QuaranGAINS: Maintaining Strength and Power with At-Home Workouts

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By Matthew Moreno. Matt is a current front desk staff at Cliffs of Id. Matt received his M.S. in Kinesiology from California State University, Fullerton, and has conducted exercise science research with the Los Angeles Fire Department and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. 

One of the biggest fears of any gym bro is: “What happens if I can’t use the gym for a week?” I doubt any of us have ever considered the truly apocalyptic, “What happens if I can’t use the gym for 2+months?” This strange new COVID-19 world that we are now immersed in has seen the gympocalypse come to pass. For many of us, stopping our workouts until the gyms reopen is simply impossible.

Maintaining strength and power with minimal equipment is possible and, according to research, you can expect to maintain most of your gains should you adhere to a well-designed workout routine.

Working out with limited equipment, and potentially limited space, raises challenges for those of us who take our strength/power training seriously. The good news is that maintaining strength and power with minimal equipment is possible and, according to research, you can expect to maintain most of your gains should you adhere to a well-designed workout routine.

A well-designed workout routine in this case would consist of two things: adequate volume to stimulate growth in the muscles and appropriate intensity to maintain strength. Intensity is hard to achieve from solely working out at home; doing sets of 100 push-ups might feel good for a “pump” but research suggests that it does not work for improving your strength. How do you maintain strength/power when you don’t have access to weights?

The best way to [maintain strength/power without weights is through] explosive exercises that focus on maximum force generation….In other words, you are going to throw something, and you are going to throw it as hard as you possibly can.

The best way to do this is to demonstrate the use of explosive exercises that focus on maximum force generation and maximum intent to move the object fast. In other words, you are going to throw something, and you are going to throw it as hard as you possibly can. This blog will showcase a routine that you can do 2-3 times per week, either on its own or as a supplement to your existing routine. A brief description of each exercise is provided, along with the reason why it has been selected. Additionally, regressions and progressions of some exercises are provided so that you can swap them out as you see fit.

Equipment Required

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to create a good workout routine that requires zero equipment. This suggested workout requires at a minimum one medicine ball. Preferred weight-range for your apocalypse gym starter pack is between 10 to 15 pounds.

The Workout

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Let’s dive right into the workout. The structure is simple: A1/A2 and B1/B2 are designed to be completed together (a superset) and consist of 1 upper and 1 lower body exercise that you alternate between. For example, you will perform your 4 medicine ball throws and your 4 backwards overhead medicine ball throw (bombt) as a single superset and then take your rest. The suggested rest period between supersets is 1-2 minutes.

The workout is intended to provide gradual progression from week-to-week through increasing volume over the three-week period. Assuming the shutdown is still in place after this period, you can modify the workout by switching out the exercises, increasing/decreasing the weight of the ball, or shortening rest periods.

Caution should be used if you are adding more than 5 sets or over 6 repetitions, as the point of the exercises is maximal force production. This means that every repetition should be done with good form!

Medicine Ball Throw

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Throwing a medicine ball is a great way to develop (and maintain) upper body pushing strength/power. It is a simple exercise and does not require much space. A perfect place to perform this is against a sturdy wall, or with your quarantine partner! Suggested progressions for this exercise are single-arm throws or clapping push-ups.

Performing the Medicine Ball throw

  • Start with a slight bend in the knee in order to create some tension in the lower body
  • Elbows should be pointing towards the ground, and not parallel with the ground (avoid excessive “chicken wing”
  • Throw the ball away from you as hard as possible.
  • Run after the ball so it does not get hit by that car driving by

Backwards Overhead Medicine Ball Throw (BOMBT)

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A personal favorite exercise of mine is the BOMBT, a great tool to develop both lower and upper body power. Creation and transfer of kinetic energy from lower-upper body is extremely common in sports (such as climbing…) and this exercise hits all those buckets. Take care not to throw towards a window though. To regress this exercise, you can do a standard vertical jump/box jump/tuck jump. To make this exercise harder, you can increase the ball weight or turn it into a depth jump if you have a box to jump off.

Performing the BOMBT

  • Start standing up straight, ball in hand at chest level
  • Descend into a half-squat with the ball almost between your legs
  • In one motion, explode into a jump and simultaneously lift the ball overhead
  • Release once above head
  • Collect the ball

Overhead Medicine Ball Slam

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Experiencing frustration from cabin fever? Take out some of that frustration with this exercise! The overhead medicine ball slam is another full-body exercise focused on upper body use. For many of us who can’t climb right now, this will ensure your pulling muscles are getting adequate stimulation. To change it up, you can simply throw the ball forward from overhead instead of a slam towards the ground.

Performing the Overhead Medicine Ball Slam

  • Start with knees slightly bent and ball extended overhead
  • In one motion slam the ball into the ground
  • Make sure to follow through with the arms!

Broad Jump

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You should be tired of the ball by now, so this last exercise can be done without it. The broad jump compliments the vertical force direction of the BOMBT with some horizontal force generation. To progress the exercise, try chaining them together with no stops in between or doing single-legged hops.

Performing the Broad Jump

  • Start by swinging your hands backwards and leaning forwards (almost putting yourself off balance)
  • Swing hands forward and jump forward as far as you can
  • Land and try not to fall over!

Final Thoughts

Many of us do not normally train explosively, so some soreness is to be expected. Once again, the focus here is not on getting tired but quality movement: maximal force and maximal intent to move with every rep. Hope you enjoy the workout, and let us know what you thought of it on social media!

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