30 Mar All you need to know about “Detraining”
The country is currently in a state of lockdown due to the COVID-19 virus. The government has been forced to take extraordinary measures to seace the spread of the virus and in doing so has made it clear that leaving the house should only be considered if the task is essential. For many of you reading this, going to the gym is no longer an option and training at home is the current alternative. Now the dust has settled and people are coming to terms with having to train at home (or not at all), there is a burning question that arises: AM I GOING TO LOSE MY GAINS???
There is a bounty of areas that we can look into when talking about your gains such as strength, muscle mass and cardiovascular fitness. Looking at these attributes on a deeper level can help to understand what happens to your body when you reduce or stop training.
As we know with strength training, pushing those PB’s and improving your 1RM takes a lot of sets, reps, time and effort. Your muscles and nerves work together to create these gains in strength, we call this the neuromuscular system (Verkoshansky, 1975). This system involves lots of muscle fibres which are grouped together into motor units, attached to a bunch of nerves which interact with them. The more you train, the better your body gets at activating these motor units. More motor unit activation = more strength!
So, when you stop training do all of these nerves stop working? Do I lose my motor units? The short answer is no. Scientists that study muscles have looked into the effects of detraining and the consensus is quite positive for us who now cannot access the gym. The following timescales describe a person who has had to stop training completely:
- 2-3 weeks – 0% loss in strength
- 4 Weeks – 5-7% loss in strength
- 8 Weeks – 11-12% loss in strength
- 12 Weeks – 16-21% loss in strength
(Hakkinen, 1981; Houston et al., 1983; Hortobágyi et al., 1993; Neufer et al., 1987; Ogasawara et al., 2011)
Not too bad considering these participants did zero training right? The reason why strength stays with you is because those nervous pathways that you created through training are hard to get rid of.
What about if you continue training? Research shows that if you train just once a week that you can retain most of your strength gains for around 12 weeks, or potentially longer (Rønnestad et al., 2011; Tavares et al., 2017).
- Muscle Mass
What’s going to happen to those hard earned biceps? Evidence is fairly mixed on this one, but there are a few things you can do to retain the gains. Some research says that muscular atrophy (muscle loss) begins after around 2 weeks (McMahon et al., 2014) and other more recent research suggests that this process happens between 3 and 6 weeks of no training (Ochi et al., 2018).
Although this seems fairly quick, there are some physiological factors which can affect the perceived rate of muscle loss. This is down to the reduction in muscle glycogen once you stop exercising (Mujika and Padilla, 2001).
Less muscle glycogen = smaller looking muscles!
Glycogen and the water that it readily binds to can account for around 16% (Nuckols, 2015) of your muscle mass, a pretty large portion. So the loss in size you may witness could simply be a loss of these components. What you’re likely to witness is a small drop in muscle size over a 2-3 week period, mostly coming from water and glycogen not being needed to be stored in your muscles. This is good news, that these stores increase almost immediately after you begin training again! (Ribero et al., 2014). If you are still training, there is no need to worry. Muscle mass can be maintained at low volumes of training (around a third of total volume) meaning even by training minimally at home, you can still maintain your gains (Bickel et al., 2011) and you will continue to maintain water and stored glycogen in your muscles (you’ll still look swole).
- Cardiovascular Fitness
Cardiovascular endurance seems to be the area where we can lose gains quickly, endurance performance goes down by about 25% after 3-4 weeks in trained athletes (Bosquet and Mujika, 2012). Why does this happen? The enzymes involved in oxidation rapidly reduce, meaning your mitochondria become less efficient and synthesising ATP (energy). This is probably the fastest adaptation that you will lose! Luckily, training the cardiovascular system is easy and can be done with zero kit. If you maintain around 50-60% volume of your cardiovascular training, this should be enough to hold onto your fitness in that area (Mujika & Padilla, 2000).
- Training once per week is enough to maintain the majority of your strength.
- Training around a third of your usual total volume will help you maintain muscle mass.
- Cardiovascular training at around 60% of your usual total volume will help to maintain fitness in this area
So in short, if you manage to train around 3 times per week at home then you should be able to hold onto your hard earned gains. Depending on your level, there is no reason that additional training would mean that you can make some progress at home!
Cheers, Todd and TeamCC.
Bickel, C. S., Cross, J. M., & Bamman, M. M. (2011). Exercise dosing to retain resistance training adaptations in young and older adults. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 43(7), 1177-1187.
Hakkinen, K. (1981). Effect of combined concentric and eccentric strength training and detraining on force-time, muscle fiber and metabolic characteristics of leg extensor muscles. Scand. J. Sports Sci., 3, 50-58.
Houston, M. E., Froese, E. A., St P, V., Green, H. J., & Ranney, D. A. (1983). Muscle performance, morphology and metabolic capacity during strength training and detraining: a one leg model. European journal of applied physiology and occupational physiology, 51(1), 25-35.
Hortobágyi, T. I. B. O. R., Houmard, J. A., Stevenson, J. R., Fraser, D. D., Johns, R. A., & Israel, R. G. (1993). The effects of detraining on power athletes. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 25(8), 929-935.
McMahon, G. E., Morse, C. I., Burden, A., Winwood, K., & Onambélé, G. L. (2014). Impact of range of motion during ecologically valid resistance training protocols on muscle size, subcutaneous fat, and strength. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 28(1), 245-255.
Mujika, I., & Padilla, S. (2000). Detraining: loss of training-induced physiological and performance adaptations. Part I. Sports Medicine, 30(2), 79-87.
Mujika, I., & Padilla, S. (2001). Cardiorespiratory And Metabolic Characteristics Of Detraining In Humans. Medicine & Science In Sports & Exercise, 33(3), 413-421.
Neufer, P. D., Costill, D. L., Fielding, R. A., Flynn, M. G., & Kirwan, J. P. (1987). Effect of reduced training on muscular strength and endurance in competitive swimmers. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 19(5), 486-490.
Nuckols, G. (2015). Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy: The Bros Were Probably Right. Retrieved 24 March 2020, from http://strengtheory.com/sarcoplasmic-vs-myofibrillar-hypertrophy/
Ochi, E., Maruo, M., Tsuchiya, Y., Ishii, N., Miura, K., & Sasaki, K. (2018). Higher training frequency is important for gaining muscular strength under volume-matched training. Frontiers in physiology, 9, 744.
Ogasawara, R., Yasuda, T., Sakamaki, M., Ozaki, H., & Abe, T. (2011). Effects of periodic and continued resistance training on muscle CSA and strength in previously untrained men. Clinical physiology and functional imaging, 31(5), 399-404.
Ribeiro, A. S., Avelar, A., Schoenfeld, B. J., Ritti Dias, R. M., Altimari, L. R., & Cyrino, E. S. (2014). Resistance training promotes increase in intracellular hydration in men and women. European Journal of Sport Science, 14(6), 578-585.