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How Quick Will You Lose Muscle if You Stop Working Out?

Build muscle and lose fat. Get leaner, get stronger, live longer.

How Quick Will You Lose Muscle if You Stop Working Out?

How to retain muscle featured image

Are you worried that you’ll lose muscle if you can’t get to the gym or decide to take a break from working out?

There are many reasons why you might be unable to work out:

  • A global pandemic that shuts down all the gyms.
  • A holiday or vacation.
  • An injury.

Losing muscle because of these enforced breaks is a legitimate concern. The short answer is: it will probably take longer than you think to lose muscle if you take a hiatus from the gym. Strength levels start to drop pretty quickly, but muscle takes longer to disappear.

So, how long does it take to lose muscle if you stop working out?

We’re in the middle of a coronavirus pandemic right now. Gyms have been shut for around 3 weeks, around the world, and in most places we have no idea when they’re opening again.

If you’re reading this in the future when we’re all back to normal and out of isolation, you may be worried about not being able to work out for a shorter period of time, perhaps due to a holiday or vacation. If this is the case, then just don’t worry about it. You’ll lose a little strength, but not muscle. And the strength will come back very quickly (1-2 weeks).

If you’ve got an injury that prevents you from working out, I recommend you try to train around it if possible. Do whatever you can. Don’t rush back the injured area of your body. Let it heal, but if you can work upper or lower body, perhaps using some more machines in your routine if that’s easier, then do so.

Either way, whether it’s due to coronavirus, or an injury, if you’re out of the gym for a long time then you’re doing:

A) Nothing.
B) Home workouts.

If you completely stop working out, you will start losing STRENGTH pretty quickly (after about 7-10 days).

Losing strength is not the same thing as losing muscle.

Most quick changes in strength are due to neurological adaptations. In order to exert force on a heavy object and move it, your nervous system and your muscular system must work together.

You have lots of motor units – which are basically nerves that control muscle fibres. The more motor units you can recruit, the stronger you will be.

You lose the ability to recruit maximal motor units quite quickly when you stop training. The muscle is still there, you just get worse at using it.

This ability comes back pretty quickly too – usually 1-2 weeks.

It takes about 3-4 weeks of not working out before you will start losing muscle.

When it comes to keeping your muscle, it’s “use it or lose it”.

Muscle is metabolically expensive tissue. Muscle will require 2-3 times as much energy (calories from food) to maintain it compared to the same amount of fat tissue.

This is an advantage to us now, when we live in an obesogenic environment. The more muscle you have, the better your chances are of not getting fat.

However, from an evolutionary standpoint, it’s NOT an advantage. Food was never this abundant until the last 50-100 years. Our bodies are still adapted to survive in times of scarcity from thousands of years ago. Having lots of unnecessary muscle requiring energy to feed it would mean you’d starve faster.

So, continue not using your muscle (no gym, no workouts) and you’ll start to lose it after 3-4 weeks.

How to prevent muscle loss

  • Eat a high protein diet (1g per lb of lean mass)
  • Continue resistance training in whatever way you can

Now, you might be of the mindset that “I don’t have barbells and plates, therefore squats and pushups at home without weights are pointless compared to the heavy back squats and bench press that I usually do”

Therefore you don’t bother doing anything at all.

This is not the right mindset to have. Even if something is sub-optimal, it’s still better than nothing. Losing 20% of your muscle is favourable to losing 40% of your muscle.

But you can still get great workouts at home.

If your own bodyweight doesn’t provide enough of a challenge and you can perform 30+ reps, then make the exercise harder!

barbell deadlift in gym

Just because you can’t train in the way you normally do, doesn’t mean you can’t still stimulate those muscles

Your body doesn’t know what type of resistance it’s moving against. All it knows is that it has to produce force to overcome that resistance. If you can do 5 one arm pushups and then you fail, the amount of force your muscles need to produce is comparable to your 5 rep max on bench press.

Keep providing an intense training stimulus and you won’t lose muscle

In fact, you may well gain muscle because you’re training movement patterns that you don’t normally.

A lot of the more advanced bodyweight exercises require surprising amounts of assistance from other muscle groups. For example, you’ll feel your legs and glutes when you do one arm pushups and one arm ring rows. You’ll get crazy core activation when you start training pistol squats.

Don’t think that because you can’t do your usual routine there’s no point in training.

You can definitely retain your hard earned muscle, and even build more.

Want to know the principles that must be applied to your training in order to build muscle?

You need this:

“Simply Build Muscle”  is a 70 page guide to building muscle, which goes through all of the principles that must be applied to ANY program (home or gym) in order for it to be successful. The program itself isn’t what brings success. There’s no perfect list of exercises, sets and reps. Any program can result in absolutely NO PROGRESS if you don’t apply the principles.

The principles never change. These principles are what really matters for having success when it comes to building muscle.

I’ve also recently added another bonus to this product. It’s a 27 page home workout guide with several example routines that you can use and adapt. It contains the following:

  • Guides (Text, image and video) on how to do 24 exercises that you can do at home.
  • Exercises organised into 3 different home workout programs.
  • Minimal, space saving equipment I recommend you buy (at a variety of price points)

If you bought “Simply Build Muscle” already, you can get this for free.

Just log in to Gumroad, download it again, and you’ll see that there is a home workout bonus now included.

If you haven’t bought it yet, what are you waiting for? You can find it here

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