If it doesn’t challenge you it doesn’t change you.
This statement not only applies to life’s challenges, but it also applies to physical activity and fitness.
When it comes to physical activity and exercise, we are creatures of habit. We find a type of exercise we are good at and we do it over…and over…and over again. Don’t get me wrong I think it is very important to find exercises we enjoy doing, but in order to increase our strength, we must challenge ourselves. That means trying new exercises and methods of exercising as well as strengthening the areas of our bodies we inadvertently neglect.
The truth is…building strength is fundamental to living your best life.
When it comes to physical fitness, the three fundamental components that comprise total body strength include:
- Muscular strength
- Cardiovascular strength, and
- Core Stability strength
It is important, now more than ever, to develop a strong mind, soul, and physical body. So, let’s get into how we can implement these fundamental total body strength components in lieu of COVID-19.
1. Muscular Strength – Time Under Tension Method
According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, “muscle mass, strength, and metabolic function is not only necessary for exercise, but also for the activities of everyday life.” Benefits of developing muscular strength include healthy weight maintenance, increased bone density, reduced risk of injury, improved blood sugar control, increased metabolism, and improved structural support.
COVID-19 has challenged us to find different muscle building methods as many of us don’t have access to weights or weight-lifting equipment. Even if you do have a couple of sets of dumbbells it may not be enough to increasingly build muscle using the traditional progressive overload method.
Well, it’s simple. If we can’t change our circumstances, we adapt and change the method.
Introducing…drum roll please… the Time Under Tension Method!
Time Under Tension Method Explained
An alternative, and just as beneficial, way to stimulate your muscle and create the muscle breakdown needed to build muscle mass and density is through a method called Time Under Tension.
When in the gym, most people look to increase the pounds of weight being lifted and move that weight from point A to point B as quickly as they can. What time under tension does is it increases the amount of time the muscle has to work in the eccentric (stretch), isometric (pause) and concentric (flex or squeeze) phases.
Basically, this means that by slowing down your movement, using mind-muscle connection, and squeezing and holding the weight, we can actually create more micro tears in the muscle (what we want). The longer the muscle has to work the more muscle fibers have to get recruited to withstand the external load being placed on the body.
This results in increased mass and density of the muscle.
Time under tension can be done in many ways as long as you are increasing the amount of time the muscle has to work in a given repetition.
An example of this can be in a squat where you are now taking 3 seconds to drop down to your desired depth (glutes fall below the knees) and pause there for 2 seconds before coming back up. When coming back up from your squat you can make this more challenging by counting to 3 which would increase the amount of time the legs have to work to get yourself back up to your starting position.
The time it took for 1 rep (8 seconds) is about the time it takes for a person to finish an entire set of 10 reps when lifting with only progressive overload. This added time will break down the muscle more and is a great substitution when heavy weight is unavailable.
Moral of the story, slow down, pause, and squeeze!
2. Cardiovascular Strength – Interval Training
Cardiovascular strength is the second fundamental component when creating a body build to last.
The cardiovascular system, or circulatory system, is made up of the heart and blood vessels (arteries, veins, and capillaries). The primary function of this system is to circulate blood throughout the entire body, deliver oxygen and nutrients to cells, remove waste products from the body, and maintain fluid balance.
Having a strong cardiovascular system:
- Maximizes the efficiency of your heart
- Decreases your risk for heart disease
- Strengthens your immune system
- Improves cholesterol levels
- Lowers blood pressure
….just to name a few.
COVID-19 has limited access to some of our favorite cardiovascular equipment – treadmills, ellipticals, stationary bikes, and my personal favorite, the stair-master. However, what so many of us forget is that cardiovascular exercise is anything that gets your heart rate up, no gym equipment needed!
One great way we can strengthen and challenge our cardiovascular system without cardio machines is through the Interval Training Method.
Interval Training Method Explained
Interval training is a type of cardiovascular training that involves high bursts of energy, to get your heart rate up, followed by shorter periods of rest. Research shows that 20-minutes of interval training can increase your fitness level and the number of calories you burn compared to 20-minutes of steady-state cardio like walking. This type of training challenges both of your energy systems: the anaerobic system which is activated during high-intensity movements and the aerobic system which is activated during low-intensity movements.
How to Interval Train
You can create a 15-30-minute interval training workout with a very basic structure.
Intervals typically last anywhere from 30 seconds to 2 minutes of higher intensity movement followed by a 30 second to 1-minute rest period. Choose how long you would like your intervals to last based on your current fitness level and then follow that structure for the duration of your entire workout.
Here’s an example of a 15-minute interval training workout:
- 5 Minute Warm-up
- 1 min 30 seconds jumping jacks -> 30 second rest
- 1 min 30 seconds running in place -> 30 second rest
- 1 min 30 seconds jump squats -> 30 second rest
- 1 min 30 seconds burpees -> 30 second rest
- 1 min 30 seconds mountain climbers -> 30 second rest
Repeat x2 for a 30-minute cardio crushing workout!
Core Stabilization Training – Restore and Recover
The third fundamental component of total body strength is core stability. Core strength and stability is truly the foundational piece of our physical body and helps us to perform our best in our daily lives. Specifically, a strong core allows us to control our body movements, transfer force, minimize strain on any one part of the body, and allows our lower back, abdomen, hips, and pelvis to work together for proper movement.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic many of us are living more sedentary and inactive lives as a result of working from home, sitting more, and a lack of access to our favorite exercise classes. This type of inactive lifestyle is detrimental to our health as it can result in stiff joints, muscle deterioration, poor posture, osteoporosis, and an increased risk for chronic illnesses.
Further, having a weak core can lead to:
- Difficulty with movement
- Lower back pain
- Decreased endurance
- Poor balance
- Structural imbalances
Ultimately, having a strong core and stabilizing muscles decreases our risk of injury and makes our activities of daily living much easier and more comfortable.
How To Strengthen Your Core
One way we can strengthen our core is through individual exercises and movements.
Here are 7 of the best exercises to strengthen your core:
- Dead bug
- Leg raises
- Hip dips
- Bicycle crunches
- Bird dogs
Another way to build core strength, stability, and balance is through Yoga and Pilates.
Many assume that yoga and pilates are one in the same, and although they have some similar aspects like activating your parasympathetic nervous system (the rest and digest system), they also have some distinct characteristics. For example, yoga focuses more on flexibility and is typically slower-paced while Pilates focuses more on core strength and is faster-paced.
I often hear people say they are not a fan of yoga or Pilates, but did you know there are actually a variety of forms for each?!
Yoga forms include, but are not limited to, vinyasa, yin, and restorative yoga while Pilates forms include classical, mat, and reformer Pilates. I recommend you try a few different types, maybe you will find one you enjoy. Personally, I love candlelit yin yoga!
There is no one superior form of physical activity. In order to develop total body strength, increase our fitness level, and get stronger we must incorporate three fundamental components:
- Muscular Strength
- Cardiovascular Strength
- Core Stability Strength
Remember: If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you!