How To Increase Your At-Home Training Intensity For Your Sport

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With the pandemic being at the forefront of everyone's life right now and many gyms closed at this time, most of us are restricted to training at home. This can be difficult as we cannot train with our teammates, and we have limited equipment available such as bands, a couple of dumbbells or kettlebells, or just our own body weight to try and get our training in for the day. This may not compare to what we are accustomed to training within the gym with our teammates, such as having barbells, plenty of 45-pound plates, heavy dumbbells and kettlebells, deadlift platforms, and squatting racks to name a few. We are accustomed to using these forms of training equipment when we want to increase our training session's intensity. If we want to make our bench press harder, we add 10 more pounds to the barbell, or if we want to make our cable rows tougher, we add more weight to the cable stack. However, at this time, these are not options. How do we make our at-home training more intense without the option of adding more weight? Three options include: increasing the time under tension (TUT), exercise selection, and adding volume.

TUT is a concept that counts the total amount of time that you are engaged during one repetition of an exercise. This will typically include the eccentric (lowering phase), isometric pause at the bottom of each rep, the concentric phase (rising), and an isometric pause at the top of each rep. This will be written out as three numbers separated by dashes. For example, a tempo of 3-1-1-1 will mean to control the weight down for three seconds, pause at the bottom for one second, take one second to push the weight back up, and pause for one second at the top of the repetition; this is a total TUT of six seconds for each repetition. The third number of TUT, representing the concentric phase, will typically be represented by an "X" to prescribe an explosive concentric motion. If we were to perform a 3-1-X-1 pushup, then this would mean we will control our body down toward the ground for three seconds, pause for one second at the bottom portion of the pushup while still staying tight, and then exploding back up to the starting position where you would pause for one second before going go into your next repetition.

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With the pandemic being at the forefront of everyone's life right now and many gyms closed at this time, most of us are restricted to training at home. This can be difficult as we cannot train with our teammates, and we have limited equipment available such as bands, a couple of dumbbells or kettlebells, or just our own body weight to try and get our training in for the day. This may not compare to what we are accustomed to training within the gym with our teammates, such as having barbells, plenty of 45-pound plates, heavy dumbbells and kettlebells, deadlift platforms, and squatting racks to name a few. We are accustomed to using these forms of training equipment when we want to increase our training session's intensity. If we want to make our bench press harder, we add 10 more pounds to the barbell, or if we want to make our cable rows tougher, we add more weight to the cable stack. However, at this time, these are not options. How do we make our at-home training more intense without the option of adding more weight? Three options include: increasing the time under tension (TUT), exercise selection, and adding volume.

Full-length shot of a teenage boy engaged in sport, looking focused while doing push-ups. Isolated on white background. Training, active lifestyle concept.

Time Under Tension (TUT)

TUT is a concept that counts the total amount of time that you are engaged during one repetition of an exercise. This will typically include the eccentric (lowering phase), isometric pause at the bottom of each rep, the concentric phase (rising), and an isometric pause at the top of each rep. This will be written out as three numbers separated by dashes. For example, a tempo of 3-1-1-1 will mean to control the weight down for three seconds, pause at the bottom for one second, take one second to push the weight back up, and pause for one second at the top of the repetition; this is a total TUT of six seconds for each repetition. The third number of TUT, representing the concentric phase, will typically be represented by an "X" to prescribe an explosive concentric motion. If we were to perform a 3-1-X-1 pushup, then this would mean we will control our body down toward the ground for three seconds, pause for one second at the bottom portion of the pushup while still staying tight, and then exploding back up to the starting position where you would pause for one second before going go into your next repetition.

Besides jumping, plyometrics, and Olympic lifting exercises, which are purely explosive, TUT can be applied to all weightlifting exercises that we perform. Let's look at triceps pushdown if you are fortunate enough to have bands available for you at your home. For this exercise, you will throw the band on top of a door so that you can hold a portion of the band in each hand and push it down towards the ground. A band triceps pushdown with a tempo of 4-2-X-2 will start with us explosively pushing our hands down toward the ground, squeezing at full extension for two seconds, controlling the band up for four seconds, and pausing at the top for two seconds before beginning the next repetition. This is one of the few exercises where the lift's eccentric phase is the rising phase of the exercise as opposed to the lowering phase.

TUT has been attributed to being one of the biggest factors in achieving muscle hypertrophy/growth. When you try a few repetitions using a tempo as described above, you will start to feel the burn in your muscle as if you had just completed a set of 10 traditional reps. This is due to the constant engagement that your muscle is experiencing. If your training goal is muscle hypertrophy, you may be surprised that you can continue to reach your goals by implanting a high TUT protocol with your at-home training.

For example, if 3-1-X-1 becomes too easy for your set pushups, try 4-1-X-1 for your next set. This will increase the intensity of your training while allowing you to continue to implement the proper technique. If your goal is strength-based, then implementing a more challenging TUT can be a great way of giving you a better chance of maintaining your strength until you can start lifting heavier weights again.

Exercise Selection

Different exercises will have different levels of intensity. For example, performing different variations of the same exercise will alter its level of difficulty. If we perform a pushup on a flat surface, it will be more intense than to perform a pushup with our hands on a higher surface such as a couch, similar to a decline bench press. However, a pushup on a flat surface will be less intense than performing a pushup with your feet on a higher surface, just like an incline bench press.

Another exercise variation involves mid-repetition pauses. For example, with a bodyweight squat, instead of going all the way up and all the way down during each rep, a mid-repetition pause will involve pausing in the middle. You can go down, pause in the middle, then go to the squat's full bottom position and return to the top. This pause in the middle will require an even greater level of muscle engagement and increase your TUT.

Bilateral (two arms/legs) exercises will typically be less intense than unilateral (one arm/leg) exercises. A bilateral bodyweight squat will be easier to perform than a unilateral squat. During a two-legged squat, we have two legs to lift our body weight, while during a single-leg squat, we are forcing our one leg to lift our entire body. Similarly, a traditional push up will be easier to perform than a single-arm pushup, or a traditional plank will be easier to perform than a single-arm or single-leg plank.

Performing exercises with your eyes closed will add another level of difficulty to your training and improve your technique. For example, performing an eyes-closed split squat will be one of the most challenging exercises you perform due to the balance and muscle engagement required. You will be forced to take your time during the exercise's eccentric phase and find your optimal positioning or else you are at risk for losing your balance.

Adding Volume

Adding volume is a traditional way of increasing the intensity of your training. Increasing volume refers to training more. This could include increasing the amounts of sets you perform, the number of reps you perform a per set, and/or the number of times you train during the week. Increasing the number of sets you perform is a great way to increase volume while giving you a great opportunity to continue to perform your exercises with proper technique. For example, if you perform three sets of five pushups, you can add a fourth set. This will increase your volume from 15 pushups to 20 pushups. Since these are broken in multiple sets, it will allow you to rest in between each set of five pushups, which will give you the energy and strength needed to perform each set of pushups with proper technique. If you were to perform 20 straight pushups, you would be less likely to execute each pushup properly. Proper technique is important to help us maximize strength, limit the risk of injury, and implement optimal body mechanics that translate to our life outside of our training sessions.

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Topics: AT-HOME WORKOUT | TRAINING | HIDEKI MATSUI