Muscle mass growth in isolation

By David Broomfield, Founder of Primate Training UK

If you’re reading this you are most likely a fitness enthusiast looking for ways to improve muscle mass despite having limited access to a public gym. Unfortunately, to continue to make considerable gains over this period of isolation may be difficult.

Unless you are fortunate enough to have access to a home gym, maybe some of your own equipment, or are new to exercise, then the likelihood is that you will be restricted to body weight exercises, meaning it can be difficult to increase load/weight and therefore stimulate the muscle effectively.

That being said, this doesn’t mean you have to succumb to the inner couch potato and let slide all the improvements you’ve made when you were allowed in the gym. It’s common for gym veterans and newbies to focus on certain areas they’re particularly interested in, whilst neglecting others – have you ever seen someone who’s second home is the barbell bench press?

Utilise what you can. Be creative. Use this time to refocus on areas that you may have given less attention too. By developing these areas now, when you do get back into the gym you’ll be in a better position to smash through them P.B’s!

Here are some areas you might find useful to consider at this time:


Most of us who enter the gym looking to increase muscle mass commonly neglect the dreaded cardio to focus on getting stuck into weights quicker, saving time. Now there is no excuse, and to be honest this negative association with aerobic exercise is to most of our detriment.

Cardio is a fantastic way to stay healthy and improves various physiological functions which reduce your risk of developing diabetes, obesity and other cardiac disease. Alongside the general health benefits, by increasing your aerobic capacity your body will see an increase in mitochondria and capillary density which increases the body’s ability to move waste product post exercise as well as deliver valuable nutrients to support growth.

This means when you return to lifting weights you will be better conditioned for muscular endurance, reducing fatigue and increasing recovery time, and in turn increasing muscle size.

I am not saying go out and instantly run a marathon. Going from limited cardio to excessive amounts of running could lead to injury, which is likely to hinder your performance and decrease your motivation. Instead, closely monitor your volume with gradual progression through improving time, distance or elevation. This will improve your physical health whilst limiting your risk of injury.

There are lots of different running apps and programs out there – for beginners the couch to 5k is an excellent option, while more advanced runners might want to check out Strava, incorporating hill runs or sprints to periodise your training.


In order to enhance adaptations to resistance training it’s essential to stimulate the muscle by manipulating training variables. Volume (reps x set) is a variable that has received considerable attention from authors and many have shown its positive influence on muscle hypertrophy, especially when using lighter loads until concentric muscle failure.

Great news! As lockdown is now a reality for people across the world, the likelihood is you wont be able to lift heavy weights. What this research demonstrates is that you don’t necessarily need to lift heavy to improve muscle hypertrophy – you will still be able to maintain some size (and maybe gain in some cases) which is perfect when most of us are limited to body weight exercises.

The general consensus is to perform 10+ sets per muscle group, per week until concentric muscle failure.

Depending on your ability, you might want to increase/decrease this volume accordingly. Try to fluctuate the volume every 4/6 weeks gradually increasing to above 40 sets per muscle per week on high volume periods of training and 10 sets which may be considered lower. The reason for structuring your program in this way is because you’ll improve your body’s conditioning by increasing the amount of work achieved per training schedule (4–6 weeks), ensuring that you are in the best position to increase size, or at least maintain mass during this period. When you do get the opportunity to return to the gym, you can pick up where you left off.


The first thing to understand is the body does not like change. In fact, the body strives to maintain a stable state – this is why some gym-goers become fixated on the same exercises but see limited progression. Generally over the first few months you may see a fairly rapid increase in performance as the body learns the movements of the exercise.

After this, the principal known as overload becomes vital for continued muscular development, and in order to grow they require sufficient stress by increasing the difficulty of the exercise as much as possible. This can be achieved by manipulating the load, volume or rest.

Of course, manipulating the load can be difficult at this time with limited access to a gym. However we are able able to manipulate the volume and exercise difficulty through various body weight exercises and every day household items! You will be able to continue to develop muscle, keep size and mitigate strength loss.

There are some great programs out there and one I would highly recommend is Pheasyque on Instagram, who offers a free downloadable body weight program which is fantastic!

For more tips and tricks, check out @primatetraininguk on Instagram!