Training during the apocalypse – How to adapt your training and plyometrics

During this section, I am going to make the assumption that you are a strength or power athlete and you don’t have access to what you would normally utilise in a full strength and conditioning program.  We discussed in the last article that you will need to shift focus onto some other goals since we can’t train meaningfully for the goals we would normally train for. If you are a powerlifter, weightlifter or strongman there isn’t really anything you can do meaningfully to further your specific performance unless you are lucky enough to have a well kitted out home gym or you are a gym owner who has locked themselves down in their own gym. 

That is why I personally am pushing towards more of a conditioning and general fitness approach to my training over the coming periods.  My goal is to push my cardiovascular fitness and to lose bodyweight. If you are reading this recently (current date 28 March 2020) and you want to follow along I am keeping my normal training updates/log on Instagram just search for @castironstrength

What I am going to be discussing in more depth in this article is how you can set up your training to make sure you can transition more successfully into your full and normal training routine when the time finally comes.

We are going to make assumptions on access to kit we are going to assume you either have access to

  • No kit (so all you have is what is lying around the house, maybe a backpack full of books or water or some tins of paint) but basically only your bodyweight and space to work with.
  • Limited kit – maybe some dumbbells, bands, kettlebells and maybe you are lucky enough to have a barbell and some very lightweights
  • Light home gym set up – barbell, rack, maybe a bench and enough weight to do meaningful intensity at higher rep ranges (8-12+)

What should I be looking to do during this period of training

It isn’t the end of the world for you to lose some adaptation during this period of time with the competition schedule out to pasture for 2020 it is unlikely that you are going to have to come out of this period of time in fighting shape ready to set all-new time bests in competition.  So what we are looking to do really is to develop some more general physical qualities that are going to put us in better stead for the upcoming training when we get back to training and competing as normal. You can look at this as an actual offseason. Powerlifters and lifters call their hypertrophy training or their volume blocks an offseason or off-season training when in fact they are still training their sport just indirectly.  What they are doing is more analogous to a pre-season. 

Getting the definitions straight

I am going to putting the following in terms more commonly used in team sports and other Olympic sports that are more established with a better-defined calendar of events.  This is a bit of shoehorning for lifting but I am doing it deliberately as I want you to disassociate yourself with your normal habits abit and read the following in a new light so you can see this as perhaps an opportunity rather than a shit fight. 

Off-season (Rest) – a period of time where you are deliberately staying away from your sport and sports training.  This is to allow mental rest and recovery. This may include a period of de-training for maybe 1-3 weeks where we are deliberately allowing your body to lose some adaptation, to lose a bit of specific fitness with the aim of resting you mentally and physically.  The goal for the first period of time is to allow you to want to train again. After a big focused period of training and competing, burn out is a pretty common and natural response so to stop further burn out and stagnation we take 1-3 weeks to basically do what you want and to allow a more sedentary pace of life if that’s what you desire.  During this period the only thing you really don’t want to do is to put on too much fat as it will just make the following periods of training more difficult than they need to be. 

Off-Season (Pre-Pre season) – depending on the length of the off-season you are going to need to engage in some physical training as we want to kick on in the pre-season and get fitter and stronger than we ever have been.  So to do this we need to come into the next period of training in reasonable physical shape. We can look at the lockdown as our forced offseason so after taking a week or two to just adjust to the new reality of the situation and to allow yourself to acclimatize mentally we should begin to engage in exercise that is more structured and targeted towards the adaptations we are wanting to pursue in our pre-season training.  The frequency, intensity, and volume of work should be lesser than you are intending to perform in your pre-season. For lifters, we should be looking to 

  • To maintain strength and force production with equipment available
  • To maintain mass with equipment available
  • To try and enhance fitness and muscular endurance to lay the ground for future more specific training blocks. 

Pre-Season – when you get back into a full lifting program you can use the groundwork we are setting in the following period of training to put in more work than normal and to set the groundwork for bigger and better things.  We want to be coming into the next volume or hypertrophy focused training block (your pre-season) in better physical shape, being more robust in general so you we can handle higher volumes and intensities than we have been able to in the past.

In-Season (competitions) – the period of the year when you are moving from important competitions to less important competitions and how you schedule your time in between.  This is normally the period of time that powerlifters consider as “peaking” normally the training is specific to the sport and you are overreaching either volume or intensity constantly.  If we manage to follow this structure we should be entering into this period with better fitness and more muscle mass than we have done in the past and this should lead to better outcomes than we are used to.  

Size principle

Henneman’s size principle describes relationships between properties of motor neurons and the muscle fibers they innervate and thus control, which together are called motor units. Motor neurons with large cell bodies tend to innervate fast-twitch, high-force, less fatigue-resistant muscle fibers, whereas motor neurons with small cell bodies tend to innervate slow-twitch, low-force, fatigue-resistant muscle fibers. In order to contract a particular muscle, motor neurons with small cell bodies are recruited (i.e. begin to fire action potentials) before motor neurons with large cell bodies. It was proposed by Elwood Henneman. – wikipedia 2020

Size principle maintains that we can recruit all of our motor neurons in a muscle either by 

  • High force output (maximal strength i.e. 1RM squat or bench press)
  • High velocity (maximal sprinting, jumping or throwing)
  • Training to failure (concentric typically but also eccentric in the case of some bodybuilding programs).

It is the training of activating the muscle in this manner that leads to adaptation in strength, power, size, and speed.  It is also what our normal training is based around.

However, without the ability to train the movements we want specifically want to get better at then we need to use size principal to our advantage we should be looking to use training at maximal velocities and to failure in the muscle groups and movements we use in our sport.

Setting up your training when you have to take time out of the gym.

Now hopefully we have an idea where this training could fit in with the wider picture of our periodisation as a lifter. We can start filling in some details as to how we are going to achieve this based on the equipment we have available.

Training goals (reiterating these goals so we have it in our mind when we go further into the detail of how – 

  • To maintain strength and force production with equipment available
  • To maintain mass with equipment available
  • To try and enhance fitness and muscular endurance to lay the ground for future more specific training blocks. 

Maintaining force production – power, ballistic training, and plyometrics.

The main goal of our training normally is to be as strong in the competition lifts in our sports this obviously varies if you are a strongman, powerlifter, weightlifter or crossfitter.  We would normally use external load (i.e. weights) in the exercises we want to get better at the relevant exercises and events over anything else in training. When you don’t have access to high external loads (i.e. a barbell and weights) then training for maximal strength is pretty much impossible so we should forget about that as a direct outcome of our training for the time being.  What we can do however is to train at maximal velocities using jumping, sprinting and throwing to our advantage.

To use this training style we need to use maximal intension EVERY time we do a rep.  Once we are outside of warming up and we are doing an effort every single effort we do should be with maximal intention.  We are trying to use as much neural drive as we can every time (try and fire as many motor neurons/activate as much muscle mass as we can) we aren’t going to get any positive adaptation using this kind of training if we aren’t trying as hard as we can to do the thing we are doing this means

  • When we jump we try and jump as high or as far as we can every single rep.
  • If we are throwing we try to throw for the maximal amount of height or distance we can every single time we throw and implement.
  • If we are sprinting it is a maximal effort to try and move across the distance we are trying to cover.

Training parameters

  • Frequency of training – 1-3x per week.  Minimal time between sessions should be 48 hours.
  • The intensity of training – 90-100% of maximal effort for every working rep and set.
  • Exercises 3-5 per session.
  • Reps – 1-10 per set.
  • Sets – 1-5 per workout each exercise
  • Rest – total rest between sets. 3-5 minutes between each effort.  If you want to make the session a bit more time-efficient you can alternate upper body or lower body efforts.

Exercise selection

Vertical force production (useful to help maintain squat, clean, jerk, snatch and throwing adaptations)

Squat jumps (weighted and unweighted)

Vertical jump for height

Hurdle jumps

Repeat vertical efforts

Box jumps

Single leg vertical jump variations

Push press or Jerk variations

Overhead throws

Throws for height

Sprint efforts (30-100m)

Horizontal force production

Broad jumps


Single leg bounds

Sprint efforts (0-30 meters)

Hill sprints

Sled sprints

Throw for height overhead

Throw for distance (overhead)

Upper Body efforts

Plyometric press-ups (clap press up, plyometric press up variations)

Bench throws

Chest throws (standing from static position for distance)


For sessions like this, we want to make sure we are taking our time to warm up and session preparation is thorough as there is a real injury threat especially from sprint efforts if you aren’t adapted to this kind of training.  In the next part of this article, we will talk more in-depth about the other two kinds of training you can look to do in these coming weeks and how you can implement the whole thing into a training plan that will be more engaging and effective than just doing stuff x a bunch.


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