Athletes spend months building a foundation of muscle and strength only to see it wither away when a vacation, injury or unexpected time off occurs. This line of thought is all too common, but is it true? Research by Hwang et al., sheds light onto this subject: Will two weeks off lead to a loss in muscle and strength?
Twenty resistance-trained men were tested for muscle strength (on a leg press) and body composition (muscle and fat) prior to the study. They then started a 4-days-per-week (2 upper-body and 2 lower-body sessions) training plan.
This consisted of 4 sets of 10 repetitions at 75% 1RM (a typical plan for building muscle).
After the initial four weeks of training, they were tested again for strength and body composition (both were not affected much by training).
Then subjects rested for 2-weeks where they performed no training whatsoever.
After these two weeks of rest, subjects were tested again for strength and body composition.
- Body composition: lean mass and fat mass had no change from two weeks of rest.
- Strength: Leg Press 1RM was significantly greater than the start of the study. Although it did not improve after the four weeks of training, it did after two weeks of rest.
Taking time off from intense training is not a bad thing. The present study shows that muscle mass is maintained and strength can actually increase. Next time you are forced to take a week or two off from training, ensure you train hard prior to the break. These subjects trained 4 days per week with a 4×10 @ 75% 1RM (not an easy training plan).
If you train intensely, you need to allow your body to recover. This may be exactly what you need to actualize your strength gains.
Hwang, P. S., Andre, T. L., McKinley-Barnard, S. K., Morales Marroquin, F. E., Gann, J. J., Song, J. J., & Willoughby, D. S. (2017). “Resistance training-induced elevations in muscular strength in trained men are maintained after 2 weeks of detraining and not differentially affected by whey protein supplementation.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 31(4), 869-881.