T Nation

Strength Loss Over Periods of Inactivity

I apologize if this has already been asked or posted but my friend is in the service and his gym is shut down. He’s been out of the gym about 7 weeks. I’d imagine the way things are looking and sounding he’ll be out anwhere from 8 to 12 weeks. We were discussing how much strength he can expect to lose in that time frame. He has kept his bodyweight around the same.

Hes around the intermediate level. I told him i’d imagine anywhere from 5 to 10 percent of his max but his strength would probably come back within 4 to 5 weeks. Also figure that his work capacity will probably have dwindled more so higher reps might be more difficult than before.

So does anyone actually have much experience with a couple month layoff not due to injury? How did it effect strength levels?

My understanding is that if you aren’t injured, a layoff has less of an impact, especially if you stay reasonably active. If possible doing things like air squats and pushups daily will minimise or even prevent any muscle loss (which takes a long time anyway unless you are completely sedentary or very ill).

Then on return to regular training, it is only really a matter or regaining work capacity (which comes back quite quickly) and improving your ability to express strength (which comes back a little slower but still returns).

Strength comes back fast, especially if you’ve training a good while. I had a lay off of about 7 months very recently and have made back to and beyond (at least in a number of my lifts) very quickly (about 2 months).

Of course HOW you train is also a factor, if you only train everything once a week it’ll probably take longer than two or three+ times per week.

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As has been covered, strength isn’t lost particularly quickly (it certainly hangs around far longer than aerobic capacity). I believe Bondarchuk (the head coach for the entire Soviet athletic development department) wrote that strength hangs around for around 6 weeks. Granted, Bondarchuk’s athletes were very high level, so there’s a good chance they would lose top-end strength faster than an average/intermediate lifter.

That said, there are two key factors involved in the preservation and development of strength:

  • The skill of the chosen movement
  • The size of the muscles required to execute the movement

For example, one’s strength in the back squat would primarily be a product of:

  • Their ability to back squat with correct, efficient technique
  • The size of their quadriceps, glutes, adductors, core musculature and perhaps hamstrings

So, to maintain strength to the best of our ability, we need to preserve as much muscle as possible, whilst preserving the skill of the involved movement.

Preserving muscle is relatively easy for most muscle groups, and is more or less entirely dependent on achieving concentric failure in a set of anywhere from about 5 to 30 reps. For stronger muscle groups like the quads, this can be achieved by using a giant set like:

1- Reverse Nordics: 15-20
2- Alternating Pistol Squats to Box: 15-20 ea
3- Alternating Reverse Lunges: 15-20ea
4- 1.5 Rep Bodyweight Squats: 15-20

Filthy, but you would expect to achieve muscular failure by the end.

Importantly, there’s good evidence to show that intentionally slow concentric tempos are not as effective as at stimulating hypertrophy as explosive or controlled tempo, provided that failure is achieved. As such, I don’t recommend using slow concentric tempos like a 5-0-5-0, as this may be less effective than doing more reps at 5-0-1-0.

How about preserving skill? This is the challenge, as skill is load and pattern dependent. Your best best will be to try and perform movements as similar as possible to your key lifts (I’m going to assume: squat, bench, deadlift and overhead press) with whatever load possible, provided that load vector is somewhat similar to that provided by a barbell. For the “skill” movements, I would recommend a grease-the-groove approach where you go for a high total volume, executed as many sets of few reps, with a high frequency. An example here could be something like 8-10 x 10 or even 15 x 5 or whatnot.

Putting that together, a suitable plan could involve a conventional U/L split, where each session has a string focus on achieving muscular failure, without a huge emphasis placed on dynamic correspondence to the big lifts. As a supplement, you could adopt something like 100-250 total broomstick squats and 100-250 total broomstick good mornings daily (a very Westside-esque choice at that) to maintain the skill of lifting as much as possible.

Since the bench press and overhead press are generally well-correllated to overall muscle mass, focusing on maintaining as much upper body muscle as possible will probably be almost good enough to maintain strength on the bench and overhead press

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You don’t really lose strength very quickly. I am espousing a personal opinion here with no actual scientific backing YMMV What most guys lose is not muscular strenth, it’s desensitization of the golgi tendon (Ithink I’m using the right name). Your body has a “no way buddy” response to weight that you eliminate with training. Most newbie gains are really this, and it fades fast, which is why you get the lifts back so quickly.

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Actually to the best of my knowledge, this is at least partially true. I wouldn’t go far as to say that (dis)inhibition of GTO is the only way people become stronger and weaker following and during layoffs, respectively, but it is certainly a factor to consider.

A quick clarification, because the next part can get confusing:

  • the GTO’s inhibit muscle force
  • inhibition of the GTO’s disinhibit (relatively increase) muscle force
  • disinhibition of the GTO’s re-inhibit muscle force

Anyways, the GTO is less active in a thicker tendon. Tendons thicken over 10-14 weeks of heavy resistance training, but will atrophy very quickly during detraining (tendons atrophy faster than muscle!). Hence, the GTO becomes less inhibited (or, more active) in a tendon following a layoff from resistance training. Additionally, because the GTO is neural tissue, it can be actively inhibited by the brain over time, when you regularly expose yourself to heavy loads. Remove those loads and the GTO will become disinhibited over time.

An argument could be made that keeping tendons as thick as possible could reduce loss of strength by maintaining inhibition of the GTO’s. I didn’t mention it earlier, but a good way to maintain tendon integrity is 30-45 second isometric holds like an isometric lunge or Sissy squat, couples with low-amplitude plyometrics like hopping, jump-rope and pogos.

I had a car accident in 2012, was in pretty good shape Back squatting 140kgs. Had whiplash injury, herniation L5-S1 and some nerve damage.

I got depressed, became alcohol and drug dependant. Got obese and lost lots of strength.

Came back to it in 2016 one I got sober and old gains came back rapidly, Muscle came first as due to back injury I wasn’t rushing to lift big in a hurry but lost fat and built muscle REALLY quickly without gear or even that strict a diet.

Before lockdown I was squatting 160Kg Leg pressing 300 and benching 130. Not tried to deadlift since the injury.

It’s surprising how quick it all comes back, you will be depressed when you can’t train but you just have to try to do some callisthenics if you can, keep moving and don’t hit the booze too hard.