How to Maintain Strength Away From the Gym


If you’re worried about keeping your strength during this extended time away from the gym, read on.

Now that the COVID-19 crisis has progressed to the point of country-wide gym closures, we are having to adjust our routines, work out in new places (living room for some) with little or no equipment.

What does that mean for our strength, if we’re not deadlifting heavy weights each week or back squatting our 5-rep max percentages weekly? Are we going to lose our strength?

The answer is “yes” and “no.” Let me explain.

Strength is actually defined a bit differently than some people think. It’s “the ability of a muscular unit or a combination of muscular units to apply force.”

With that in mind, the most beneficial way to build strength is to, you guessed it, lift heavy weights. With periodized weight training and specific percentage work that builds on itself, we can train our muscles to more efficiently apply force. Said more succinctly, we get “stronger.”

So what happens during a period of primarily bodyweight movements, running, dumbbell work and odd objects? Will you lose top-end strength? In 2 to 3 weeks, likely not.

But it is looking like we are going to be away from the gym for 6, or 8, or potentially 10 weeks! What about then?!

Yes, you’ll likely lose some of your 1-rep max strength in the barbell lifts. We won’t expect you to set a new PR the day we walk back into the gym. But that’s okay! Here’s why:

“Strength” is only one of TEN general physical skills that we are looking to develop. The others are: speed, power, endurance, stamina, flexibility, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy. We’ve got a lot to work on!

And here’s the kicker that not a lot of coaches will teach: these skills are correlates. If I take a stiff person and improve their flexibility and coordination, they might (situation specific, of course) then back squat more weight. And by the naked eye, they’ve gotten “STRONGER.” But they actually didn’t; they improved their skill of “flexibility” and “coordination.”

See, all the skills work with each other. And THIS is why we can maintain “strength” while we’re away from the gym; we can train and improve our other skills.

Don’t worry too much about your top-end lifts right now. We are in a “period” of building the other skills: endurance, stamina, speed, and if you choose, the others like coordination, agility, balance and accuracy can be improved as well (these are cognitive).

In the meantime, do the following more often to help hang on to as much strength as you can while away from the gym:

  1. Build your core. Functional movements happen “core-to-extremity” so if the core gets stronger, our ability to apply force goes up.
  2. Do static holds – planks, goblet, overhead, bottom of squat, etc…. Train the positions and get extremely comfortable being in them.
  3. Tempo work – do things more slowly. Tempo push-ups, tempo air squats, tempo rows; all of these things will help keep our muscles strong.

Hang in there. I know your world has been flipped upside down. You’re adjusting to a new routine and lots of other things. It will get better. We will get through this. And we’ll be stronger than ever on the other side.

Reach out to your coach if you need him/her. That’s what we’re here for!

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