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Muscle loss? How to stay fit

When fitness is a big part of your life, there’s nothing more frustrating than having to drop your routine due to an illness or injury. But can a few days of rest really get you out of shape? We asked Zimo Tam, sports scientist and personal trainer, to explain what happens to our bodies when we take a break from training – and if muscles really do turn into fat.

Muscle loss – fact or fiction?

If you take a long break from training, your body will gradually start to lose muscle mass. This is a natural protective mechanism, because muscles consume energy. If you stop exercising your body signals that it does not need to invest energy in maintaining muscle mass. Instead, it simply reduces the unneeded muscles.


However, this muscle doesn’t turn into fat, as is often claimed. There are several other reasons why you might be gaining weight. Firstly, your daily calorie requirement will decrease because you no longer exercise and have less muscle mass, but if you continue to eat as before, you’ll have an excess of calories which your body will store as fat.

On the other hand, your natural muscle tension will decrease after a few days without training. Your posture may deteriorate and you might notice you’re losing your shape. Nevertheless, the fear of rapid muscle loss during a short training break is unfounded.

When does the muscle and strength loss start?

The loss of muscle and strength only starts after several weeks and even then it’s relatively small. Although you will feel a difference after about 14 days without training, this loss of strength is minor.

Even after 4 weeks without strength training, you will not feel any major loss of strength in key areas. However when it comes to endurance, your overall performance will be impacted faster.

How quickly does endurance decrease?

Your endurance will decrease much faster than your muscle strength, which is why you’ll notice a greater drop in your strength training performance, especially when you train at a high level.

If you are at a medium training level, you don’t have to worry about a big loss of performance. However, if you take a break longer than 4 weeks, your performance will drop more and more. Endurance athletes in particular should therefore try to avoid long training breaks.

Prevent muscle loss

With a few simple tricks, the loss of muscle and endurance can be prevented or at least slowed down even during a compulsory break. You just need to let your muscles know they’re still needed.

If you’re unable to train in the gym with your usual weights, then switch to bodyweight training at home. Try squats or deadlifts with a box of water as extra weight. Do an intensive core workout or push yourself to your limits with push ups. Here I’ll show you exactly how to perform these key exercises correctly.

Here you can read, how to train Squats, Push Ups, Lunges and Sit Ups properly.

Even if you can’t work at maximum strength, you’ll still slow down your muscle and strength loss considerably.

Intensive HIIT units are very well suited to slow down the loss of endurance abilities. Although the load is different from your usual endurance sessions, your cardiovascular system will have to work hard during these workouts. This means your body will continue to receive messages to maintain its endurance performance.

The muscle memory effect

Even if the loss of muscle mass, strength and endurance cannot be completely avoided during a training break, this is no reason to panic. Because your muscles don’t forget so quickly.

The reason for this is the Muscle Memory Effect or “muscle memory”. This causes your body to regain your previous level in a natural way once you’re able to train again.

This applies to your strength and endurance as well as your conditional and coordinative abilities in general. How long it takes for you to regain your old level depends entirely on how high your level was and how long the break was. Usually you’ll notice your body adapt after only 2 weeks.

For more tips on functional training, a balanced diet and motivation, check out my fitness blog.

And if you want to learn more about the background of strength and endurance loss during training breaks, here is one study about short-term effects of training breaks (up to 4 weeks) and here ist another one about long-term effects of training breaks (longer than 4 weeks) just right for you.

Keep fit with #homesportsclub

In an ideal world, you won’t need to lose strength or endurance at all during this time. Urban Sports Club has tons of live classes that offer a variety of ways you can stay healthy and active at home.

Sweat and support: The best thing about staying #activetogether is that your membership fee goes towards supporting your favorite studios.

Pictures ©Stephan Tischmann

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