T Nation

Maintaining Muscle After Periods of Prioritization


The concept of muscle loss is something that I've never really been able to consolidate into a 'functional' understanding. I have some idea of the theory -- but I figured it would be great to cast my questions out to the Tnation community and get some answers from experience, not research papers.

Might also make for an interesting discussion...

As far as I know, muscle loss should take place in one of two situations:
1) Severe caloric deficit (so the body cannibalizes muscle tissue)
2) Long periods of disuse (muscles atrophy when not trained...)

My question pertains to no.2 -- I'm interested in the extent to which disuse has to take place, in order for atrophy to occur.

For example:
Suppose a lifter had three lagging body parts -- shoulders, biceps and calves. This lifter trained using a typical bodybuilding split, focused around the key movements -- squats, deads, OHPs, pull-ups, rows, etc. -- but this lifter seldom had time for isolation movements (hence the lagging body parts). In order to address the first of the deficits, the lifter then decided to add bicep isolation movements to two of his weekly sessions. After 10 weeks (or whatever) the lifter found that his biceps had developed sufficiently and wanted to use the time previously dedicated to the bicep isolation movements for calf isolation movements. He then ceased all bicep isolation movements to free up the time. This lifter's biceps would still be trained every week -- in pull-ups, rows, upright rows on shoulder day, etc.

Is it likely that this lifter's increased bicep size would remain, due to the stimulation from the compound movements? Or is it likely that this lifter would lose some (not all) of the added bicep size, due to the 'relatively' decreased usage?

I'm sure that all experienced members here have had periods where they prioritized a particular body part and can shed some light on this issue.

I appreciate any input. Thanks.

Oh, and before someone asks -- yes, the hypothetical situation does somewhat pertain to my real situation, and yes, I will be using the input from this discussion when planning the path forward.


Hey there, I asked CT a similar question some time ago, this was his response:

CT - "FROM EXPERIENCE… when you focus on bringing up one lift via high frequency training (Smolov is an example) not all of the strength gains can be maintained. Some of the gains are due to neural factors (neurological facilitation). When you do the movement less often those factors will slowly erode and performance will decrease. However the gains due to muscular adaptations will stay with you, these can be maintained more easily.

For example I once brought my snatch-grip high pull from 125kg to 180kg in a bit over 3 weeks (I actually did nothing but explosive pulls for those 3 weeks). When I got back to regular training my high pull dropped to 165-170kg… so a loss versus my peak, but still significantly heavier than my starting point.

If you specialize mostly on hypertrophy, then the gains will stick with you when you switch to regular training.

What type of program to switch to depends on your goals and training experience."

My anecdotal experience seems to agree with this. My first few years of training were spent on countless curls and extensions and as a result I got pretty big arms (but small everywhere else). I haven’t done much direct arm training nowadays due to having a different goal but they definitely have grown bigger from just the pulling and pushing exercises.


From personal experience I spent some time using more isolation moves to improve my bicep size, and after having drastically cut my bicep isolation movements for a while now, they are still the same bigger size.


Thanks for the responses, Ecchastang and Mizery. Those are exactly the kind of answers I was looking for.