T Nation

Why Do We Lose Strength So Quickly?


As a result of frequent travel and unusually long hours I haven't been able to train for the past 2.5 months. Working between 90 and 110 hours a week there literally hasn't been any time to train - the only time I could potentially was Sunday afternoon, but I've had to spend those sleeping in order to have enough energy to work Monday-Saturday again the next week.

The result of this is a MASSIVE drop in strength and about 10-14lbs of fat gain. Prior to this project my workout was [4x6 sets] of 220 bench, 308 squat and 352 deadlift (plus some other exercises such as shoulder press etc.).

After a couple of sessions getting back into it I'm now at 187 bench (-33lbs), 242 squat (-66lbs) and 264 deadlift (-88lbs!!!). This seems like a huge drop for only a couple of months inactivity. It took me a hell of a lot longer that that to raise myself from current levels (or thereabouts) to the lifts I listed above the first time round.

How long should I expect to get back to where I was before and what should I do about the fat gain?

I'm going away in 5 weeks for a much deserved vacation - so I'm thinking lose the fat first with a keto diet and then slowly add to my lifts after. But I'm concerned that I'll get even weaker during those 5 weeks.

Current weight is 175, probably about 14pct body fat, 5'9".


only a couple months inactivity is quite a lot of inactivity. sometimes one needs to ask oneself whether doing that kind of work is worth it. when one sees the effects on ones health / strength / physique / whatever.

i have no idea how long it will take you to recover your strength. i also have no idea how long it took you to get from your present numbers to your past best numbers. guess it probably won't take as much time as that if you train with the same degree of intensity since part of it will be relearning. on the other hand you might have quite a lot of mobility / activation work to do to undo all the damage of sitting on your butt.

if you want to get rid of the fat as your primary focus then your lifts won't go up the way they would if you focused on your strength and fueled that accordingly. you might look pretty skinny and weak with the loss of bulk. but you might be impressed by your hawt abz. i don't know.


I always enjoy reading your posts. You seem like a cool gal!


Read this many times. You find it surprising that taking a long layoff from training and working yourself into the ground while practicing nutrition habits poor enough to lead to a 15 pound fat gain in 10 weeks?

There is some good news, and that is that generally if you get back into your old routing (meaning, training and eating exactly like you were before) you can expect to get back to your old numbers fairly quickly. Not 2 weeks, but you wont be starting from zero - Many people call this phenomenon, where the body is able to quickly return to its previously trained state faster than the first time you did it, "muscle memory"

I sense some priorities might need to be assessed. If you legit have to work 110 hours a week and are desperately lacking in sleep - Training might have to go on the back burner for the time being. Training is suppose to add to your life, and if you are stressing both your mind and body trying to get into the gym when your body is already under such incredible demands, it might not be productive.


Rule of thumb. Take it with a grain of salt.

6 weeks to get in shape.

2 weeks to get out of shape.

And definitely what Alexus said.

I used to work as a chef in a hotel. 6-7 days a week, 10-16 hours a day. I made a commitment to work out in the hotel gym, 4 times a week at "lunch". Made a whole lot of difference in my mood.


I've found that if one trained truly properly then he would lose as fast as he gains. If he went from a 300 squat to 400 in 10 months and then stopped for another 10 he would drop back down to 300.

If you train sub par and get to 400 from 300 in 20 months, then in 10 months you would be back to 300.. not in 20 months.

This is by no means scientific, just something I have roughly observed.

For what it's worth, the last time I stopped training I was doing 140kgs back squat which is ~310lbs. When I started again after ~7 months I too had added like 20 lbs and my squat was back down to nothing. not 242 after 2 sessions but back to practically 0. I had to restart my strength from almost scratch, except this time I had a much better idea of how to go about it and had some "muscle memory" to help.

Worst part is that I didn't just lose strength, I lost the ability to squat properly. I lost the "feeling" of a tight back arch and how a squat should feel. I don't know if that makes sense. I know now that if I'm squatting 150kgs now or when I get to squat 250kgs it will feel roughly the same, only heavier. But when you start squatting your back is so weak and people don't know how to tighten it up so it felt kind of uncomfortable/weird to me. I think it took me like a month to just squat 100kgs and it still felt weird.


I've been in and around the iron game for 6 years or so now and I've never heard anything quite like that. Rather I hear that its quite individual, and if anything the strength one achieves can drop fairly dramatically(as in the case of our OP) but is easily gotten back.

I dont know that I agree that strength losses are linear in that fashion, given that the body does NOT want to hold on the muscle mass if its not training for most individuals. Expect big drops initially, then it will taper off is what I have observed and heard reported.


(I heard this second hand, was told that it is published research, but have not searched for confirmation, because I don't really care, just thought it sounded interesting.)

Someone who strength trains and gains muscle (cells) also "gains" nuclei to go with those cells. When you stop training, your muscle cells shrink in size but you don't lose the nuclei, which remain ready and able to sprout muscle. This is apparently the basis for the "muscle memory" that everyone talks about. Sorta like the fact that fat cells never go away, they just shrink, and former fat boys will gain fat faster than normal folk. Apparently research shows that these nuclei hang around for approx. 9 years.

So anyone who wants to re-experience those glorious beginner gains should stop training for 9 years. :wink:

And I agree with Lonnie123's perspective on strength losses -big drop, tapers off and levels at some sort of genetic "set point", or homeostasis if you will. (Just an opinion in this case.)