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HOW MUCH TIME CAN YOU TAKE OFF WITHOUT LOSING STRENGTH/MUSCLE?
I thought this would be a good time to discuss this since I’m coming off a eight week layoff.
It happens to almost everyone sooner or later. Either by choice, such as vacations, or due to sickness or injury.
The answer to how much strength or muscle you’ll lose depends on several factors:
· Training Age (How long you’ve been training)
· Activity levels during the layoff
· Nutrition during the layoff
Older adults tend to lose more muscle and strength faster than younger adults. This factor is logical since we naturally tend to lose muscle mass and strength as we age. But your genetics also come into play. If you are naturally thin and have to work hard to gain muscle you’ll also lose it faster if you go through an extended layoff.
Training Age (How long you’ve been training) also comes into the equation. As a rule, the longer you’ve been training the longer it will take to begin to lose muscle mass and strength. It’s not a direct relationship; if you’ve been training for five years it won’t take 5 years for you to lose muscle and strength. But it will take longer than someone who has only been training for 1 year. Gains made quickly will be lost more quickly.
Your activity levels during a layoff will naturally affect the rate of loss. The higher the activity level the longer it will take to lose muscle. Note that this applies to any activity. You don’t have to be lifting. Any physical activity will help delay the loss of muscle and strength.
All of the above factors matter but, in general, a layoff of one to three weeks will cause little, if any, major loss in muscle or strength. Note that you may “feel” like you’ve lost muscle. You may even look a bit smaller and “flatter” without quite as much definition. But remember, strenuous exercise damages muscle fibers. That damage is part of what forces the muscle to grow larger and stronger. But, along with damage comes a bit of inflammation. That inflammation will make the muscle look and feel slightly larger. During a layoff the inflammation will subside making you feel and look slightly smaller. No one else would likely notice the difference but you will notice it.
For the first 2 or 3 weeks most people will have minimal loss in strength or muscle. So take that vacation. After a short layoff you may even come back stronger. If you’ve been training hard you’re muscles and joints can often use the rest. Remember, you don’t get stronger in the gym. You get stronger during recovery.
In a recent test of two groups of young men trained for 24 weeks. One group took 3 week breaks after each 6 weeks of training. The other group had no breaks in their training. At the end of the 24 weeks there was no difference in strength or muscle gain.
After 3 weeks you may start to see from 5-10% loss in strength and mass. But the loss in strength is mostly due to neural adaptations.
After 12 weeks even seasoned lifters will see a noticeable loss of mass and strength.
The good news is (even with layoffs of 12 weeks or longer) it will take much less time to gain back muscle mass and strength than it took to build it in the first place. It is highly variable but, as a rule, there is a 1:1 ratio – 1 week to build it back for each 1 week of layoff.
HOW TO MINIMIZE LOSSES
1. Stay as active as possible. Any activity is better than none.
2. Keep fat gain to a minimum. Stay with your nutrition plan if it’s been working. You’ll be burning fewer calories during a layoff so adjust calories as needed. But cut calories by reducing fats and carbs and keep protein levels the same.
3. Stay mentally involved in your training. Use the time to read, study, learn and plan for when you can get back to your workouts.