The sudden withdrawal from our otherwise fun and challenging training routines has left a lot of us feeling clueless and wondering when we get to go back to lifting weights. A lot of us are turning to HIIT and bodyweight workouts but the one question that remains prevalent within the community is ‘can bodyweight workouts be as effective as weight training?’
“What exercises can I do at home to maintain muscle mass?”, “how many reps should be enough?” are some common questions that we get asked a lot these days.
Putting the kind of load that our bodies need in order to grow and make positive physical adaptations, without having access to weights and equipment, becomes a challenging task, to say the least.
But is it impossible? Absolutely not.
From progressive overload to exercise selection, all the concepts that make physical training what it is, are designed to help us do one thing- adapt.
And a little adaptation is what we need right now, a little change of perspective in how we approach bodyweight workouts. Fixing sets and reps for bodyweight workouts, puts us in a box and leaves things to chance. While I might reach failure at ten reps of squats you might be able to push it to twenty or even thirty, so the same workout that leaves me exhausted would probably not be the best thing for you.
Training based on effort is a much more efficient way of planning out bodyweight workouts than the conventional reps and sets format. Increase in muscle mass is a direct consequence of putting a challenging enough load on our bodies, so that it gradually adapts to the load. While in the gym that might mean progressively increasing the load week after week, at home it can simply translate to training close to failure.
Here are a couple of simple tools for reference:
Using the RPE scale to program workouts
RPE or Rate of perceived exertion is a scale that ranges from 0-10, 0 being no effort at all and 10 being maximum effort. This scale is typically used to rate our perceived effort for a certain exercise.
Example- I’ll rate my set of 10 squats as RPE 9 while you might rate it as RPE 2.
Since perception of effort is subjective and varies person to person, using RPE to program workouts becomes very convenient to make the same workout challenging for two different individuals. Ten reps of squats might not mean the same thing for us working upto 9 RPE for squats would be equally difficult for both of us depending on our own physical capacities.
Instead of setting reps and sets for a certain exercise work at 8-9 RPE or near failure.
Tracking progress with the RPE Scale
Effort based training also makes it very convenient to track weekly progress, you can easily figure out the number of reps you were able to perform while doing a certain exercise at RPE 8 during week 1 of training. This sets a benchmark for comparing the same exercise done at the same RPE in the following weeks, and since we’re training at near maximum effort, it is highly likely to notice a significant increase in the number of reps or a significant decrease in the effort.
Example- your rating 10 squats as RPE 8 in week one will most likely drop to RPE 5-6 in the following weeks.
This concept combined with consistency and good training frequency gives us a framework to program our training very efficiently in and out of the weight room!