Why You Lose Some Strength After a Break From the Gym
Do you lose muscle when you go on a two week break from the gym (or longer)?
It can feel like that has happened, especially when you’re not able to lift the same as you did on your last visit.
However, there are other things at play here, and the short answer is no, you do not lose muscle over that kind of time frame (anything less than 3-4 weeks).
Perhaps you’re going away. Perhaps you’re starting a new job, moving house, or you’re about to become a dad.
Whatever the disruption to your usual routine is, don’t worry about the impact on your muscle. You will not lose any muscle in two or three weeks. You may lose a small amount of strength, but that is not the same thing, and it quickly comes back (within 2-3 sessions).
Taking Breaks Up to A Few Weeks Will Not Result in Muscle Loss
A study in 2013 actually found that people who trained intermittently (6 weeks on, 3 weeks off) actually gained the same amount of muscle over a 24 week period as another group who trained continuously for 24 weeks.
After about 3 weeks of no training is when muscle loss begins to happen, but it’s not happening very fast at this point.
It may feel like you’re losing muscle well before this point, even after a week or even just a few days without working out. That is partly psychological and partly due to losing the temporary “pump” that you get from your muscles retaining fluid shortly after a workout. You can also see some reduced muscle size due to a loss of glycogen (carbohydrates bonded with water and stored in the muscles as fuel).
All of this will return upon a return to working out.
I take breaks away from the gym quite often – usually a few times per year.
Sometimes I take a full week off, just because I need a break (either mentally, or physically), other times it’s because I’m travelling and there’s no gym access. In this situation I’ll usually do what I can with bodyweight exercises, but I’m usually not able to achieve the same intensity as I would with barbells and dumbells.
Experience from one of my recent breaks from the gym.
- Get in some pullups
- Work on some assisted one arm chinups (i have a bar at home)
- Work on some one hand pushups
Aside from that, I didn’t do much training at all.
You won’t lose muscle because you take a couple of weeks off from the gym but you might lose strength
DE-training happens fast
How to prevent muscle loss during a layoff longer than 3 weeks
- Don’t eat in a calorie deficit. Ideally you should be at maintenance so you’re not gaining fat, but definitely not a deficit.
- Keep protein intake high. This should be the same as what you would usually eat. Around 1g per pound of bodyweight for relatively lean and leaner individuals.
- Stay as active as you can. Try to do bodyweight exercises or whatever you can with whatever equipment might be available. If you can raise the intensity in any way, e.g. one arm pushups instead of ordinary pushups that is preferential vs. ordinary pushups. Working with more difficult exercises that you can’t do for as many reps means you’re working at a higher intensity. This signals to your body that you need the muscle. It’s the same principle as continuing to lift heavy while you’re trying to lose fat. You should not lift lighter weights during fat loss.