How to deal with situations where you can’t train and why we should not worry too much

Will I loose all my progress during isolation or detraining?
Science explained and some tips to remain fit.

Everyone know this situations when you are injured or ill and can´t train or are not allowed to. This has always been a really difficult thing to handle for me as I instantly felt guilty because I wasn´t training as usual and thought that I would loose my progress and everything I worked really hard for in the past weeks. That I would loose a lot f muscle and endurance and therefore wouldn´t be able to keep up with the others anymore and all the time I had previously had invested would go to waist.

If you can relate to that than I can reassure you that none of this will happen!

I intentionally started this blog post to address situations when you are injured or need to focus on other tasks in life that make it impossible for you to train as much as you are used to. But in the current situation of the Corona Virus I thought that now this is important for nearly every athlete, no matter what you are training for at the moment. Gyms and running tracks are all closed so no training for all of us, at least not the kind of we are normally used to.

Will I lose all my progress? Was all that effort useless? and What am I going to do with all of this time? That were just some of the many questions that popped up in my mind the instant I knew that all the Gyms were closing and all training was cancelled. Everyone started to get anxious and worried, but I can assure you it is not as bad as it might seem. First of all we should be grateful for being alive and if you haven´t caught the virus yet be grateful for that. I realised that because we are now all stuck at home we start to connect a lot more to the people around us and most importantly to ourselves. Suddenly we all need to figure out what to do with all of the time that we normally wouldn´t have. I see a lot more people in their garden, planting flowers or just enjoying the sunshine as well as people going for a run because now that we know of people that are completely isolated we realise how nice it is to move our bodies outside. Now we have the time to do all the things that we always wanted to do but then neglected saying “I don´t have time for that right now”. Well let me tell you: now is the time! Start reading all those books that have been standing in your bookshelves for ages. Go on, start investing more time in the things that you enjoy.

But what about my training? So first of all relax! You are not going to lose all your progress. For beginners in strength training multiple studies have shown that detraining for under four weeks has no significant impact in the long term. The figure below shows that detraining for 3 weeks has no real difference to training continuously for 24.

Ogasawara et al., 2013 - 1RM
The Studie revied 1RM changes over the course of 24 weeks of training. The black lines (PTR group) trained for 6 weeks, then took a break for 3 weeks . The white line (CTR group) trained continuously. (2)

For trained lifters (at least 3 years) studies have also shown that

“Strength performance in general is (…) readily retained for up to 4 week of inactivity, but highly trained athletes’ eccentric force and sport-specific power may suffer significant declines.”

(Mujika and Padilla, 2001).

That means that if your are really used to strength training a few weeks of won´t lead to a massive decrease on strength. But it also shows that “eccentric force and sport-specific power may suffer” which in return means that in the next weeks when neither of us has access to the Gym we should not stress about that but rather focus on keeping our explosive power and sport specific skills like practising a lot of explosive movements or technique.

Nevertheless the loss of muscle mass is a different subject to strength loss. First of all it should be noticed that during the first weeks of detraining the muscle is going to look a lot smaller, not because of significant muscle loss but due to the fact that the muscle no longer stores huge amounts of Glycogen and the Glykogen stores become smaller. This way the muscle appears smaller than before because it does not hold on to as much water as before. (1) Furthermore a Studie has shown that:

“Trained persons performing regular resistance training are encouraged to allow adequate rest between training sessions without fear of atrophy. Brief (~3 weeks) absences from training appear not to cause significant atrophy and potentially promote greater hypertrophy upon return to training”

Fisher et al., 2013

Generally that means that if you are not able to train as frequently over a period of time you can maintain your strength and muscle mass to a certain extend. But this does not mean that you should or can relax all through the isolation period. Fortunately during isolation you are still able to do some sort of exercise unlike if you really had to have bedrest because you are actually ill or injured. That way you can still practise some body weight movement to stay fit or adapt to your current situation by using some type of resistance bands or water bottles as weights. This will definitely help you to retain some muscle mass and stay in shape which is especially important for all endurance athletes because our endurance capacity does suffer a lot more during times of detraining.

“it would seem worthwhile for the injured or less active athlete to perform either a reduced training programme or an alternative form of training (i.e. to cross-train), in an attempt to avoid or reduce detraining.”

(Mujika and Padilla, 2000a) in a study on endurance training

Another factor which we should positively take into account is the principle of “muscle memory”. During overload resistance training myonuclei seem to be recruited into the growing muscle fiber (even though some argue if they are added before or after a hypertrophy threshold – 26% fiber growth- is reached). Studies have shown that the myonuclei in a fiber segment remain the same after 21 days of denervation which proves that myonuclei are not lost during atrophy. (1)

Myonuclei are not lost during atrophy (Adapted from Gundersen and Bruusgaard (2008))

That means that you gather extra myoluclei during resistance training as shown below. As your muscle tissue grows we seem to add more myonuclei to the tissue which are not lost even if the fiber shrinks during detraining and might even remain for longer than 15 years (Gundersen, 2016).

Bruusgard et al., 2010
Muscles quickly returning to previous size levels after a detraining-retraining routine (Gundersen, 2016) (figure adapted from Bruusgaard et al., 2010) (1)

For this reason this phänomenon is called “muscle memory” because it indicates that the muscle tissue can remember former times of training and remember the earlier growth through resistance training. The idea is that you can quickly return to previous training levels and regain muscle size if you’ve been highly trained before even after a long period of detraining. (1)

Furthermore it is speculated that periods of detraining makes the muscle more sensitive to anabolic signalling. Hence, detraining or deloading might actually be beneficial to gains in the long-term (Ogasawara et al., 2012; Fisher et al., 2013; Schoenfeld et al., 2014). (1)

All in all it seems like we don´t need to worry too much about loosing all our achieved progress because or body provides us with a number of mechanisms that allow und to regain muscle quicker than previously. That said it is also important to remember that we will not loose muscle as easily as we think we do because initially what we loose the most in water and Glykogen. Nevertheless in times where we can´t train as we are normally used to we should still keep doing some sort of exercise just to maintain a certain level of fitness which will help us later to get back to or normal practise more easily. Also exercise is an excellent method to release endorphins which can be nothing than helpful in this uncertain times where we might tend to be absorbed into a much to negative state of mind which neither helps us nor the people around us.

I hope that these information where somewhat useful and helped to brighten your day just a little. If your are interested in some at home workouts or other ideas what you could do with your free time please let me know, I am happy to help ; )

Also click the subscribe button if you enjoyed reading this post because there are about to come more…

Sources

1 https://sci-fit.net/detraining-retraining/ Adam Tzur (SCI-FIT facebook page)
Published: Jan 12, 2017

2 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/232229816_Comparison_of_muscle_hypertrophy_following_6-month_of_continuous_and_periodic_strength_training Riki Ogasawara •Tomohiro Yasuda •Naokata Ishii •Takashi Abe 2013

 

Update, current goals, GROWTH

Hi everyone, I thought I should do a quick update on my current goals and training situation so that you can understand where I want to get over the next few months and where my starting point was.

After my summer break and the end of my competition season I decided to take a different approach to things with my training and my goals. During the past months i had lost quite a bit of weight due to the many important competitions and the training and stress that came with them. This wasn´t necessarily bad for me at that point because especially as an endurance athlete lower weight is sometimes an advantage because you have to carry less weight around and i really noticed that running felt far easier than it had before. I felt like i had reached just the perfect competition physique and the results also supported me with that impression. But never the less, many people mentioned my weight loss to me because before that point I never really had the slim appearance of a runner and it was therefore really obvious to people even they hadn´t seen me in a while. That didn´t really bother me mostly but when my coaches started telling me that i should make sure to gain back some body mass after the competition had ended, i became more mindful of the change that had happend, even if it was unintentionally. I started to recognize the downsides of weighing less and just being smaller… Even if it had helped me with my running, my swimming performance was not as good as it had be previously. I felt like i didn´t have enough strength in the water and not enough energy to sprint in my training sessions. But I also noticed a difference in my every day life as i was always freezing and had less energy than before. All these things additionally to the advice from my coaches and there fear that i might injure myself or become sick really quickly, I decided that i wanted to gain some weight over the next months and see what changes that would make to my performance and energy levels.

In Addition to that I wasn´t satisfied with my physique anymore even if i had reached my used-to-be “dream physique” at which I was very slim and athletic. That upset me quite a bit because I realised that the way i looked at that point didn´t make me feel more happy that before. That showed me that the way i look didn´t have much influence on my mental wellbeing and that on the conterary i didn´t feel as happy and fulfilled as i wanted to even if i had reached my physique goal. Something needed to change and i started to think about how i wanted to feel in the first place instead of how i wanted to look. So i decided on some new goals that i wanted to reach and that simultainiously matched with my intention to gain some weight back because i no longer wanted to look small but instead strong and energised.

Growth

This is why i decided on the main goal of GROWTH in general over the next few months. I want to grow more muscle but also focus more on my mental wellbeing and do more of the things that make me happy and fulfil my body. First of all i want to do more training sessions that i enjoy and cut out those that i don´t enjoy as much or that just bore me eventually. Before i had never taken the time to go to the gym more than once a week because i didn´t have the time with all the running, swimming, shooting and so on, even if i really enjoyed going to the gym and doing some resistance training. Now i simply make the time and try to go to the gym three times a week and try to work on building muscle especially on the legs. But in order to achieve that i need to go into a calorie sulplus where i eat more than my maintenance calorie intake (but i will make a blog post regarding lean bulking as well). Additionally i cut down on my swimming sessions and just go swimming one or twice the week to maintain a level of endurance and strength. Right now, just after a few weeks i feel so much happier and energised because i just do what makes me happy. But never the less this will be a much longer process because i need some time to get into the right state with my food intake in the first place. I realised that it is quite hard to start eating a lot more food in order to be able to build muscle because i am not used to it anymore and simply not that hungry. But on the other side i definitely need to eat more because i think i am still not having my maintenance calories every day. Because i struggle with this a lot i decided to use a technique called reverse dieting where you up your calories each or every two weeks in order to give your body time to adjust to the increasing amount of food that you eat. I am really looking forward to see if that helps me and gets me to where i want to get which is to eat intuitively just the right amount of food to fuel my body. And i mean who doesn´t want to be able to eat more food ; ) In Theorie i will be able to increase my calorie intake for quite a bit until i reach my maintenance and this is when my weight will start to go up. Then i assume i will be carrying on for a bit as i want to put on some weight but i will seen when i get to that point. And this will take some time…

All in all I defined a few goals for the next few months that are really important to me and i think will keep me motivated :

  • build muscle – especially on the thighs
  • become stronger – being able to lift heavier weights
  • eat more (reverse dieting) – to be able to built muscle and have more energy
  • listen to my body and do what I enjoy doing
  • make time for my social life – don´t stress about training as much because mental health is as important as physical

Please let me know if you want to know more about the reverse dieting approach and for whom this can be helpful or if you have any other questions. I will keep you updated on my progress and how this worked out for me so stay tuned ; )

I am also thinking about doing a physique comparison in a few months to compare the differences and to see if i reached my goals or moving towards them, do you think this would be a good idea?

xx Mira