In which the question was asked:
“How long does it take to recover lost muscle? Will it be quicker than it took to get the gains in the first place?”
There was an interesting study published a while back, where Japanese researchers looked at how detraining and retraining affects gains in muscle size and strength.
They took two groups of men, and put them on a 15-week bench press training program. The first group trained continuously for the entire 15-week period, while group two trained for six weeks, took three weeks off, then resumed training for a further six weeks.
Subjects who took a three-week break from training did see their muscles get smaller during the layoff. The average decrease in triceps size was 2.2%, while the pecs shrunk by 5.7%.
But when they started training again, their muscles responded much more quickly compared to the continuous group. As a result, both groups finished the study having gained roughly the same amount of muscle.
So, why does rebuilding lost muscle tend to happen faster than gaining it in the first place?
First, a reduction in muscle size doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re losing muscle protein.
Detraining tends to reduce the amount of glycogen stored inside your muscles. Because glycogen binds around three times its weight in water, any reduction in muscle glycogen also leads to a drop in the fluid content of a muscle.
In other words, a big part of the reason your muscles look smaller during a layoff is because of the loss of muscle glycogen and water, which are quickly replaced when you resume training.
Muscle memory also plays a role, especially if you have a few years of serious lifting behind you.
When your muscles grow, they develop more nuclei – the “command centers” of a muscle cell that control what goes on inside that cell. However, those nuclei aren’t lost when you take a break. Instead, they hang around inside your muscles, which allows for a faster rate of growth when you start training again.
So, what’s the bottom line?
Taking a few weeks off won’t seriously derail your progress. While detraining is likely to lead to some muscle loss (not all of which is going to come from muscle protein), it’ll come back quickly once you start training again.
And it’s not like you have to stop training completely just because you can’t get to the gym. There’s plenty you can do with your own bodyweight, some bits and bobs you might have lying around the house, and a bit of creative thinking.
One of the “perks” you get with MX4 is access to my personal inbox. If there are exercises in the program you can’t do because your gym’s closed, just send me an email and I’ll do my best to come up with some effective “zero equipment” alternatives.
It’s a service that’s saved a lot of people from lockdown-induced muscle shrinkage, and may very well do the same for you.
Joining info here:
Christian Finn, M.Sc.
Founder of Muscle Evo