Sticking with a regular training routine isn’t always doable—hey, work, family, life happens—and it can be seriously frustrating. But when you are ready to ease back into the gym groove that first workout feels insanely
If you’re questioning whether all that hard-earned muscle can disappear so quickly, the short answer is no.
Let’s talk strength gains. “If you stop resistance training, you will lose strength at about half the rate it was gained,” explains Pete McCall, M.S., C.S.C.S. and exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise. “So if you had increased your leg strength by 50 percent after following a 10-week program, then stopped working your legs completely, you’d lose half of that strength in 10 weeks, and all of it 20 weeks later.” Of course it’s important to note that sometimes it’s a really good idea to skip a workout. Or two.
But that rate can fluctuate.
It depends on things like how hard you were training before you stopped, whether you stopped completely—or just lowered the number of workouts you’re clocking—and your calorie intake. Mike Fantigrassi, M.S., a NASM-certified personal trainer and corrective exercise and performance enhancement specialist, says nutrition plays a major role. “If someone’s calorie intake is too high, it can lead to fat gain. So it is possible for some people to lose definition due to that fat gain in as little as one to two weeks,” he says. “On the other end of the spectrum, if someone maintains the same energy balance (how many calories you’re burning versus taking in) even though they’ve stopped training, it would take much longer to lose definition.”
That said, there is a reason you feel so fatigued during that first workout, particularly if you’re doing speed intervals.
“Studies have shown that cardio fitness tends to go away quicker than fitness built by strength training,” says McCall. In other words, that Spinning class is going to feel tougher than lifting weights.
And lastly, other factors come into play when your muscle definition dwindles. Things like genetics, age—we lose three to five percent of muscle mass per decade after we turn 30, says McCall—stress levels, sleep, and metabolism all have a role in how quickly you’ll lose that strength. While you obviously can’t control your genetics or age, you can try to reduce stress and log enough zzz’s.
So how do you know if you’re out of shape?
Well, it’s a personal thing that can mean something different to everyone. But McCall says that if you’ve stopped training for four or more months, then you’ve probably lost enough muscle definition and cardio endurance to put you back at the beginner level.
Regardless, it’s always a good idea to start slowly when getting back into a routine to avoid injury. And remember, you can—and will—do this.
—By Samantha Lefave