Resisting getting back into the gym because you’ve fallen off the wagon? Stop. You can regain your size and strength in short order. Muscle memory is real and more powerful than you think.
In 2005, I tore my Achilles tendon rounding second base at the Skydome. My post game quotes from mlb.com:
I just haven’t really had a chance to allow it to sink in,” Kapler said after the game. “There’s going to come a time when reality hits me. It’s going to be a while before I can help my teammates. That’s going to be hard for me.
Sure, I was disturbed that my team would be going to the playoffs and that I wouldn’t be able to contribute, but I was more upset about the strength I was about to lose. I kid, but you see where I’m going. Sometimes, we have to take some time off from training. Whether because of injury, illness, a workout rut or simply because life got in the way, we lose our habits. That situation can be depressing. We worry that our power won’t return.
It’s an understandable worry, but an unfounded one. The worst case scenario would be to let that fear stop you from getting back into the gym. By the time I returned to spring training the following year, nearly all my base strength had returned. From lifehacker.com:
According to Sports-Specific Rehabilitation, “Strength trained athletes retain strength gains during short periods of inactivity (two weeks) and retain significant portions of strength gains (88% to 93%) during inactivity lasting up to 12 weeks.”
If you’ve gone without training for longer then that, don’t fret. Bodybuilders and strength athletes have long observed that even after a long period of inactivity outside the gym—sometimes lasting years—previous levels of strength came back relatively quickly. It’s almost as if one’s muscle retains a “memory” of how strong it once was. (Hence, the term for this is “muscle memory.”)
I wouldn’t suggest going years without weight training. As you know, I believe that the best way to build lean tissue over time is through incrementally adding weight to the bar over time. You also know I stress recovery. Last month, I wrote about taking a break from working out:
The “getting fitter” part -– the body’s response to that stimulus -– comes afterward. While you eat and rest, the body gets to work repairing tissue damage, strengthening the heart and other muscles, restoring depleted fuel reserves and getting better at transporting oxygen throughout the body, making itself a little more efficient and stronger than before. Then we go out and do it again.
Many of you wrote in to express your concerns about regression. You will benefit more by giving your body the appropriate rest that it needs.
Ultimately, inertia is a powerful force. It is easiest to maintain your current state, whether resisting re-entering a gym or pushing through workouts when your body is beat up. Don’t fall into this trap and begin making unfounded excuses. Listen your body and remember that these are lifestyle changes. Two weeks will not undo all of your progress.
It’s always the optimal strategy to plan rest and recovery. Following our own guidelines makes us feel confident and powerful. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, life takes away our control. When those times inevitably appear, don’t worry about your strength. It’s not gone for good. It’s simply hibernating.