Written by: Brian Henneberg, Physiotherapist
You have now been sitting at home in front of the screen for months without the opportunity to train. The muscle mass rattles off, and the strength has also decreased a lot. The good news is, it's probably not as bad as you think.
The quick overview:
- Studies show that the body is surprisingly good at maintaining shape during a break, like the one we have all been forced into - especially if you have had the opportunity to do just a little bit of exercise.
- The circulatory condition - that is, the one we usually understand by a good condition or a good condition - can remain at a relatively high level despite several months of lack of training.
- On the other hand, your metabolic rate drops very quickly. A good metabolic condition helps to maintain good health and provide better muscular endurance. However, studies have shown that a simple walk can improve metabolic condition quite effectively.
- Do you have a bit of home training equipment, or can you do some alternative exercises with body weight, then you will to a much greater extent than at a complete break be able to maintain a good physique.
- When you start exercising again, the muscle cell nuclei will quickly start producing muscle mass. Thus, you will regain your muscle mass in significantly less time than it took to build it in the first place.
How fast does the shape shrink?
The body is probably better at maintaining shape than you think. Especially if you have had the opportunity to keep the workout a little bit at bay. And then there are also some mechanisms that make you probably need to get back in shape quickly as soon as you are allowed to get started again.
One of the things that goes back very quickly when you take a break is what is called the metabolic condition. It includes things like the ability of muscles to extract oxygen and to consume energy (eg fat) and store energy (eg glycogen). A good metabolic condition helps to maintain good health and provide better muscular endurance. Unfortunately, the metabolic condition drops massively after a few weeks without exercise. On the other hand, it is not difficult to correct it again. We will take a closer look at this in the next section.
The circulatory condition, ie what we usually understand by a good condition or a good condition, is far more durable than the metabolic condition and can easily stay at a relatively high level, despite weeks and even months of lack of training.
In fact, you do not have to worry much about the strength if the break ends up being approx. 4-5 months. Of course, you can not just throw yourself on the couch in a giant 4-month-long Netflix orgy with complete inactivity, and expect the strength to be the same as before, but the strength is actually maintained surprisingly well, even if a break is taken.
This was seen, for example. in a study where a number of strength-training participants were set to take an 8-month break from training. Here, only a decrease in strength of 14% was seen in a number of young participants and a decrease of 8% in some older participants. Both the young and the elderly kept their strength best for the first 3 months of the break, after which it went downhill faster. Likewise, it seems that the strength decreases more the more fit you are. Ie. that an extremely high peak level decreases faster with inactivity than a more moderate level of strength, simply because the contrast between the usual training and the inactivity is greater. On the other hand, as a very well-trained person, you also have more to eat.
Muscle mass is probably what you need to worry about most if you want to get graciously through the break. Especially if you do not have access to anything heavy at all that you can lift. Studies have shown that muscle mass can fall by 10-26% over a 3-month break.
It sounds dramatic and discouraging, of course, but note, however, and this is important, that in the studies mentioned there is a complete break from training. As will be seen in the section below, it looks significantly more positive if you have the opportunity to just do a little bit of training.
Damage control - how do you minimize your decay?
The metabolic condition and thus the health is easy to improve. You really just need to make sure you get your muscles used. You do not even have to run, as studies have shown that a simple walk can improve metabolic condition. More effective, however, is running, interval walking, interval running or strength training . The rule of thumb in terms of improving metabolic condition, however, is that all activity is better than no activity.
If you are worried about your circuit condition, you can train effectively with as little as 15 minutes of running or cycling once a week at very high intensity. So training with close to maximum heart rate. You can also do hard interval training. If you know with yourself that you are running dead in the very hard training, you can also maintain a good condition by practicing cardio for one hour three times a week at moderate intensity (heart rate approx. 140-150 beats / min). Together with the metabolic condition, the circulatory condition is therefore one of the easiest to maintain, including the shutdown. It requires no more than a pair of running shoes or a bicycle.
If we look at strength and muscle mass, there are a lot of studies that show that a little bit of training helps to maintain both strength and muscle mass significantly better than a complete break. One has e.g. seen a complete preservation of strength at a training amount as low as one set of 1 RM of a series of exercises, one day a week. It has also been seen that the gains gained after training three days a week for 16 weeks could subsequently be largely maintained for eight weeks with training only once a week. So the best thing you can do to maintain your strength and muscle mass is to keep going with what you can. If you have a bit of home equipment, then you will to a much greater extent than at a complete break be able to maintain a good physique. We can e.g. recommend a pump set ,training elastics or an ab wheel .
Also consider that a break like the one we just experienced can be a welcome break both physically, where you get time to recover from minor injuries, but also mentally it can be a gift with a break, because you really can build up an exercise appetite so that you are well hungry and motivated to get started with exercise again.
How long does it take to get back in the same shape as before the shutdown?
Fortunately, there are some mechanisms in the body that will help you recover quickly after the break. As I said, it is quite easy to get the metabolic condition back on track, and the condition should also probably recover again within a month's time.
Ift. muscle mass, then there are some memory cells in the muscles, which function in a somewhat simplified way, just like the memory cells in the immune system, which remember the antigens of foreign cells. You can consider it a kind of anti-training vaccine that you get by having trained before. The muscle cell nuclei, which are the backbone of what is called muscle memory, do not, unlike muscle mass, appear to shrink during a break. Studies have shown that muscle cell nuclei can be preserved for more than three months, and some studies have even shown that they can be preserved for +15 years.
When you start training again, the muscle cell nuclei are ready to quickly start producing muscle mass again, and thus you will regain your muscle mass significantly faster than it took to build it in the first place. In a specific study, it was seen that while untrained muscles grew by 6% during a 2-week training period, the muscles of people who had been used to training grew by as much as 36% during the same period.
Also the strength will return quickly. This is because the strength depends a lot on the nervous system, which also has a kind of memory. Just as your body does not forget how to cycle, even if you have a period of several years where you do not cycle, so the body also quickly finds the 'squat program' and the ' deadlift program ' from the memory centers in the brain, and you will quickly notice progress again when training becomes more regular.