Fitness: How to Overcome Disruptions to Your Workout Routine

Gyms might be closed again due to the pandemic, but a pause doesn’t mean all your hard-earned gains will be lost.

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It looks like we’re having to get used to gyms being closed during a pandemic that continues to disrupt our fitness routines. And while we’re all hoping it’ll be weeks rather than months before the doors reopen, it’s worth revisiting the question of how much exercise is needed to preserve hard-earned fitness gains.

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Keep in mind that a sudden reduction in training can occur in various contexts in addition to a pandemic. There are many reasons why you might temporarily find yourself with less time to exercise – including holidays, recovering from injury or family commitments – so understanding how to maintain fitness despite disruptions to your regular workout schedule is valuable knowledge.

Maintaining physical fitness is not the same as developing physical fitness, but it should be noted short breaks in training can work in your favour. Rest is rejuvenating, both mentally and physically, so don’t worry about taking a few weeks off from your routine. That said, any break longer than two to four weeks can lead to a marked loss of cardiovascular and muscular fitness, with the decline being more evident in elite athletes than in those who exercise simply to improve their health and their physical form.

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Given the likelihood of current gym closures lasting longer than a two- to four-week window, it’s important to adapt your training regimen to minimize the impact on your long-term fitness goals.

A recent article in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research reviewed several quality studies by various authors designed to identify the exact dose of exercise needed to maintain physical performance during times when a normal training program is interrupted. Most studies started by training a group of moderately active individuals for a specific period of time and then dramatically reduced their training over the following weeks. The researchers then analyzed the impact of decreasing frequency (number of training sessions per week), volume (duration of a workout or number of sets per exercise) or intensity (percentage of training frequency maximum heart rate or maximum load) of training. .

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Since most of the results of these studies are based on changing one aspect of training while keeping the others the same, it is useful to consider which of the variables – frequency, volume or intensity – are easier to maintain in your situation and which ones are most likely to change. If you’re stuck at home, you may need to keep your workouts shorter than usual, especially if the kids aren’t in school. Or maybe you can’t exercise as often. It’s also possible that you don’t have the right equipment to allow you to maintain the same intensity that you would in the gym. You could do bodyweight exercises rather than lifting heavy weights, for example. Whatever your situation, there’s good science to back up the assumption that it’s possible to minimize the impact of cutting back on your workouts for several weeks.

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“Performance adaptations to endurance training and strength training appear to be relatively well maintained in the general population despite relatively large reductions in exercise frequency (up to 66%) and volume (33 to 66%), as long as the exercise intensity is maintained,” said the authors of the review published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.

In particular, experts suggest that when it comes to cardiovascular fitness (swimming, running or cycling, for example), exercise frequency can be reduced to two workouts per week as long as volume and intensity remain the same. Or, if you prefer, exercise volume can be reduced by up to 66% as long as you maintain frequency and intensity. For the best possible results, however, the intensity should be kept as high as possible during abbreviated workouts.

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For those who prefer the weight room, the parameters are slightly different, and differ according to age. Research suggests that strength can be maintained with as little as one workout per week and with volume reduced to one set per exercise. Again, the intensity remains important. In order to minimize a significant decrease in strength, your muscles must reach failure (be completely fatigued) on the last rep of the last set.

For those over 60, strength training should be done at least twice a week, with a volume of at least two to three sets per exercise. And like younger lifters, you should strive to reach muscle failure on the last rep of the last set.

So whether you’re trying to maintain aerobic or muscular conditioning, the key is to put the same amount of energy into your workouts as before, especially if they’re now shorter or performed less often. Pandemic or no pandemic, the measure of a good workout isn’t always how long or how often it’s done, but rather the effort you put into it.

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