In a recent post 8 Ways to Re-build Your Muscle Mass – I shared my thoughts on how to get yourself back on the muscle-building track, after what has been for many people, a multi-month hiatus from our old life – and fitness – routines. Truth be told, just about everyone’s fitness slipped a bit as we all tried to muddle through the pandemic. Granted, though we aren’t totally out of the woods just yet, now that the ground feels less shaky, it’s time to find our footing and start moving forward. In other words, it’s time to pull ourselves – and our fitness acts – back together, regardless of how long these strange times drag on.
So, how to start? In a word, ‘slowly.’ As I mentioned in 8 Ways to Re-build Your Muscle Mass, now’s the time to focus on building your muscles back up to pre-pandemic levels. Remember though, Rome wasn’t built in a day, so take it a bit easy to start. The goal here is to build strength, not injure yourself.
Sound good? Then let’s get started on my favorite, back-to-basics, muscle-strengthening program, designed by strength and movement coach Adam Ticknor. This slow and steady program is one of the best ways we know how to get into (or back into) a strength-building groove. Follow the plan, keep at it, and in time, you’ll be well on your way to creating a new and improved version of yourself. Start here:
Start with basic conditioning drills. Every day, do the following sequence five or six times throughout the day to build good movement patterns, turn on those dormant trunk muscles, and prep your shoulders, hips, and connective tissue. Do a sequence when you get out of bed, and once after breakfast, and you’ll have two under your belt before you even leave the house. Do it again instead of a midmorning coffee break; that’s three. And so on:
Use a pull-up bar installed in a doorway or a monkey bar in a local park. If you’re in workspace or office without access to a pull-up bar, do a modified body row using your desk or other sturdy table: sit on the floor with your legs extended all the way under the desk, grab on to the top of the desk, and, keeping your trunk tight and your body in a straight line or “plank,” pull your chest up to the desk and hold that position for 30 seconds.
With your feet hip-distance or wider, shins 90 degrees to the floor, reach your butt back as you squat as low as you can go without compromising shin position or letting your knees fall inward.
3) Bear Crawl
Start on all fours with your hands on the floor, arms straight below your shoulders, knees beneath your hips and bent to ninety degrees, and feet raised so you’re on your toes. Crawl forward across the room, then backward to starting position, moving the opposite hand and foot in unison: right hand and left foot move forward or backward at the same time, then the left hand and right foot. Keep your back flat, not rounded, as you crawl.
4) Handstand (against a wall)
If getting vertical is too hard, walk your legs up a wall to 90 degrees or place your legs on a chair.
5) Walk – lazy and loaded
- Take a daily, 45 – 60 minute walk with an extra load added to your body in the form of a weighted vest, one that weighs in at no more than 10% of your body weight. It’s a safe, effective way to improve conditioning because it loads the spine from all directions while compressing your trunk, increasing stability, improving posture and cuing your trunk to “fire up” and hold you up straight.
- As you go, take it slow. No need to run or even walk at a speedy clip – this is all about long, lazy, and loaded.
- Introduce a barbell deadlift with excellent technique. This one basic movement will give you a baseline of trunk and pelvic floor strength, correct knee and hip hinge movements, and get you to pull your shoulder into place before you use kettle bells.
- How to do the barbell deadlift: Perfect your form with a few sessions with a coach first either at the gym or via an online coach service. When you’ve got great, coach-approved form down, and you’re ready to start lifting, load a bar with weight below your bodyweight and do single lifts with 1-minute rests in between.
- Then, over the next two weeks, increase the load to your bodyweight, and then, over the two weeks following that, to 125 percent of your bodyweight.
- As you increase the weight, gradually increase the number of sets, to 5 sets of 5 lifts in a workout.
- Keep doing your daily (Month 1) drills and keep doing your loaded walks.
- Introduce a basic two-arm kettle bell swing (to chest or nose height, not overhead). Group classes or online coaching can make this affordable—look for Russian-style kettle bell training. This puts what you’ve learned with the deadlift into dynamic motion.
- Start with a weight of 25 to 28 pounds for women or 30 to 40 pounds for men. Your aim: 100 swings a day, broken up through the day however you like. By the end of the month, it should only take three sets to achieve that 100-swing goal. Keep doing your deadlifts and daily loaded walk.
- To successfully get strong requires ongoing development of skills and capacity—or your body adapts too efficiently to the muscle building, and you begin to plateau (not to mention get bored). These drills serve as your launching pad for a strength-building journey, so now go have fun!
- After three months of groundwork, you will be in great shape to join whatever strength and conditioning program appeals to you, whether it be barbell-oriented (Olympic lifting), kettle bell training, calisthenics-based bodyweight training, or activities like rock climbing that build strength through motion. You are also prepped to do high-intensity metabolic workouts with much less risk of injury. Take a look at Strongfirst.com to connect you to expertly-trained strength coaches.