Let’s face it.
It’s hard to keep up with a consistent workout or weight-training regime if you lead a busy life. At different phases in our life we have different priorities.
And if being in shape is no longer a top priority, you will no longer be in shape. It’s as simple as that. I like to think of well-developed and well-proportioned muscles as pets—
they don’t do much in an apparent kind of way (although they are good for your overall well-being and health); they are nice to have, look at and play with.
But if you don’t take care of them and feed them regularly, they will go away.
Use it or lose it.
Muscle requires a lot of energy for the body to maintain and if there’s no reason for it to do so (i.e., you no longer need to lift heavy objects), the body will get rid of it.
This is especially true if you are a beginner to weight training.
You don’t yet have the lifestyle and habits to support a lean athletic body, plus your body is not used to being in a certain body composition (more muscle, less fat).
If you keep taking time off the gym and take frequent long breaks from disciplined eating, you will never be in shape. Period.
If this sounds like you, the next couple of paragraphs aren’t applicable to your situation.
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This post is for people who have got in shape and managed to maintain an athletic body for a number of years.
Such people have a hard time taking a break from exercising and eating right. It causes a feeling of anxiety. One day off and they feel they’ll reverse all the work they have put in over years.
If you feel that way, fret not. For I have done the experiment for you and I have the results.
And this isn’t the first time I have done this either.
Before we proceed to the details, I’d like to warn you that my goals are purely from a bodybuilding perspective. I don’t have strength goals and this experience may or may not transfer over directly to other sports.
There have been 2 occasions when I have completely taken time off training— the first between 2018 and 2019 for a total of 15 months.
The second is the most recent between January 2022 and October 2022.
I was more comfortable this time around because I already had a previous reference experience to work with. I knew what to expect and I knew how quick I could reverse the losses.
To give you a rough estimate, it had taken me exactly 3 months to regain 99% of the muscle I had lost during the 15-month break, back in 2018-19.
This is the progress I made this time around after an 8-month break—
It took me 7 weeks to regain 16 lbs. Unreal.
Imagine had I walked into your gym as a 140 lbs average joe in October and gone through the same transformation in front of your eyes. It would have seemed like something out of r/blackmagicfuckery.
This was indeed what had happened in 2019 when I still trained in a public gym (I switched completely to home-workouts after 2020). The trainers were losing their minds seeing a “novice” morph dramatically right in front of their eyes.
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But the secret was this— I had already been in great shape before.
Most of the process that’s time consuming for muscle-building i.e., the formation of myo-nuclei through satellite cell fusion, is effectively permanent, and doesn’t need to be repeated.
So in a way, re-training follows a shortcut to building muscle compared to someone who is training for the very first time.
In effect, if your muscles have been a certain size before, it will take you a fraction of the time to regain that size the second time around if you had to start again from scratch.
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How quick you will regain this depends on a variety of factors.
If you’re a beginner and just managed to put on some muscle, you’ll lose all that muscle quicker compared to an experienced lifter who has been training for years. You will also forget the skill element of lifting weights quicker since these movements are still new to you. It will take you longer to re-learn exercise patterns.
Advanced lifters will have a more dramatic regain and will also lose muscle slower during de-training. Their bodies have got used to carrying a certain amount of muscle over the years.
If you have taken a decade off training, you’d most likely regain at a slower rate compared to someone who only took a couple months off training.
Most of these factors are anecdotal in nature and won’t apply similarly to everyone.
In terms of measurements, here is the rate at which I regained lost size (all measurements are in inches)—
Most of the regained size has been muscle and water. I have gained almost negligible fat.
I have eaten at or slightly under maintenance calories throughout the past 7 weeks.
If you’re an experienced lifter who has been in great shape for a few years now. But you want to take a break for whatever reason— family, a new project, work or burnout, I would encourage it.
You will lose size during that period (which can be countered to an extent if your diet is on point; mine wasn’t entirely this time around). You will also look like a novice lifter to strangers and it may take a hit on your confidence.
But you will come back fresher, with recovered joints and regain muscle & strength at a pace that will blow your mind.