How to Take a Break From Training Without Losing Your Gains

Trevor Thieme C.S.C.S.
·2-min read
Photo credit: Men's Health
Photo credit: Men's Health

From Esquire

The official term for the decline in training adaptations (strength, power, muscle growth, endurance, etc.) from an extended workout hiatus is “detraining,” and scientists have been studying the phenomenon for decades.

The good news is that unless you’re completely bedridden or a listless astronaut (in which case you can expect to lose muscle mass at a rate of 12 and 20 percent per week, respectfully), it can take up to three weeks for you start to noticing significant reductions in strength and muscle size. Some research shows that the timeline is similar for endurance athletes when it comes to reductions in time-to-fatigue, VO2max, and other markers of cardiovascular performance.

The bad news is that after about three weeks, those reductions start to pick up steam—quickly.

Your move: Don’t sweat the occasional, brief, largely sedentary getaway or staycation—especially if you’re a type-A kind of guy who never takes a day off from the gym. Indeed, wider research shows that sporadically taking breaks of up to three weeks can help refresh your gains once you return to pumping iron. But try to avoid letting such “rest and recovery” periods extend much beyond that. And if you want to keep yourself busy without necessarily grinding away as you usually would, consider sprinkling some active recovery into your schedule so you don't get stale. Just don't push yourself too hard.

The body is an amazingly adaptable machine, and that adaptability works both ways. Muscle is expensive from an energy standpoint, and if your body senses that you don’t need it, you won’t maintain that mass. But the body also doesn’t forget. Muscle memory is a real thing, so if your hiatus lasts a bit longer than three weeks, don’t beat yourself up—you’ll likely regain your size and strength faster than it took you to build it in the first place.

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