlifts, then heavy squats, then heavy bench press, then heavy overhead press? The answer, of course, is the first selection – and then mixing in those higher threshold movements in over the course of the rest of the day or week.

Knowing this, what techniques might be most effective given limited equipment selection at home? Well first, let’s look at three training constants that directly apply to successful training stimuli in application of the GAS model to achieve the desired effects of supercompensation.

Three Ways to Stimulate Hypertrophy (Muscle Growth)

1. Mechanical Tension
2. Muscle Damage
3. Metabolic Stress

Now let’s say building muscle is the goal of an at home training program. The three ways to stimulate hypertrophy or muscle growth should all be included in making a training program effective.

Mechanical Tension represents increasing load on the tissue progressively, or simply using enough resistance. One strategy to do this at home would be to decrease the base of support in order to increase the resistance applied to one specific tissue. For example, in a squat, the prime mover is the knee joint, so in a training cycle, one could start with bilateral squats, progress to split squats, and then finally, single leg squats. This progression will apply more resistance through bodyweight and gravity alone on the quadriceps, glutes, and the stabilizer muscles involved in these movements.

The next order of business is to induce Muscular Damage. The eccentric or lowering phase of a movement will create the most muscle damage. So, we probably want to focus on the lowering phase of the squat, split squat, and single leg squat by spending the most time there. Five seconds or so down during each repetition will likely be a great strategy to induce muscle damage.

Lastly, we want to achieve higher levels of Metabolic Stress, which usually is done through using higher rep ranges. Different strategies such as intelligently designed supersets using not competing muscle groups, and things like 1.5 reps can also be effective for creating metabolic stress. In fact, in athletic performance training programs, achieving metabolic stress can occur in many different ways other than always doing high reps. Strength training occurs in the 1-5 rep range, so if the trainee wants to improve strength, searching for metabolic stress elsewhere may be best in certain situations. Isometrics can be huge for strength capabilities, so pairing an isometric squat variation of appropriate difficulty with a jump or sprint could be a great idea for an athlete while training at home.

Let’s sum it up:

1) Have a goal in mind.

2) Don’t freak out if you can’t train as much.

3) Your strength won’t decline so much that it won’t come back after these next couple of weeks; studies have shown that strength does comes back fairly quickly.

4) Do something fast! Power is the ability to produce force rapidly, and contrary to strength, it does tend to decline quickly. Luckily, power training can be trained easily with just body weight as resistance (sprinting, jumping, landing, shuffling, etc.).

5) Flush out internet programs or workouts by looking for a net positive gain. Look for Specificity, Overload, and Fatigue Management in a program, and look for Mechanical Tension, Muscular Damage, and Metabolic Stress, in a given workout. Then decide if a program or workout will result in a net positive towards your goal.

If learning more and training efficiently during these crazy times sounds intriguing, feel free to reach out to us at Cressey Sports Performance. We’re happy to help out with online programming to get you headed in the direction of your goals, regardless of your equipment limitations. Just drop us an email at csp.trainonline@gmail.com.  

About the Author

Drew Cobin, CSCS serves as a Semi-Private Strength & Conditioning Coach and Strength Camp Associate Coordinator here at CSP. He is a graduate of Central Connecticut State Uni​​​​versity, where he studied Exercise Science and played varsity soccer. Drew has experience coaching in many different avenues, but his great passion is in training for performance. He offers insight into cutting through some of the clutter, and staying on the path towards the goal. You can follow him at @drewcobin on Instagram.

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