A new study has proven that taking a break from your workouts doesn’t impact your fitness levels as much as we previously thought.
Gyms are closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, you’re spending more time at home and as a result, your weekly exercise sessions have decreased.
The thought of losing all your fitness and muscle gains has probably crossed your mind one too many times. But good news just in – researchers from the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences have confirmed it actually takes a long time for your body to lose its fitness capabilities.
A small study, published in Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise, analysed 19 healthy but inactive young men and women as they underwent a 10-week leg strength training program using just one of their legs.
The volunteers then stopped training for 20 weeks before returning to the gym for a strength session, which tested both their legs. The researchers took muscle biopsies from both legs after the session.
They found the “memory leg” that had undergone the intensive 10-week training program was still significantly stronger than the control leg. In fact, it was able to preserve about 50 per cent of the strength it gained even after 20 weeks of no training.
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Lecturer in the School of Health Sciences at the University of Sydney Timothy Davies, told The Age: “It is well-accepted that the nervous system has a ‘memory’ to previous motor patterns, but this study adds to emerging evidence that the concept of ‘muscle memory’ also occurs at the molecular level within muscle cells.
“Muscle function can return to normal after around 3-4 weeks in young subjects. It can be as long as four months in the elderly depending on current training status.”
And it’s not the first study to prove just how solid muscle memory is.
A 2013 study showed that non-athletes who trained their legs once a week for three weeks were able to maintain their strength after two weeks of no training.
Moreover, a 2011 study proved individuals who took a 3-week break in the middle of a 15-week bench press program finished the course with strength levels comparable to those people who didn’t take a break at all.
Unfortunately, knowing how long this muscle memory lasts depends on a few factors, such as how long you trained for initially, how much you move during your ‘detraining’ period and your age.
“Hypothetically, the longer you train and the bigger you can get your muscles at some point in your life, the longer that aspect should last and the faster that mechanism will work when you start training after a break,” Anthony Blazevich, Professor in Biomechanics in the School of Medical and Health Sciences at Edith Cowan University, told The Age.
Of course, it’s important you still get in at least a little movement during your fitness break. This could look like a combination of regular walks and completing free online at-home workouts.
Whatever it is, you can stop stressing so much about losing your fitness.