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What No One Tells You About Strength Loss: Detraining Pt. II

What does detraining mean for me and what can I do about it?

Gaining adequate muscle and strength is not an easy thing to do. It takes countless hours and energy in the pursuit of a stronger and healthier body. But what happens when life gets in the way? Sometimes days- even weeks- can pass without touching weights. In this article, we’ll talk about:

  • what happens with your body during detraining

  • what you can do about it

  • and why it might not be so bad as you think


Resistance training & your body

Your body is extremely adaptable. Resistance exercise forces your body to adapt by increasing muscle size and increasing muscle force. (There are many other factors but we’ll stick to these for now.) These adaptations, however, are not very metabolically efficient in the long run; in other words, they force your body to work harder to sustain itself, now that it has to feed all this extra tissue and run at a higher “resting gear” (to bring it back to last post's car analogy).

This can be a benefit for people in this day and age, as increased muscle mass also increases the calories you expend while at rest. However, since it isn’t efficient, your body wants to know that these adaptations are necessary.

So when you stop giving your body the signal to grow and produce more force (i.e. by taking a break from the gym), you start to slowly lose the ability to do so.

The bad news

Going to shoot this to you straight. Without the gym, you are probably going to lose some form of muscle and strength during these few months.

According to this 2013 meta-analysis (a statistical analysis that combines the results of multiple scientific studies), most people tend to start to lose a significant amount of gains in strength between 3-4 weeks of complete cessation of activity (this distinction is important), then continued to drop off for as long as inactivity dropped off. For hypertrophy (muscle mass), the highest rates are lost between 8-16 weeks for people under 65.

Muscle and strength detraining can also vary depending on a few things.

A list of factors affecting detraining rates: age, training status, habits, eating, skill in strength training

The good news and what you can do about it

You are most likely not on bed rest and at least moving around. A study from 2006 found that subjects, after completing an 8-week resistance training program, managed to hold onto at least half the amount of muscle they had built after an 8-week layoff from training as long as they kept up with their daily activities and continued moving.

For muscle hypertrophy, extremely low training volumes have been shown to preserve around most if not all of the gains for at least 32 weeks (that’s 7 months!) according to Bickel et al, 2011. This is awesome news and means that bodyweight training at home should be enough to keep a good amount of gains if your goal is preserving muscle mass.

For muscular strength, unless you have a heavyweight on hand, unfortunately, there is not much you can do aside from staying as active as you can while away from the gym. The silver lining to this, however, is that regaining strength is MUCH easier than gaining it in the first place, thanks to muscle memory.

Long story short, your glorious return to the gym will not be completely starting back at square one, and there is plenty you can do right now to streamline the regaining process. Keep doing all you can at home as bodyweight training will aid greatly in maintaining a solid amount of your strength. Stay active, and be patient when you return to training; everything you had before quarantine will be just as attainable. Talk to our personal trainers when you get back, we’re eager to help 😎

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