How Long Does it Take to Lose Muscle?
There are lots of things that can get in the way of your workout. Between injury, illness, and burnout, there’s no shame in falling off your strength-training routine. But how long of a break is too long? How long does it take to start losing muscle?
The amount of time it takes for muscle atrophy to begin and how quickly it progresses depends on a number of factors, such as your age, sex, and fitness level before you stopped training. Generally speaking though, most people experience a reduction in muscle mass after three to four weeks of relative inactivity.
So taking a week off to rest or skipping the gym while you’re on vacation isn’t going to sap you of all your muscle strength. In fact, regular rest is an important part of a healthy routine because it gives your body time to heal and replenish.
But dealing with an injury or prolonged illness could have you on the bench for months. Also, the injury or illness itself may further contribute to muscle tissue degeneration. In that case, it’s important to do all you can to maintain your muscular strength.
Eat to Maintain Muscle
One of the simplest ways to safeguard your current muscle mass is by eating highly nutritious foods with high levels of calcium, fiber, vitamin C, vitamin D, Omega 3s, and lots of protein. Even though you’re likely moving less, your body is still working hard to heal itself and it needs fuel to do that, so recovery periods are not the time to skip carbohydrates, either.
While it’s important to get a good daily balance of vitamins and minerals, the most essential nutrient for repairing and building new muscle fibers is protein. Your individual recommended level of protein intake will depend on your size, age, and level of activity, but most people need between 50 and 70 grams of protein per day. This number increases when your body is recovering from injury and illness.
One easy way to add protein to your diet without disrupting your routine is with Allo protein powder for hot coffee. Just pour your favorite flavored or natural powder or sunflower-based creamer into your morning cup of joe to get 10 grams of protein without even thinking about it.
Having lots of protein in the morning is doubly beneficial since your body processes protein more efficiently when it is consumed early in the day. Adding a protein coffee to an already high protein breakfast sets your muscles up for healing and growth.
Retrain to Regain Muscle
If you’re recovering from an injury, you should consult with your doctor before engaging in any physical activity. Training through an injury can be done, but it needs to be done the right way to ensure you’re helping to strengthen and heal, not causing further damage. Always prioritize physical therapy movements over your traditional workout until a health professional clears you to resume normal movement and load.
All injuries should be respected; pushing yourself too hard too soon is almost always going to result in a longer recovery time, or worse, further injury. But an object at rest stays at rest, so it’s important to incorporate gentle healing movements and work the parts of your body that aren’t affected by the injury as close to normal as possible.
If you’re new to fitness or looking to start training again after a long period of inactivity, it’s important to go slowly. There’s nothing wrong with using variations and aids to make the exercises work for you.
And you don’t have to work out five times a week to see results, either. One day is better than none, so start where you can and build a solid, maintainable habit you’ll actually stick to.
We’ve put together a few exercises, targeting specific muscle groups, that you can take to the gym or do at home with minimal equipment. For each exercise, we have included variations for working with body weight, free weights, and exercise machines.
Chest and arms exercises
We’ll start with an easy exercise you’ve probably done before: pushups. Pushups work a number of muscles in your upper body, including your deltoids, triceps, and coracobrachialis, as well as your pecs, abs, and serratus anterior.
The great thing about pushups is there are a large number of variations you can use to fit your specific level of fitness or to accommodate an injury.
If you’re a beginner or are recovering from a wrist, shoulder, or even lower-body injury, wall pushups are a great place to start. They work pretty much how you think. Instead of doing a pushup on the ground, you do it standing up with your hands against a wall.
As you progress, you can increase the angle of the pushup by moving your feet further away from the wall. This will gradually change the angle of your wrist and build strength in the joint. If you experience pain at any point, reduce the angle and move more gently through the motion. If pain continues, stop doing the exercise.
Once you master the wall pushup, you can gradually increase the angle of the exercise by moving to a countertop or secure table – you don’t want your support surface moving mid-pushup. From there you can work down to a kneeling pushup on the floor, and then into a traditional pushup form.
If getting onto the floor is an issue, you can target the same muscles by using a chest press machine. This machine is also good for adding additional weight to the movement and is much safer than placing weights on your back.
Next up are tricep dips. These work all the parts of your tricep, as well as your pecs.
You can start on the floor or use a chair for this exercise at home, but you’ll get the most control by using a seated tricep dip machine. Using the machine will help you control the weight of the load if you’re working through an upper-body injury. The machine works if you have a lower-body injury, as well, since you’re seated and not engaging your legs like you would on the ground or by using a raised surface.
Once you master the machine, you can take this exercise basically anywhere. You can do tricep dips on the edge of a chair, bench, or box. Just make sure the object is secure and won’t move while you’re using it.
You can take your dips up a notch by adding weight either through the machine or by placing a weight plate or a medicine ball on your lap.
For more tricep exercises, check out our article on tricep workouts that you can do at home or practically anywhere.
Our last exercise for chest and arms is the ever-popular bicep curl. From the name, it’s pretty clear these curls mainly target the bicep, but they also engage the muscles in your forearm, as well as your delts.
Bicep curls can be done using a barbell or dumbbells. If you’re just getting started and are working out at home with minimal equipment, you can use water bottles, though you’ll probably want to make sure they’re room temperature, not straight out of the fridge.
Three-step bicep curls are a great place to start as they help you to move through the full range of motion in increments that will prevent strain and injury.
For the first step, start with one arm extended and your hand by your hip, gripping your dumbbell or water bottle. Raise your hand to create a 90-degree angle at your elbow. Repeat this motion for a single set, then switch arms. After you work both arms, proceed to the next level.
Starting at a 90-degree angle, bring your hand all the way up towards your shoulder. Repeat for a full set.
The final step incorporates the full range of motion. Starting from the first position with your arm extended, raise your hand all the way up to your shoulder and repeat to complete the set.
Back and shoulder exercises
For our back and shoulder exercises, you can do each without any weights, add resistance with bands and dumbbells, or use cable machines in the gym.
We’ll kick things off with wall angels. This simple exercise helps strengthen the muscles in your shoulders, as well as your neck. It’s also a great move if you want to improve your posture.
All you need for this one is a wall. Don’t have an unoccupied wall? Use the floor. You can do wall angels on your back, seated, or standing. The main thing is to maintain all points of contact with the wall or floor throughout the range of motion.
If you’re doing these on the floor, you should put your legs either up against a wall, similar to a waterfall pose, or bent at the knee with your feet flat on the ground. From the seated position, your legs should be either straight out in front of you or crossed.
If you’re going to do wall angels while standing, keep your feet a few inches out from the wall, knees slightly bent so you’re pushing into the wall with your body. The top of your butt should touch the wall but your heels and legs should not.
Once you have mastered unweighted, standing wall angels, you can add resistance by using a resistance band, small dumbbells, or a lat pulldown machine.
Our second back and shoulder exercise is one that might be new: IYTLs. This series of movements helps to strengthen and stretch your neck, back, shoulder, chest, and upper abdominal muscles.
IYTLs are kind of like doing the YMCA, but a lot more practical and only a little less fun.
You start with raising both hands straight up over your head to make the I. Then, you raise your arms up at an angle to make the shape of a Y. That much at least is exactly like the song.
For the T, you simply do simultaneous lateral raises with both arms. Finally, tuck your elbow in close to your torso with your forearms held out in front of you at a 90-degree angle. Rotate from the shoulder to bring your forearms out to the sides, creating the L shape. Make sure to keep your elbows tucked in to feel the stretch through your deltoids.
Check out our article on home workouts to target your back muscles for more.
Considering that most fitness-related injuries occur in joints and extremities, core exercises should generally be a safe bet, though shoulder and groin issues can still affect your range of movement.
You should be able to do our first core exercise with any injury that doesn’t involve the torso. A variation on the more common but more difficult Russian twist, seated twists work your abs and obliques.
You can do a seated twist with a barbell or that trusty broomstick across your shoulders to maintain posture, or hold a weight in front of you for more of a challenge. However, the basic motion can be done without any equipment. Simply turn your upper body from left to right, pivoting at your navel with your hips rooted down into the floor.
It’s important to move through the twist slowly and avoid overextending or swinging through the end of the motion.
You can work your way towards the traditional Russian twist by gradually leaning further back as you move through the twist, though you’ll want to avoid using a barbell as you do this. Instead, use a medicine ball, dumbbell, or kettlebell held in front of you.
Similar to the wall pushups, wall planks are a great place to start if you are new to fitness or are working with a more substantial injury. Planks work not only your abs, but also your shoulders, traps, and glutes.
Simply lean forward against a wall with your feet slightly behind your body. You can brace against the wall with your hands or use your forearms to avoid strain on your wrists. Hold the position for up to 30 seconds.
Gradually work your feet further away from the wall each time and eventually you will be able to move to a countertop, table, or chair, and then onto the floor. Yoga blocks are a great way to make the transition from more elevated planks to a floor-based posture.
Leg workouts are great when you have an upper-body injury, but if you’re working with a sprained ankle, blown-out knee, or any other lower-body injury, you should exercise slowly. If you’re having trouble bearing weight, try doing a few exercises in the pool to reduce the load and impact on your joints while also increasing overall resistance.
We’ll start off simple with calf raises. This exercise works both the upper and lower calf, in addition to building strength in the ankle and foot.
You can start with a standard calf raise where you simply raise your heels from standing flat on the ground. As you progress, you can try holding a lacrosse ball between the heels of your feet or placing your toes on an incline by standing on a weight plate or other shallow platform to increase the range of motion.
You can add weight to your calf raises by holding a dumbbell or kettlebell or by using a seated calf raise machine. Similar to the lat press machine, the seated calf raise machine will allow you to have greater control over the amount of weight you are lifting and is a good option when working through an ankle injury.
Lunges are a great, versatile exercise that can be adapted to target a large number of muscle groups in the legs and even work your core.
You can do forward or backward lunges from either a stationary position where you return to a base stance each time or you can move through the full range of motion and make your way up and down a hallway or the length of the gym.
Side lunges are usually done in a stationary position and help to target some of the leg muscles that forward and backward lunges don’t hit quite as hard.
If you have issues with balance or are working on recovering from an ankle or knee injury, using TRX straps for support can help you slow down and focus on your form without worrying about falling over. You can also use suspension straps to reduce the amount of weight you are putting on your joints as you lunge.
As you progress, you can add a resistance band or some additional weight to increase the intensity of the exercise. For the sake of balance, it’s best to use either two dumbbells or a single kettlebell or weight plate.
Finally, it wouldn’t be leg day without squats. Squats target a number of muscles in the legs, including calves, quads, hamstrings, and glutes, as well as muscles in your core.
If you’re working through an injury, a leg press machine can offer added control while also removing any chance of falling. If you’re working out at home, try a box squat – basically a squat with a box, bench, or chair underneath you.
The most important part of a squat is the posture. Keep your head and chest up as you push your hips back and down. Your knees should stay over your ankles as you bend.
You can slowly increase the difficulty of your squats by adding a pulse or hold to the bottom of the movement, or by holding a kettlebell or weight plate. When you’ve overcome your injury and mastered the form, you can continue adding weight to your squats by using a barbell.
Post-exercise Recovery Nutrition
Now that you’ve completed your workout to either stay in shape or put muscle mass back on after a break from working out, it’s time to help your body recover from the stress of exercise with a snack. Ideally, your snack should include a protein, carbohydrate, and healthy fat.
Remember, you can get the protein from Allo protein powder. Enjoy it in hot coffee, hot tea, hot matcha, or hot chocolate. Find your favorite flavor of creamer or non-creamer protein powder, at liveallo.com.