Closed gyms. Limited home gym equipment. Canceled meets and competitions across the world. For avid fitness peeps, we live in a challenging time (to say the least). For the last couple weeks I’ve been flooded with questions and concerns about the “damage” being done from scaling back workouts.
If you have concerns about losing muscle and/or detraining, try not to fret too much, and i’ll tell you why. See there’s this cool concept we all know of but don’t talk much about called “muscle memory.”
Hold up, what is detraining?
Detraining has been defined as any loss of training-induced anatomical, physiological, and functional adaptations, as a consequence of training cessation. Basically, it’s what can happen when we take too much time off from the gym. But the question is, should you be worried? And how long is too long?
The good news.
So, during a detraining period, kind of like now, our myonuclei increase may stay elevated for several months. Because of this, we can actually take off months (~ 3 months) from resistance training and rapidly return to our baseline due to muscle memory. When we full on start retraining again, quicker change in muscle size and fiber transition will take place compared to the original starting point. This is because we have elevated concentrations of satellite cells that remain in our muscles. So that’s pretty cool. This is exactly why athletes are able to regain training adaptations quickly after an extended period of detraining.
Aside from that, detraining short term (2 weeks) has little to no effect on maximal strength. This is especially true for younger populations who are regulars at the gym. After a long term (12 weeks) detraining period, anywhere from 88-93% of strength can be maintained. We know it’s not ideal, but it should be comforting to know.
If training intensity is maintained at a high level, how many sessions/week would an athlete need to train to maintain strength levels?
This all being said, if you can get to the gym, I’d highly recommend keeping intensity high during this period. The need for high intensity to maintain strength is supported by long-term study results (Smith et al. 2003). A good example would be an SBD day with low reps, high percentages to maintain current strength levels.
Keep up the positive attitude and stay healthy friends.
Fleck, S. J., & Kraemer, W. J. (2014). Designing resistance training programs (4th ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.