The old saying goes that “abs are made in the kitchen.” If you want to build that six-pack, put down your smartphone and pick up a set of dumbbells. Without knowing it, people have been neglecting their workouts for years–and now they’re paying the price.
The “muscle memory how long does it take to get back” is a question that many ask. The answer will depend on the individual, but typically it takes about three weeks for muscle memory to return.
Note from the editor: This is a guest post by Reese Dockrey.
In the life of a lifter, things don’t always go as planned. On a long enough timetable, some unanticipated occurrence will undoubtedly disrupt your training. Perhaps you’ve had an injury that has forced you to stop working out for many weeks. Alternatively, you may have a baby and find yourself with no time to start “the pump” for a few months. Alternatively, a global epidemic may cause your gym to close for a lengthy period of time.
Then, over the next several weeks, the repercussions set in: you begin to lose the gains you’ve fought so hard to achieve, and you begin to revert to your old self. You may learn a basic bodyweight program at home, but you know that pushups and lunges aren’t going to be enough to replace a barbell and squat rack.
Understandably, a lot of males go into panic mode when this occurs. Fear comes in as you realize you must “use it or lose it.” Even when you’re finally allowed to return to the gym, you remember how difficult it was to build up your physique, and you hate having to start again.
Fortunately, the situation isn’t as severe as it seems. The truth is that most males who lose muscle are able to swiftly regain it, so you’re not starting from scratch. Before we get into how this works, let’s take a look at how you were able to gain so much muscle in the first place. The cliffsNotes version is as follows:
- Strength training with heavy weights puts your body under stress, which triggers a reaction in your body that “tells” it to adapt to the stress by becoming larger and stronger.
- You recuperate from stress by eating a high-calorie, high-protein diet and getting enough of rest.
- Hypertrophy, or an increase in the size and/or density of individual muscle fibers, occurs while you recuperate.
“Muscle Memory” is the key to your comeback.
Muscle memory has long been regarded in strength training as the body’s capacity to “remember” particular exercises. Basically, your brain networks become more effective at transferring big weights in certain patterns as you gain muscle. When you take a break from working out (also known as “detraining”), you lose part of your strength. Then, like remembering how to ride a bike, you rapidly regain your nervous system “gains” when you begin lifting (even years later).
Even your DNA has a memory. A 2018 research demonstrated that your “epigenetic” aptitude for hypertrophy isn’t lost even after detraining for many weeks (or perhaps years), i.e., if you become swole once and lose it, you may get swole more readily the next time.
Then there are your muscle cells, which have many nuclei known as “myonuclei,” which act as the cell’s “control centers.” Because each myonuclei can only manage a specific quantity of muscle inside the cell, the muscle cell need additional myonuclei to continue to expand over time. When you exercise, your particular muscle fibers pick up these extra myonuclei from surrounding “satellite cells,” and BOOM, you’ve got huge pecs and traps. Researchers at the University of Oslo revealed in a 2010 study of mice that once you stop working out and your muscles atrophy, those extra myonuclei tend to linger around – possibly for years.
That’s all there is to it: you’ve already completed the most difficult portion!
Simply stated, increasing the number of myonuclei in your muscle fibers and strengthening your nervous system is equivalent to replacing the engine in your automobile. It used to be a Honda Civic, but now it drives more like a Lambo. Even if you don’t drive it for a long — and the petrol tank runs dry and the battery dies — you’ll still have a supercar in your driveway ready to be revived.
How Quickly Do Gains Disappear?
You didn’t begin to shrink after only a few days of not exercising. In reality, it takes roughly 3-4 weeks for a muscle group to begin to break down when it is not exercised.
Here’s what else you’ll lose, according to a meta-analysis conducted by Legion Athletics:
- Glycogen. Your glycogen levels, which contribute to muscle growth, may be lowered in half after 4 weeks of detraining.
- Your tenacity. After three weeks, this may start to deteriorate. Your lifting form will most likely deteriorate much faster, which is why you may feel weaker after only a few days of detraining.
- Nuclei of muscle fibers. It’s possible that you’ll start losing it after roughly three months. That is, assuming you manage to lose it at all.
These calculations assume you ate adequate protein and calories throughout your break (i.e., you weren’t in a calorie deficit) and were somewhat active.
Your athletics and overall health will also deteriorate. Strength coach Carmen Bott reported a drop in V02 max (i.e., less aerobic endurance), worse insulin sensitivity, less ATP generation (i.e., less energy), and muscle atrophy in a paper investigating the effects of a 4-week detraining phase on endurance athletes. She explained that the better-trained you are when you first start, the quicker your drop would be. On the bright side, strength was shown to be maintained over the first month of detraining.
Strength levels may be maintained for up to 3 weeks after detraining, according to a 2013 research of rugby and football players. After then, the rate of strength deterioration increases (weeks 5-16).
Age is also a factor. Basically, the older you become, the faster your muscle strength deteriorates when you detrain. A 2000 research found that after 31 weeks of detraining, the younger group (ages 20-30) lost roughly 8% of their 1RM (one-rep max) strength, while the elderly group (ages 65-75) dropped closer to 14%.
As a result, regardless of your age or training experience, and even if your diet was perfect, a month of detraining will almost certainly result in a loss of size and athletic ability. You could have dropped a lot of weight after a few months.
What Is the Time It Takes to Rebound?
Since you’ve been detraining for months (or perhaps years), your muscle development potential has skyrocketed. Remember how great those “noob gains” were when you first began lifting, when you could add 50 pounds to a lift in a month? You’re no longer a complete newbie, but you’re in a comparable situation. Your profits will be recouped at a breakneck pace.
According to pro bodybuilder Jeff Nippard’s studies, it takes about half as long to regain muscular gains as it did to lose them. If you took a two-month sabbatical from lifting, it may only take a month to regain all of your gains. Did you take a six-month break? You’ll need three months to reclaim everything.
It might return even sooner. According to sports scientist Greg Nuckols, regaining all of your lost muscle after a three-month detraining phase might take a month or less.
If you’ve been off for a few months, this timeline works well, but if you’ve been off for years, there’s no formula to predict how soon you’ll get it all back.
Of course, you can’t just return to whatever training you were doing before. This is due to a number of factors:
- You’re not as powerful as you once were (regardless of what your ego might tell you).
- Your body won’t be able to recuperate from abruptly lifting something heavy.
- Your excellent form will be mostly forgotten, and you may feel as if it’s the first time you’ve ever touched a barbell.
How to Get Back in Shape Quickly
You won’t have to start from scratch if you’ve been detraining for a long time since you’ve developed muscle memory. Even so, if you’ve lost the most of your gains in that time, you’re virtually back to being a beginner (sometimes known as a “novice”). It’s better to start with a simple barbell beginning program like Starting Strength or Strong Lifts 55. For the first several weeks, the weight will be light enough that you should not get unduly tired.
But first, let’s talk about the people who just detrained for a few months, not years.
Reduce the intensity, volume, and frequency of your workouts as you gradually return to hard training. Lift lower weights for fewer repetitions and reps over a shorter period of time throughout fewer sessions each week. This should only last 2-4 weeks before you may continue your rigorous workout. This will allow your body time to make a number of important changes, such as improving your neurological efficiency and your “mind-muscle link,” or your capacity to cognitively activate each muscle group. Simply said, you should get some practice done before returning to the game. Here are some pointers to remember:
Reduce the level of difficulty. You shouldn’t begin with the weight you last used since your body won’t be able to recuperate. You don’t have to go all out or perform super-heavy, low-rep sets to get a good workout. Also, don’t lift until you’re completely exhausted. Keep a few repetitions in the tank, particularly on complex exercises. Isolation lifts allow you to go closer to failure.
Lower the volume. Stick to sets of 5-12 reps and no more than 2-4 sets each exercise. The 5-rep range may be optimum, just as it was when you were a novice. It’s the ideal compromise, enabling you to really test your strength without going too heavy while also giving adequate volume without overworking your body. Also, since you may have lost a lot of cardiovascular capacity during your hiatus, make sure you get enough of rest in between sets.
You should continue to make your exercises tougher each time, but for the first week or two, it may be better to avoid increasing weight. Slow repetitions, drop sets (not to complete failure), pause sets, and other techniques may be used to make things more difficult. Right now, all your muscles need is a little shove, not a sledgehammer.
Reduce the number of times you visit. It should be enough to hit each muscle group 2-3 times each week. Once a week may not be enough to rapidly regain muscle and strength, and more than twice a week may result in excess volume and pain. For this, a push-pull-legs or upper-lower regimen should suffice. You may easily achieve all of the required volume in only 2-3 30-minute exercises each week.
Choose your exercises carefully. Prevent movements that demand a large stretch, such as lunges, Romanian deadlifts, and good mornings, to avoid muscular discomfort, which is frequent after returning from a detraining phase. You want to be able to feel the muscle being worked and get a solid pump with whichever exercises you pick. As you ease back into exercising, wires and machines will be your best friends. Heavy compound exercises like bench, (traditional) deadlifts, and squats should still be used, but with less weights.
You may resume heavy lifting after 2-4 weeks, if your strength and form have improved. From there, perform whatever regimen works best for you to quickly regain muscle: powerlifting, bodybuilding, etc.
To swiftly regain muscle, you must eat properly, and how you should eat depends on what has occurred to your body since you stopped lifting.
How to Eat When You’re Restarting Your Workout
Because you were forced to take a break from your exercises, your diet most certainly suffered as a result. That’s OK; it’s difficult to remain motivated to eat well when you don’t have any scheduled workouts to burn off those calories. This indicates that your body composition (i.e., the proportion of fat to lean mass) has altered, and you may need to diet differently than previously.
You may have preserved most, if not all, of your muscle mass if you continued working out at home throughout your sabbatical, possibly with an advanced bodyweight or dumbbell regimen. If you additionally consumed maintenance calories, your body composition remained almost unchanged. However, for the sake of this post, I’ll pretend you didn’t work out very hard and that you did lose muscle.
Natural slim males who undereat (also known as “hardgainers”) would often cut calories from a bulk to their natural low-calorie eating habits during detraining. Then they’ll lose weight, but not muscle, and their body fat will remain the same.
As they detrain, the majority of other men will lose muscle and gain fat at the same time. They just underwent a “body recomposition” for the worse if they ate maintenance calories (i.e., they lost muscle and gained a higher body fat percentage, with no change in weight). They lost muscle and gained weight if they overate during their hiatus (all fat gain).
Now let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of three different dieting approaches.
Eat at a Calorie Deficiency (also known as “Cutting”)
This is the ideal option for anybody who gained a lot of weight during their sabbatical. On the plus side, your extra calories probably helped you keep greater muscle mass than most males. You may lose weight and gain muscle at the same time since you’re overweight and perhaps obese (BMI over 30, or body fat over 25%).
Reduce your daily calorie intake by 20-25 percent of your maintenance level. If you don’t know your maintenance calories, use a free online “TDEE calculator” to approximate them. Alternatively, keep a meal diary for a week and divide the total calories by the number of days. If you’re a large man (200 pounds or more), try to shed 2 pounds each week. If you’re a smaller person, aim for 1-1.5 pounds each week. You’ll burn fat as quickly as possible without losing muscle this way.
Consume at least one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. Adding even more protein to your diet during a “cut” is generally a good idea, and yes, it’s safe. You may drastically cut your carb intake and consume the majority of your carbohydrates before and after exercises. At least 80% of your diet should consist of “clean,” whole foods.
When your weight and body fat percentage are below obesity levels after a few weeks (or months), you may increase calories to maintenance to accomplish moderate muscle growth while continuing to thin down. Alternatively, you may keep reducing until you’re leaner, then raise your calories to a little surplus to gain muscle even quicker.
Consume Maintenance Calories (also known as “Body Recomposition” calories).
This is the ideal option for men who have acquired body fat but are not obese. Your best choice is to consume maintenance calories since you don’t have a lot of additional weight that would enable you to grow considerable muscle on a “cut.” Your bodyweight should remain constant, but your body fat percentage will decrease as you gain muscle. Fat loss will be slower than with a “cut,” therefore you may need to wait many months to become thin. Maintain a high protein intake and eat “clean.” You may begin bulking up after you’ve leaned down, or if you just want to see quicker results.
Eat at a Calorie Surplus (also known as a “Bulk”) store.
This is appropriate for those who are at a healthy weight and have a low body fat percentage and want to gain muscle as quickly as feasible. Increase your consumption by 10-20% of your maintenance calories if you’re older (35+) or acquire weight quickly. You want to grow muscle quickly while avoiding fat accumulation. Expect to gain 0.5-1 pound of bodyweight every week, with the majority of it being muscular growth.
You probably grew underweight as you detrained if you’re a youthful, slender “hardgainer.” You’ll need even more calories to bulk up, thanks to your rapid metabolism. As your body fills out, you have the ability to add a lot of muscle. It’s possible that you’ll require a 1,000-calorie excess or more. Expect to gain 1-2 pounds every week, with a muscle-to-fat-growth ratio of at least 1:1. You may lower calories to a smaller excess after your body has filled out to a regular weight for moderate and steady increases.
All bulkers should have a high-protein, calorie-dense diet. Eat a lot of carbohydrates if you have trouble gaining weight. If you’re prone to gaining weight, eat carbohydrates sparingly and obtain the majority of them before and after exercises. Reduce your calories to maintenance level if you get uncomfortable with your weight gain.
All you have to do now is develop an exercise and food plan, then show up and put in the effort; the gains will appear in no time.
All you have to do now is develop an exercise and food plan, then show up and put in the effort; the gains will appear in no time.
Reese Dockrey is a land surveyor and a former “thin person” who has fought to acquire muscle mass and power throughout his life. His physical transformation from scrawny to swole (together with the mountain of study that went into it) encouraged him to pass on his expertise to other guys in need. Scrawnytoswole.com is his website, and his book, Scrawny to Swole, is available on Amazon.
The “can you regain lost muscle mass” is a question asked by many people who have taken a break from their training. The answer to this question is yes, but it will take time and dedication.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you gain muscle back after losing it?
A: This is an extremely common question that often gets asked by people who want to get back into shape after losing muscle mass. While there are no guaranteed ways of getting it back, diet and exercise can help build the muscles you did lose over time.
How long does it take to regain lost muscle?
A: Although the rate of muscle recovery is highly individualized, it usually takes around 2-3 months to recover lost muscle.
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