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Coach Caleb’s Corner – Staying Strong in the Shadow of the Virus

Coach Caleb’s Corner

Staying Strong in the Shadow of the Virus


Who would have thunk it?  The great call to action of our time for many of us might be… to stay at home?!  For those heroes out there providing all the essential services, and especially to those working in health care, there are simply not enough ways to thank you!  For the rest of us, doing our part to stem the tide of this infection as quickly and efficiently as possible, we work to adapt and help where we can.  The difficult task will be to accomplish all this without somehow losing ourselves in the process.

Without our ritual of going into the actual gym, we are faced with the conundrum of carving out some training ground at home, which can be very difficult considering that everything else is happening in that same sacred space too; school, office, and relaxation (hopefully).  This drastic change in routine also impacts our nutritional habits and triggers a noticeable spike in the consumption of convenience and comfort foods. How timely was it that some of our fantastic Breakthrough members just completed their Best Life Challenge experience.  We had no idea such a test would follow!


Given our current circumstances, it’s safe to say we are all experiencing the trials of somehow staying strong at a time when our health and fitness has perhaps never been so obviously important.  This little stretch of time away from the gym must not be a time when our training gets completely suspended!  Taking a break from hard exercise for about a week or so is definitely a good thing every once in awhile, but the repercussions of being away from training for longer can be quite disconcerting.

But things are in shambles, what if we just stopped worrying about exercise for ten days or so to get our heads around this crisis?

Surprisingly, the first victim of a 10 day hiatus in training is not actually the body, but the brain!  A noticeable reduction in blood flow to the hippocampus has been observed after the cessation of exercise, and this part of the brain is associated with memory and emotion.  More studies are needed, but the suspicion is that keeping up our squats, push ups and kettlebell swings, is what is actually keeping our spirits up, helping us offset age related memory loss and increasing our ability to concentrate and problem solve when we need it.

If we stretch the time off to 14 days, our VO2 Max takes a noticeable hit.  This means the maximum capacity of oxygen our bodies can use is reduced by up to 10%.  You know that uncomfortable “out of breath” feeling that we are all so concerned about right now?  Hopefully not, because you train all the time and are staying free of this awful virus, but if you didn’t exercise for a month, the percentage of lost wind becomes 15%, and after three months the drop in our available puff can reach 20%!  At this point, a walk around the block might become unpleasantly challenging.


The positive of effects of strength training and conditioning on our blood pressure readings and blood glucose levels also start to fade after 14 days of neglect.  How bad could that be?  How about losing up to 50% of your hard earned progress.  Of course we’re all being reminded of Mark Rippetoe’s famous quote; “Strong people are harder to kill than weak people and more useful in general.”  So it’s a good time to stay strong.

Speaking of strength training (my favorite aspect of what we do!), there’s some good news.  We don’t typically see much of a decline in strength gains until about four weeks off.  Phew!  That means that by keeping up our activity levels with remote training, plus some walking, running, hiking, biking, swimming, and any other such fun activities, we can stave off many of the negative consequences described above and still not lose our kettlebell and barbell gains for quite awhile.  That’s one of the joys of periodized, “hardstyle” training.

If we aren’t able to lift in a proper fashion for eight weeks, however, we can expect not only a loss in strength, but an increase in body fat.  Even while performing light exercise sessions a few times per week, one group of guinea pig athletes experienced a 12% increase in their body fat percentage and waist circumference while taking a break from their more dedicated training efforts for a couple months.  Yikes!

With all that’s going on right now, it’s likely that you may have to go a few more days than normal without exercise.  In spite of the challenges we all face, it’s important to stay active, possibly with some of the more recreational pursuits for awhile, but then make sure you get back on track with actual training after a week or so.  We may even find that the barbell feels better in our hands after a little time away.  Absence makes the lift feel stronger?  Let’s hope so, provided that we maintain our training on some significant level.  Perhaps we can’t lift all the heavy stuff we’re used to.  We can either complain about that or adapt our focus to create some positive momentum and accelerate our return to peak performance.


If creating intensity becomes a challenge, we increase the stimulus with higher volume, continuity of the training process, compromised rest periods, slowed or paused movements, the list of tools in our kit goes on and on.  I don’t mean to suggest that for all of us this somehow becomes a great time for self improvement, as that would make light of these unprecedented times.  Instead, let’s just try to use the skills we’ve earned to stay healthy and strong; prepared to face whatever challenge comes next!

Cheers! Caleb

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