How Not to Lose Your Gains

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Bodybuilders often have very large type II fibers, and unfortunately these are also the ones that will lose their size most rapidly.

Lifter

How to Minimize Your Losses

If taking time off from training is inevitable, there are certain things you can do to minimize unwanted physical changes:

1. Squeeze in just a little training if you can. Some training is better than no training.

If it’s possible, there may be a lot to gain by training at a reduced volume or frequency during a break instead of complete cessation of training. Researchers have observed that a complete preservation of strength can be maintained with as little as one set of 1RM of a series of exercises, performed once a week. Studies have also shown that the gains achieved after training three days a week for sixteen weeks could more or less be maintained for eight weeks of training just once a week.

A decrease in training from two to three times a week to once or twice a week also didn’t result in a decrease in strength after twelve weeks of training at this reduced rate. Likewise, it’s been observed that a total discontinuation of training resulted in a significant decrease in strength, whilst training as rarely as once every two weeks resulted in a significantly smaller drop in strength.

Another study has shown that the gains achieved after training two days a week for 21 weeks remained in the following 21 weeks… and yes, this was when training was reduced to 1-2 sessions per week.

If it’s an option to reduce your training to one or two short sessions per week, you’ll reduce your loss of gains dramatically when compared to a total training cessation.

2. Train heavier before taking time off.

A study by Fatouros showed that high intensity in training not only contributes to greater increases in strength during the training period, but also contributes to a better preservation of strength during a period of non-training.

In the study, participants were divided into three groups that trained at three different intensities: 40% of 1RM, 60% of 1RM and 80% of 1RM. Their bench press strength increased by 34%, 48% and 75% respectively after six months of training, while their leg strength increased by 38%, 53% and 63%.

After six months of training, the participants took a six month break from training, after which their bench press strength fell by 98%, 50% and 29%, and their leg strength decreased by 70%, 44% and 27%. The higher the intensity during training, the smaller the subsequent drop in strength.

3. Do some scheduled overreaching right before your break.

If you train the same muscles two to three days in a row before the break, or tear yourself completely to pieces with a hard 6-7 day training week, your break will actually serve as a much needed recovery period. Because of supercompensation, you may very well return to training stronger than before your break.


Related: 
How to Keep Muscle During a Layoff



Related: 
What Two Weeks Off Really Does To Your Body


References

  1. Mujika Iker and Sabino Padilla. “Muscular characteristics of detraining in humans.” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, vol. 33, no. 8, 2001, pp. 1297–1303., doi:10.1097/00005768-200108000-00009.

  2. Ingrid M. Egner, Jo C. Bruusgaard, Einar Eftest¿l and Kristian Gundersen. A cellular memory mechanism aids overload hypertrophy in muscle long after an episodic exposure to anabolic steroids. The Journal of Physiology. Volume 591, Issue 24, pages 6221–6230, December 2013

  3. Williams Caroline. Muscles: Don’t use them, don’t lose them. New Scientist. 2. September 2006. Issue 2567.

  4. Fleck, Steven J.; Kraemer, William J. Designing resistance training programs. Fourth edition. Human Kinetics 2014.

  5. Sandri, Marco. Signaling in Muscle Atrophy and Hypertrophy. American Physiological Society. Physiology. 1. June 2008, Vol. 23, no. 3, 160-170

  6. Bonaldo P, Sandri M. Cellular and molecular mechanisms of muscle atrophy. Disease Models & Mechanisms. 2013 Jan;6(1):25-39.

  7. Bruusgaard JC, Johansen IB, Egner IM, Rana ZA, Gundersen K. Myonuclei acquired by overload exercise precede hypertrophy and are not lost on detraining. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Aug 24;107(34):15111-6.

  8. Taaffe DR, Marcus R. Dynamic muscle strength alterations to detraining and retraining in elderly men. Clin Physiol. 1997 May;17(3):311-24.

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