Losing Fat & Building Muscle during the Coronavirus Lockdown

A no-BS, quick guide on how to avoid going "backwards" & keep making progress towards your fitness goals during this COVID19 Lockdown.
So I’m going to approach this firstly in terms of weight (fat) loss, and then delve into the muscle gain side of things a little afterwards.

That’s because fat loss does not need to be affected by this lockdown one bit (there are a few exceptions, to be discussed) – whereas muscle gain will obviously be hampered by a lack of available equipment (else gyms would not exist).

However, before getting in to it, we need a quick mindset shift.

Obviously, the current situation is not “optimal”. However, rather than this constantly being at the forefront of our minds, remeber that optimality (likely) never exists – we are attempting to play the best hand we can with the cards we’ve been dealt.

Consider this guide aiding you to “optimise” your current situation, then it all sounds a lot more positive.

Fat Loss – What really needs to change?

I’ve spoken through how fat loss occurs many times on this site, it’s very simple.

You literally just need to create an energy (calorie) deficit.

This does not require a gym, a certain type of job, access to certain foods or anything else. It is achievable 365 days a year, including during an international lockdown – through basic caloric restriction and/or increasing expenditure.

You can calculate your caloric needs here for free (no catch).

Now all that’s really happened during this lockdown is your activity level has (likely) decreased. This means your daily caloric needs have dropped slightly, unless you aim to become more active where possible (hint hint).

Below I’ve attached the components of your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure), aka: your metabolism.

So the sum of the entire chart is how many calories you burn a day. Let’s discuss quickly.

The biggest chunk is your Basal Metabolic Rate.

Guess what? You can’t change this (unless you get significantly heavier/lighter).

Cool. Next?

NEAT (Non-exercise activity thermogenesis).

These are the calories you burn a day NOT through exercise. It’s through fidgeting, walking, cooking/cleaning, working and so forth.

So the biggest “controllable” component of your TDEE is not even the exercise/training you do each day – it’s your general activity.

We need to capitalise on this before we start thinking about home workouts – How?

Losing fat without exercise? That’s NEAT.

Fat loss requires a calorie deficit, and NEAT clearly contributes a large calorie burn out of our day.

But you’re stuck in the house, not working, not walking during this period? 

(Before I continue, let me note at the time of writing this, UK citizens are allowed out of the house for 1x outdoor exercise/walk per day)

Go for a walk. A proper walk, every day.

But we’re not calling this your “exercise” or a “workout” you see – this is just your activity.

To encourage adherence to this & make it all a little more quantifiable – track your steps.

If you don’t have a fitbit, use your phone and keep it in your pocket. Tell yourself that anything under “x-amount” of steps is unacceptable. For simplicity, let’s roll with the 10,000 steps a day (or 70,000 per week).

To encourage this step count other than just actual walking, be as active as possible with anything you can do around the house, garden etc.

I do appreciate this sounds silly and probably not what you were expecting – but NEAT does more for fat loss/total calorie burn than exercise, for the average person.

Get a hold of this before thinking about your home workouts, as you’ll see why in a moment.

 

Food intake – any considerations?

No, not really.

Probably again, not the answer you were after.

Look you’ve calculated (and are now tracking) your calories as per part 1 – yes?

You eat the appropriate calories and you lose weight, simple (or gain weight, if that’s the goal).

This doesn’t change just because you’re stuck in the house/not going to the gym, it simply means maybe you once needed 2500 calories a day, that may now be revised down to 2200 based on less hard training and a less active lifestyle.

That’s why you’re going to track your food and be honest.

Okay, a little extra help, go on:

1.

You’re probably going to want to eat out of boredom, particularly at night. You should consider having calories “available” for this time via calorie backloading and/or intermittent fasting.

Basically, eat less/nothing in the early hours of the day and gradually taper your food intake up so that you can consume more of your diet in the later hours, when you’re hungrier & bored.

You don’t have to do this, but it’s a helpful little tactic for some.

I personally like it because them first 3-4 hours in the morning I am so much more productive without a meal inside me (just an endless stream of black coffee, of course).

Calories in vs calories out – the timing of these calories does not impact your weight loss, assuming total calorie intake is the same regardless.

2.

Protein is also your friend, always.

Scroll back up, you see how TEF is the 3rd largest component? Yeah that’s the Thermic Effect of Food.

It costs some calories, to consume calories.

For fats and carbs this is a negligble amount (particularly fats). However for protein this can be as high as 20-30%.

So 100 calories of protein is actually only 70-80, when digested.

Small differences can add up, eat a more high protein diet. This also enhances satiety and improves your chances of retaining/building muscle which is crucial for not going backwards in terms of progress over this period.

Also if you’re not retaining muscle, you’re losing it. Weight loss is only something to be “celebrated” when those losses come from unwanted bodyfat.

What about exercise/home workouts, then?

Did you see how EAT was the smallet component of your metabolism? This stands for “Exercise-activity thermogenesis” – so the calories burned through intentional exercise.

Therefore, I would not try and use these workouts as a means of burning lots of calories.

Instead I’d see the calorie burn as a “welcomed side-effect”.

For calorie burning, look back at your NEAT; your walking, your activity – and more importantly, your actual calorie intake (and protein).

So let’s use these workouts to achieve something unique to exercise…

A challenge to our muscular system. A chance to build/retain muscle & strength, as we cannot do this through walking or lifting pots & pans.

This means we need to try and create as much resistance as possible, to emulate what we could do with weights in the gym, to the best of our ability.

Muscle is built predominantly through “progressive overload”, applying more tension to a given muscle over-time (the most obvious example is gradually lifting more weight, with the same technique).

In order to not go backwards muscularly during this time period, we need to try and not regress.

Without heavy weights, it’s almost impossible to retain the same level of “absolute strength”.

I would not be discouraged by this however as it does not mean you will not get stronger in other ways (for example in a higher rep-range in which you do not normally train).

However, muscle can be built in pretty much any rep range between 5-30 – so there’s no real reason why we cannot retain muscle during this period.

If you’re a beginner, you can still gain muscle pretty easily.

Therefore, your home workouts should be a chance for you to provide adequate resistance such that you can continue to gain/retain muscle – not a chance to just burn calories (as you can achieve this elsewhere – get it?).

An example of how the progression may go – let’s use the classic press-up:

  1. Press-up against a wall/high chair
  2. Press-up on the knees
  3. Press-up
  4. Press-up with feet elevated
  5. Press-up with hands (and feet) elevated 
  6. Press-up with resistance band(s)
  7. Weighted Press-up (with resistance band)

At any one of these numbers – you can add in pauses at the bottom, slower eccentrics (the way down), partial reps to create further challenge.

I doubt anyone will be doing Paused press-ups, with slow eccentrics, feet up high, 2 resistance bands around them for >15 reps.

On top of that, let’s say you’re currently around number 3-5 in terms of difficulty, and you can perform around 20-30 reps…

Aim for 100 reps in as few sets as possible. Then aim to beat this, before moving up to 150 reps or adding the band and repeating a similar protocol.

Get the idea?

A Summary & some final words:

Want to lose fat?

You need to be in a calorie deficitcalculate your calories.

Your activity is hugely important to your metabolism – increase it. Go for daily walks, move around the house/garden as much as possible & so forth.

Track your steps – this will help keep your accountable.

Eat a more protein-dense diet, to enhance satiety, burn a few more calories and to help you retain/build muscle.

You want to lose fat remember? Not just weight, so we need to retain/build all the muscle we can.

Let me re-iterate that, if you don’t build or retain muscle, the weight you’re losing is likely not just fat – this is not a good thing. Resistance training is important.

Start training at home and generating as much resistance as possible, within a 5-30 rep range. Not just jumping around to burn calories.

Resistance bands will be helpful here if you have no equipment.

You can slow down your eccentrics, include pauses, isometric holds & so forth to create enough of a challenge with lighter weights.

Want some personalised help? Get in touch.

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