Skipping Workouts: How Long Does It Take to Lose Your Muscles?

Man sitting on the gym floor with a water bottle

Do you know how long it takes to lose muscle? | iStock.com

How much does skipping the gym one or two days in a row affect your fitness? And how long is too long to avoid the gym? We break down exactly how long you can take a break from exercising before all of the hard work you have put in at the gym starts to dwindle.

According to a study by published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine, loss of muscle mass occurs between two and three weeks after inactivity begins. Although muscle doesn’t begin fading for a few weeks, this doesn’t mean your body won’t be sore sooner, and your muscles will have to get used to lifting again.

Yes, the loss of fitness might be different for everyone. While some people feel weak after missing one day at the gym, others can still wake up and run a marathon even after splurging on alcohol and avoiding the gym for weeks on end. This is also dependent on the reason for your lack of motivation. If you find yourself sick and on bed rest for two weeks, muscle might deteriorate faster. If you still find simple ways to utilize muscle every day and are not sick, you may preserve your muscle mass for longer.

Man doing push-ups while training

Man doing push-ups while training | iStock.com

Endurance, on the other hand, starts disappearing a little quicker. According to a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, “After 12 days of inactivity, VO2 max dropped by seven percent and enzymes in the blood associated with endurance performance decreased by 50 percent.”

Of course, this all depends on your fitness routine before you take a break, but regardless, it shows how skipping fitness for a few days may not hurt you, but once you hit a few weeks, you may want to get back to the gym. For those of you who are gym rats, a week or two away from the gym could even benefit your routine.

According to Pete McCall, an expert exercise physiologist at the American Council on Exercise, in an interview with Men’s Fitness, “If you’re somebody who exercises five, six days a week, taking a little break is not going to make a big difference. In fact, it actually might be good for your body, whereas if it’s an individual who only exercises sporadically a couple times a week or month, then it can have a greater effect and make it more difficult to restart.”

Exhausted man lying on the ground after a workout

Exhausted man lying on the ground after a workout | iStock.com

What is important to note is that week-long gym breaks should not come every other week. According to Men’s Fitness, the biggest thing you should be on the lookout for is not your loss of muscle, but your increased lack of motivation during gym breaks. It takes around six weeks to create a habit, and when you step away from that habit, it can be easy to forget about it entirely.

The key to maintaining fitness is knowing not only when you need to work out and how long you can go before you start seeing muscle and cardio suffer, but also knowing how long it takes to get in the habit of working out, and how quickly your off days become every day.

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