How Much Muscle Will You Lose If You Stop Training?

For most people, building muscle isn’t easy. It takes time, hard work, sacrifice and changes in our diet and lifestyle to achieve. But life is busy and unpredictable and, sometimes, we can’t always commit to our training regime. Whether it’s because your work schedule is chaotic, you lose access to training equipment, go on holiday or suffer an injury, you’re probably wondering if you’re going to lose your hard-earned muscle mass and if so, how much.

In most cases, detraining (discontinuing training) will result in a loss of muscle mass, but there are some circumstances where you might actually gain muscle mass! There are three main factors that determine if and at what rate you’ll lose muscle mass:

  1. What type of training you had been performing,
  2. How long you’ve been training for, and
  3. How long your layoff from training will be.

The Type of Training Previously Performed Matters

Not all types of exercise and training have the same effect on building muscle. Strength, power, bodybuilding and general resistance training tend to result in the greatest amount of muscle mass gained as these types trigger anabolic pathways that can result in muscle mass being gained. Every study that looked at the effects of detraining in people who had performed these types of training as their primary form of training found that muscle mass was lost over time [1] [2] [3]. This is likely due to the amount of muscle gained resulting in the threshold required to maintain it being pushed significantly higher. Consequently, removing the stimulus that resulted in that muscle mass being gained will also result in it being lost. However, other types of training are not great stimuli for building muscle and by discontinuing them, it’s possible to actually gain muscle mass instead of losing it.

Endurance and other forms of training, such as dancing, don’t provide as strong of a stimulus for muscle growth and studies have shown that they can have a negative effect on muscle growth, known as the interference effect. One study of 6 well-trained runners showed that 15 days of detraining resulted in a gain of muscle mass. [4] Another study on endurance runners showed no changes in muscle mass following 14 days of no training. [5] Lastly, a study on 8 female dancers showed that after 32 weeks of cessation of a 3-year dance course, the dancers had a significant gain in type I muscle fibres. [6]

These studies show that losing muscle mass when you stop training isn’t always the case and it depends on the type of training you have predominately been doing. Discontinuing training that involves predominately strength, power, bodybuilding or general resistance training results in a loss of muscle mass, however, discontinuing training that is predominately endurance-based or dancing actually can increase muscle mass.

How Long You’ve Been Training For Matters

Just as important as what type of training you have been doing is how long you have been doing it. Studies have shown that the longer you have been training, the faster you tend to lose muscle mass. Many studies have shown that the average rate of muscle loss during no training is between 3 to 12% per month.

A study on newly resistance-trained people showed that they lost muscle mass at an average rate of 3.3% per month [7]. A case study on an elite powerlifter showed that the average rate of loss of muscle mass was 5.3% per month [1]. Finally, studies on power and field sports athletes had the highest rate of muscle loss, with an average of between 9 and 12% per month. [8] [2] [3] [9]

The likely reason for a higher rate of muscle mass loss in people with a longer history of training is that they simply tend to have more muscle. Muscle tissue is metabolically expensive for the body to maintain. Consequently, the body does not like to maintain tissue that requires a lot of energy unless it’s absolutely necessary for survival. Therefore, the stimulus threshold needed to maintain large amounts of muscle mass is higher. This means that when training ceases, it appears those with a longer training history fall far shorter of the stimulus threshold needed to maintain their muscle mass than those with less muscle, resulting in their bodies wasting muscle away much faster than those with a shorter training history.

How Long You Stop Training For Matters

Much like how much muscle you build is determined by how long you’ve been training, how much muscle mass you will lose is determined by how long you stop training. The longer you discontinue training, the more muscle mass you’re likely to lose.

A study on power athletes found they lost 6.4% of their muscle mass in just the first 14 days of completely ceasing training [2]. A study on Rugby players showed a total loss of 14% after 6 weeks [9] and a study on soccer players showed a 7% total loss of muscle mass after 3 weeks. [8] One of the longest and best examples of how much muscle mass can be lost is a case study on an elite powerlifter. They found that 7 months of detraining resulted in a loss of 37% of the powerlifter’s muscle mass! [3]

I know what you’re thinking… it’s not sounding too good if you’re well-trained, but what if you’re not an elite-level strength athlete? What if you train more so to look better, feel better or be healthier? Well, the good news is that you probably won’t lose as much muscle mass, but that’s because you probably will have less muscle to lose. For example, the study on newly resistance-trained people found that they gained 10% muscle mass after 3 months of training, but they also lost 10% after discontinuing training for 3 months. It simply means that you’ll probably go back to your original level of muscle mass that you had before you started to train in a shorter timeframe.

Key Take Aways

  1. How much muscle mass you lose when discontinuing training depends on three main factors; what type of training you have been performing; how long you’ve been performing it; and how long you discontinue training.
  2. If your training is predominately resistance training, such as with strength, power and bodybuilding training, you’re virtually guaranteed to lose muscle mass. However, if your training is predominately endurance-based or dancing, then it’s possible to gain muscle when ceasing training.
  3. How fast you will lose muscle mass is largely dictated by how long you have been training; the longer you’ve been training, the faster you are likely to lose muscle mass. The average rate of muscle loss is between 3 and 12% per month.
  4. How much you lose in total is then largely determined by how long you discontinue training. The longer you discontinue training, the more muscle mass you will lose. Those with a lot of muscle mass will lose more, but that is because they have more to lose. By limiting the duration of which you don’t train, you can greatly limit the total amount of muscle mass you lose.

You Don't Have To Stop Training - You Just Need A Program That Works Around Your Circumstances!

It's easy to believe that not having enough time to train or picking up an injury means that training is game over, however, that's simply not the case. In fact, these are the times you need to train the most! Workouts can be tailored to fit your time restraints and limitations. Most workouts can be completed within 30 mins and unless you've broken every bone in your body, you can still train other body parts that aren't injured in a safe manner; it's simply a matter of having a program tailored to your needs. Check out our tailored programs and have your program designed and ready for you to start within 7 days!


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  2. T. Hortobágyi, J. Hournard, J. Stevenson, D. Fraser, R. Johns and R. Israel, “The effects of detraining on power athletes,” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, vol. 25, no. 8, pp. 929-935, 1993.
  3. K. Hakkinen and M. Alen, “Physiological performance, serum hormones, enzymes and lipids of an elite power athlete during training with and without androgens and during prolonged detraining. A case study,” J Sports Med Phys Fitness, vol. 26, no. 1, pp. 92-100, 1986.
  4. M. E. Houston, H. Bentzen and H. Larsen, “Interrelationships between skeletal muscle adaptations and performance as studied by detraining and retrainingActa Physiologica Scandinavica,” Acta Physiologica Scandinavica, vol. 105, no. 2, pp. 163-170, 1979.
  5. J. A. Houmard, T. Hortobagyi, R. A. Johns, N. J. Bruno, C. C. Nute, M. H. Shinebarger and J. Welborn, “Effect of short-term training cessation on performance measures in distance runners,” International Journal of Sports Medicine, vol. 13, no. 8, pp. 572-576, 1992.
  6. M. Dahlström, M. Esbjörnsson, E. Jansson and L. Kaijser, “Muscle fiber characteristics in female dancers during an active and an inactive period.,” International journal of sports medicine, vol. 8, no. 2, pp. 84-87, 1987.
  7. L. Andersen, L. Andersen, P. Magnusson, C. M. L. Suetta, R. Christensen and P. Aagaard, “Changes in the human muscle force-velocity relationship in response to resistance training and subsequent detraining,” Journal of Applied Physiology, vol. 99, no. 1, pp. 87-94, 2005.
  8. L. Bangsbo and M. Mizuno, “Morphological and metabolic alterations in soccer players with detraining and retraining and their relation to performance,” Science and Football: Proceedings of the First World Congress of Science and Football, Liverpool, England, 1987, pp. 114-124, 1988.
  9. G. D. Allen, “Physiological and metabolic changes with six weeks detraining,” Aust. J. Sci. Med. Sport, vol. 21, no. 4, pp. 4-9, 1989.
  10. K. Hakkinen, M. Alen and P. Komi, “Changes in isometric force- and relaxation-time, electromyographic and muscle fibre characteristics of human skeletal muscle during strength training and detraining,” Acta Physiologica Scandinavica, vol. 125, no. 4, pp. 573-585, 1985.
  11. J. Bangsbo and M. Mizuno, “Morphological and metabolic alterations in soccer players with detraining and retraining and their relation to performance,” Science and Football, pp. 114-124, 1988.

About the author

Daniel Brack

BSc., Pn1, CFT, SEN

From commercial pilot to fitness coach, Daniel changed careers to pursue his passion for health & fitness. He is the founder of Recalibrated Bodies and co-founder and Head Coach of Titan Fitness Algarve. He has a Bachelor of Science in Strength and Conditioning and is a Certified Fitness Trainer and Sports and Exercise Nutritionist. Daniel was an international IFBB men's physique competitor and is a father to two daughters. His passion is helping others become more educated and skilled to reach their health and fitness goals.

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