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Building Muscle During COVID

You were on a roll with your goal of getting stronger before the coronavirus hit. Then, everything over night seemed to get shut down. You no longer have access to weights.

How do you get stronger without weights? Should you just put your goal on hold?

No way. Karen Bethers, a member of RxFIT-Provo, had a goal of running a half marathon after her third baby was born. She started training for it with us, alternating between group classes and long runs near her home. But then the race got cancelled.

The easy thing for Karen would’ve been to just give up – to say, “Well, I tried.”

But she didn’t. She’s developed the necessary habits in order to be a half-marathoner – so she said, “I’m just going to run the 13.1 miles on my own on the day the race was supposed to happen.”

How can we be like Karen?

Building Muscle

If you justify Karen’s story by saying, “Her goal was running… so she can keep doing that with no equipment,” you’re making excuses.

Building muscle is not built by weights. Building muscle comes from strenuous exercise. Period.

I can perform resistance exercises using my own body in a hundred different ways. I was with a couple of athletes on Monday showing them this and one of them said, “Man, it’s almost like God intended that I get stronger with my body first.”

As a preferred gymnast over weight lifter, I agree with him. Are olympic gymnasts not some of the strongest people on earth? If it’s been a while since you’ve seen anything in the world of gymnastics, YouTube “USA Gymnasts in Rio” and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

But I digress. Building muscle comes from strenuous exercise; more specifically, it is developed through anaerobic activities.

 Anaerobic Exercise

Simply put, your body relies on three metabolic pathways in order to produce energy. The first two, the “phosphagen” and “glycolytic” pathways, are considered anaerobic. The third, “oxidative,” is an aerobic pathway.

Going into the details of these pathways goes beyond the scope of this article, but suffice it to say that moderate- to high-powered efforts lasting less than two minutes are anaerobic.

If you’re attending a track race, the “anaerobic athletes” are competing in the 100, 200, 400, and 800 meter races. The mile and beyond (anything longer than a mile), requires the body to rely on the aerobic systems in the body. Simply looking at the body physiques of these athletes at the professional level gives insight into what training anaerobic vs. aerobic does to the body physically.

Anaerobic athletes spend most of their training in intervals. Instead of running a mile (1600 meters), for example, they will perform 16 intervals of 100 meter max-effort sprints. After they sprint 100 meters, they will then rest up to two minutes before performing the next sprint.

Anaerobic athletes turn mile-long workouts into exhausting 40-minute long training sessions.

Interval Training

In connection with metabolic pathways and their role in anaerobic/aerobic exercise, I found this chart made by Greg Glassman that might give some additional insight into interval training.


These numbers in the figure above are but a representation of what I’m talking about. For example, you can still have an anaerobic effort lasting 5-seconds long and then rest for 2-minutes before your next attempt (both numbers outside of their respective ranges). The important thing to note is the third row (“Load:Recovery Ratio”).

For anaerobic efforts, you need to be resting longer than the interval effort itself. And these efforts should bring you to your knees after each attempt.

Strength During COVID

With a better understanding of the biochemics of the human body, we can conclude that we don’t need weights in order to get stronger. We simply need intervals performed at a blistering intensity.

I performed the workout I mentioned above with some friends yesterday. We did 16 intervals of a 100-meter sprint. That was it. We rested 2:15 between each sprint.

This morning, I stumbled out of bed. My hamstrings, calves, and feet are unbearably sore today. But even more than my lower-body, my abdomen is most sore. This stuff makes you stronger. And I’m telling you this from anecdotal experiences – not simply from a textbook hidden away in a library.

You don’t need equipment to get stronger. Talk with your coach and alter the workouts to your goals if he/she hasn’t already. Be like Karen and don’t let COVID stop you from from reaching your goals.

Don’t be surprised when you make it back into the gym and you PR your back squat.


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