What Happens to your Muscles when Rest Day Becomes Rest Only

We live in a chaotic world of vacations, stay-cations, benders, weddings, birthdays, and sometimes, unfortunate series of events where nothing else takes priority. And let’s face it, the gym, the box, the park, wherever you workout- may be the first place you want to be, but the last place you can be. Taking a day off is not a big deal- in fact, it is highly recommended to allow yourself to recover.
After all, that is when hypertrophy, and muscle finesse takes place. Exercise being a stimulus, requires recovery as a response time.

Here, we’re going to explore what happens when people who strength train start detraining. 

The Hiatus

1-5 days

Practically no changes. If anything you will feel great when reconnecting with the sweet pains that are DOMS. Your strength will not dwindle, and you can look at your small break as rest and recovery.

6-13 days

So, here’s when small changes will start setting in- even if they are not noticeable in terms of strength. Your hiatus weakens communication pathways between your brain and muscles and physiological changes start to set in.

2 weeks

You start to lose muscle mass but you will not feel too much of a difference in strength. Those who train muscles in isolation (strength athletes) will see a slight drop in strength as opposed to those who do HIIT, cardio, bootcamps and the like (power athletes). Do note that as long as you have no major dietary changes, there will be no loss of body mass or weight.


Detraining will only derail your muscular endurance if it has been a period of over 4 weeks. Post which, your VO2 levels drop and you can see a change in anaerobic levels of training. You may start panting sooner and the 5th rep of a shoulder press may feel like the 10th one.

Keep in mind, experience, genes, motivation and plenty others will be a factor. So, take atrophy and hypertrophy with a small pinch of salt. At the risk of a lot of soreness: think mind / matter.

The silver lining

Muscle memory. A lot of people talk about it being a virtue of the central nervous system, but recent studies are inching towards attributing the phenomenon to the cellular structure of our muscles. Our body truly recognizes the effort put into gaining mass thereby protecting you from rapid atrophy and allowing easy hypertrophy when you start retraining.

Since you must

Assuming your break is not a fitness yo-yo and time is constraining you from your usual schedule, stay active. Lifting a finger to press Next Episode on Netflix is not counted as activity. Sure, we’ve been there, and it’s okay. But too much down time is regressive; so, get back on that wagon- pronto.

Bottom Line

Train hard -> Hypertrophy

Detrain -> Loss of Muscle Mass / Atrophy in some cases

Retrain -> Hypertrophy Reinstated

And that’s how the cookie crumbles and rehashes, kids.


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I play with barbells and words. If you're going to kill time scrolling, you may as well click the link above.

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