3 Rules to Maintain Muscle Without Heavy Weights


We’re three months into the year 2020 and already some of my worst fears have come to pass. The world has been hit with a global pandemic, and gyms and fitness centers everywhere have been completely shut down. So like so many of you I’m stuck at home without access to the weights that I now know took for granted.  How do I maintain muscle mass? Initially, the frustration I felt was similar to what I felt when I hurt my knee last year and was no longer able to lift heavy.  (I’m still recovering, but we’ll save that discussion for another post.) However, I am not one to give up on my fitness or workouts entirely, so I had to get creative.   Although lifting heavier and heavier weight is a tried and true method for both increasing and gauging our strength, there are solutions for times such as these when we may only have access to lighter weights than usual, if any at all.  So, today, I’m sharing with you 3 rules to live by when attempting to get gains, increase strength, and accumulate or maintain muscle mass without heavy weights.

Rule 1: Time Under Tension (TUT)

TUT has pretty much been around for forever and If you’ve done a plank then you’ve actually used this principle. The purpose of TUT is to expose your body to higher amounts of mechanical stress during your preferred exercise or movement. “Why would I want to stress my body?” you ask, well because that stress is what is what makes your body change! Another word for this change is adaptation; running faster, getting bigger, increased flexibility are all examples of adaptations. Enough with all the science stuff, what you really want to know is how to incorporate TUT into your workouts. Take whatever you’re  currently doing for a workout routine and slow it all down. If it takes 1 to 2 seconds to complete a rep of an exercise, make that same rep take 5 or even 10 seconds. Doing so will cause more muscle recruitment, mechanical stress, and of course more strength gains! 

Rule 2:  Increase Range of Motion (ROM)

Ever heard the adage “if you don’t use it, you lose it”? Well, that actually applies to your ROM. The body needs to be active within a range of motion in order to have continued access to it. Whenever that access is limited or stopped altogether, then, to put it in oversimplified terms, the body forgets that it’s there. For example, If you’ve ever broken something or worn a cast/sling, then you know common protocol is to immobilize the joint. After a joint has been immobilized, it takes time, effort, and energy to get it moving again. The body has to relearn how to access the ROM that it wasn’t accessing. I highly recommend regularly working through a full ROM under normal circumstances. However, doing so is especially imperative now during the quarantine. Increasing ROM is a sure fire way to give you some strength gains. Whenever the ROM of the human body is challenged, it has to adapt to it. That adaptation appears in the form of more muscle recruitment, joint stability, and better functional strength. People who lived an active lifestyle prior to the shelter in place might have already been performing exercises to a full ROM. If you are one of those people I recommend trying to increase your ROM, all that is  required is a little bit of creativity.  For example, the reverse lunge is a great exercise that allows people to work their legs unilaterally. However, it is impossible to hav