It’s frustrating coming back from time off. It’s a struggle. Sometimes you wish you’d just kept on going and working out, even on vacation, because it’s soooo hard getting back “up to speed” when you return to the gym! BUT SHOULD YOU?
First… It’s VERY important to take time SOME off. My best recommendation is a full week off, about every 10-12 weeks. This week break is critical to healing up little nagging joint issues, AND establishing a mental “reset” to avoid burn-out. You WON’T lose muscle!!! It’s true that if you’re literally bed-ridden for a week, you will lose some muscle mass, but assuming you keep MOVING and don’t just hibernate on the couch for a week, you’ll be fine. In fact taking that week, may allow enough “healing” time that you might get “caught up” and actually gain a small amount of muscle!
But you come back WEAK!!!
True… Even after a short one-week lay-off, you will feel weaker when you return to the gym, but it’s NOT muscle loss. Simply, while you were gone… the brain “forgot”. MUCH of our strength gains with training are neurological. Coordination, and practice, contributes a lot to our total strength. The good news is, it typically only takes a week back in the gym to “remind” the brain… and you’ll be right back to your previous working weights.
But what if I took a “few” more weeks off than ONE!
You’ll STILL come back! Even if you’re away from the gym for a few months, even as much as a year… your strength will return! The long term strength training process involves laying down layer upon layer of new muscle protein within your muscle cells. In theory, you MAY also add new muscle cells through a process call muscle hyperplasia. Once you build and maintain this new muscle protein for a while… your body will tend to keep it. If you strength train for 3-4 years, and make serious gains, then for whatever reason, take a year off… you won’t be starting “from scratch” when you get back into the gym. It will FEEL like you’re starting over, but your muscle has “memory”! Technically, it’s not memory, but it’s simply a process of re-awakening “dormant” muscles, and “refilling” once-hypertrophied muscle cells with new muscle protein. This is why “former bodybuilders” can stage amazing “comebacks” in the gym
in short periods.
If you’ve never had it… it’ll take a LONG time to build muscle. If it’s been a DECADE since the last time you stepped into a gym, you’re starting over! But if it’s only been a relatively short time… you’ll come back.
On the other hand… If you were a work-out nut for 4-6 months, then took a year off… then trained for a year, then took a year off… etc, etc… you’re basically starting over… every time!
So if you’re staging your comeback this January… if you simply skipped out of the gym for the holidays… don’t worry, it’ll all come back within a week or two. If you haven’t seen the inside of your gym in nine months, but you were steady for YEARS before that, it’ll take a few months, but you’ll be back! If the last time you stretched the sleeves (and not the waist band) of your shirts was college… and now your 40… you’re starting over!