Lockdown 2.0 hit the whole of the UK hard. Like a jab from Anthony Joshua, knocking us back, dazed and confused. Not quite the devastating uppercut, but certainly enough to take the wind out of our lungs.
For me, it was the boredom that caught me flush on the chin – another month of staying in, trying to find things to do. We had baked and binged everything there was to bake and binge during the first national lockdown. I was at a loose end and felt like I needed a bit of structure. Exercise, I thought, would help pass the time. I was already used to working out regularly. This time, I just needed a challenge. One with minimal kit and I could take anywhere.
The Men’s Health website (obviously), where we create new bodyweight workouts every day was an option, but I stumbled across an interesting new challenge: 100 press-ups, sit-ups and squats every day for the entire month. On paper, it was simple. I thought it would provide a bit of a routine and something ‘fun’ to do – baking, if I'm honest, had lost its appeal. I was also starting to suffer from quite bad lower back pain – every morning I woke up aching – so, hopefully, this could help.
Fast forward 31 days and here we are. This is what I learnt:
1. My Body Shape Changed a Little, Not Much
First thing to mention is that I didn’t weigh myself before I started, and I didn’t take any pictures. I know there’s nothing more accurate than the scales and comparing before and after shots, but this wasn’t what it was about. But I did notice change. OK, I was no Ryan Reynolds from Deadpool, but my upper body felt broader and I began to notice my obliques – if I looked hard enough, a V-shape was definitely starting to appear. My forearms and triceps were starting to develop, too – a by-product from the press-ups. Perhaps this was just from the pump? Was it possible to see changes so soon?
As quoted in Men's Health USA: beginner lifters can expect to be able to gain more muscle in their first month of training because they're just starting the cycle of hypertrophy, the cellular process behind muscle growth. But as your muscles adjust to increasingly larger workloads, it takes more effort to stimulate growth.
Researchers from the University of Central Missouri found that experienced lifters gained an average of 2.18 to 2.33 pounds (1.05kg) of muscle over the course of an eight-week training plan. According to a McMaster University study, the average man, training four times a week for 10-12 weeks is able to gain around three kilos of muscle. That works out at a rate of around a quarter of a kilo every week.
Any form of consistent exercise will yield results, but it takes time. Patience is needed.
2. My Shoulders Started to Hunch Forwards
It makes sense. Every day I was working on my mirror muscles. As a result, I was overloading the chest and the front part of my shoulders. These muscles were becoming stronger and without balance at the back, they will continue to pull forwards. In fact, this is a common problem many gym-goers experience, especially those who are more interested in what’s happening at the front rather than the back.
To avoid rounded shoulders, you need to work on pulling movements. For me, I started to add in bent-over rows with some simple stretches to help open up the chest and bring some stability to the rear of my shoulders and upper back.
Not sure where to start with stretching? Our beginner's guide to mobility will help you out.
3. Squats Are Boring
I tried to mix them up: some days I’d do sumo squats, then split squats, then jump squats, you name it, I did ‘em. But nothing cured the monotony of them. Nothing. Up and down I went, up and down. Mind-numbingly dull.
4. My Back Pain Eased
By the middle of the month, the ache that greeted me every morning had disappeared. Why? Well, squats (with sit-ups) can help strengthen not only your abdominals but your supporting cores muscles, too. A recent study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science found that performing wall squats increased the thickness of both the transverse abdominis and the internal obliques, which are two key core stability muscles located in your trunk.
Hip immobility is another cause of lower back pain, which can be a result of simply sitting for long periods of time. As your hips begin to seize, your back ends up having to compensate. As these compensations become stronger, your hips lose even more function. Eventually, the pressure becomes too much as your back gives way. Deep squats help increase strength, mobility and endurance in your hips, taking the pressure off your back.
5. It Became Easy(ish)
OK, so I wouldn’t say it got completely easy, but by the end, it genuinely didn’t feel like much of a workout. In fact, I was having to add a 20-minute cardio session to the end of it to make the workout worth it. This one was a particular favourite:
It made sense, too. According to research, after one week of exercise the body will start to experience changes mentally and physically, including on a cellular level. Between two and four weeks of exercising regularly, you will start to see improvements in strength and fitness. This is known, in its simplest form, as the 'adaption principle'. It refers to the body’s ability to adjust to increased or decreased physical demands.
We’ve all experienced it at some point during our lives, whether we’re playing sport, learning a skill, or working out. It forms the basis of progression. However, it’s important to note that unless you change your workout – by increasing intensity, type or duration – these improvements (or adaptations) will become smaller, which can lead to performance plateaus. The process is known as the 'Overload Principle', which means that in order to improve, one must continually work harder as their body adjusts to existing workouts.
A Final Thought
Did I enjoy it? Not much. Did it help pass the time? Yes. Did it give me something to do each day? Certainly. Would I do it again? No. It became boring quite quickly – go figure – which meant I had to change things up a lot. I went from press-ups to wide press-ups, to reverse press-ups and everything else after a few days. My sit-ups soon became crunches – I finished the last week by doing the plank instead. I also found it very easy to rush it. I'll be the first to admit that there were many times I was performing half reps. I know, this is pointless, but in the end it became a chore rather than something I was looking forward to doing.
What I will say is this: it was good to start something and finish it. I certainly feel stronger, and my back pain has gone. But put it this way, if we enter another lockdown, I won't be doing it again.
Sign up to the Men's Health newsletter and kickstart your home body plan. Make positive steps to become healthier and mentally strong with all the best fitness, muscle-building and nutrition advice delivered to your inbox.
For effective home workouts, uplifting stories, easy recipes and advice you can trust, subscribe to Men's Health UK today
You Might Also Like