We see ourselves with less time to train in many stages of our lives. If we consider different actions, we can mitigate the loss of strength and muscle mass in those periods in which time plays against us. The training loss begins in just a few days, and it will be more pronounced as time goes by and we do not remedy it. We will see when this loss of qualities begins, how long it takes to recover and how to minimize the effects of detraining.
How long does it take to lose strength, power and muscle mass?
Every year there are times when we have more or less time to train, whether for work or personal reasons. As we will see later, the ideal is to find time to do a couple of sessions a week, but if the cessation is total, detraining effects can occur.
Loss of maximal strength and power
Maximum strength is a quality that takes several weeks to be severely affected. A high-quality meta-analysis a few years ago found that it was still almost intact between days eight and 14 after stopping training, but after day 28, it dropped very sharply.
In older adults, the loss was more incredible and occurred earlier since sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass) and dynapenia (loss of strength) are accelerated in this population.
Power is another manifestation of strength that begins to be lost after some time without training. Power loss goes hand in hand with strength but takes longer to lose.
We can see how after 28 days of detraining, we can move less weight in the squat, but if we measure a vertical jump, it will hardly have dropped. Therefore, power is reduced after those days without training, but it takes longer to drop drastically.
Differences are again produced concerning older adults who can see their power significantly diminished after two weeks of detraining. This data is tremendously vital since the loss of power in this population can trigger falls and fractures.
loss of muscle mass
The loss of muscle mass is another of the effects of detraining that can be seen with the naked eye. Several studies have measured what happens after a stage of detraining in muscle mass and have observed how they have lost practically all the gains after a considerable time.
This does not happen in short periods, but we are talking about several months without training. Stopping training for a week or ten days not only does not negatively affect our muscle mass, but it is also a good strategy for muscle hypertrophy.
In one investigation, they divided the intervention into 14 weeks. Half of them were for training and the other half to see what would happen with detraining. Within seven weeks, the subjects lost their gains in the previous seven weeks of training.
It is clear that muscle mass is lost if we stop training, but it is not known when this loss begins to be pronounced. Although the first week after stopping training, we can find our muscles “flatter,” it does not mean that we have lost muscle mass, but that there are certain elements that give that full shape to the muscle that is not there, but they recover after one or two weeks. Training.
If we have to give a figure according to the scientific literature, it would be similar to that of loss of strength: about 28 days. A month seems like a barrier we must not overcome without training to avoid a drastic drop in strength, power and muscle mass.
A couple of workouts a week can prevent detraining
An injury that prevents us from training
There are cases like an injury where we must forcefully stop training, at least certain muscle groups. In these cases, if there is immobilization, the loss can be much faster than the figures detailed above.
To mitigate the losses, although they will occur to a greater or lesser extent, we must take care of the diet and use training strategies such as “the crossover effect.” We must avoid an energy deficit since this favours the loss of muscular mass.
Instead, our diet will be as many calories as we need to maintain ourselves, within which we will introduce at least 1.6g of protein per kilo of body weight. In this way, we prevent some loss of muscle mass.
The crossed effect means that when training one extremity, the effect is produced in both extremities, at least in part. If we have the injury in one leg and train strength in the other, we can mitigate the loss of strength due to lack of training.
We can train, but we have less time
In periods of increased workload or changes at the family level, it may be unfeasible to continue training the number of hours we did with more free time.
In these situations, science is on our side, and with a reduced volume of training, we can maintain the gains we have made up to that point. Progressing will be more complicated, but at least we avoid losing what we have won.
Some time ago, we detailed what to do in these circumstances. If you have little time, this is the minimum training dose to maintain your strength and endurance for months. In this article, just a couple of weekly sessions with two or three series per muscle group is enough to avoid the effects of detraining.
The good news is that it takes considerably less time to recover what was lost than it took to gain it for the first time. Muscle memory refers to elements such as myonuclei created with training and remain there with detraining.
As we train, more myonuclei accumulate in the muscle fibres. These elements, in addition to others, make it possible that when we return to training without training, it is easier and faster to recover what we have lost.
It cannot be established how much faster the recovery process is, but it can be affirmed that it exists. If you have been out of training for a while, you will have noticed quick gains when you get back in the gym. The time will depend on the previous training level and the time without training.