Easiest Way to Maintain Muscle Strength

I’m not going to beat around the bush… when it comes to muscle strength, it’s much easier to maintain muscle strength than it is to attain the muscle strength itself.  What I mean by this is, to go from a bench of 135 pounds to a bench of 315 pounds will take some serious work and dedication.  In order to maintain that muscle strength, you will find it much easier.  The following article I want to discuss the easiest way to maintain muscle strength because, let’s face it, life happens and our free time can quickly dry up when family matters and life take precedence. 

Your Time is Now Limited

When we find our schedule has changed for whatever reason (work/life), the 3-5 days a week that we normally went to the gym to exercise can dwindle down to 1-2 days at best.  This can be as much a mental battle as it is physical.  For many of us, we can’t wait to get to the gym and get in a great sweat session and move around some weight.  And when you can’t, it can mentally mess with you from a psychological standpoint.  But, don’t worry.  As with everything, this too shall pass.  However, that doesn’t mean you should throw your hands up and give up thinking all of your muscle strength will all of a sudden disappear like a magic trick.

At a certain point you might need to put in more time as your job and you are working long hours, have to travel more for work (or maybe a long vacation), or have family matters to tend to, it can make for the perfect storm when it comes to your discipline and willingness to maintain muscle strength.  Let’s apply all of this to what could be your current situation.

The Easiest Way to Maintain Muscle Strength

So, now you’re stressed out.  You can’t find enough time to go to the gym and that’s actually ok.  That statement might make some people very uneasy as if there is some catch or punchline to follow – there isn’t.  The fact of the matter is that it doesn’t take much effort at all to maintain muscle strength.

A piece of research was published that took athletes who were training consistently three times a week for over 10 weeks and changed their routine to only have them frequent the gym for a workout one to two times per week (there were two groups, one that trained once a week and the other twice).  What this study found was that you can actually maintain muscle strength by only training once per week[1].  That’s right!  One workout per week is all it takes to maintain muscle strength.  And as surprising as this may sound, those very athletes even INCREASED their muscle strength with a once per week routine.

Another study further went in depth and looked into not only how to maintain muscle strength but also muscle size.  You would think these would go hand-in-hand in that if you worked out less, you’d naturally lose some muscle mass during that period.  But, that theory was put to rest when researchers took another group of subjects and changed their workout routine to follow a once per week workout program.  To their amazement, the subjects were actually able to not only maintain muscle strength and size but also showed gains[2]

The research I presented above actually proves that the easiest way to maintain muscle strength is to simply find enough time during the week to fit in one or two workouts and that’s enough.  When you think about it, that could be as simple as blocking out two hours a week to fit in 1-2 workouts.  That’s not a lot of time!

You also want to take a peek at your nutrition.  Make sure that during this period where your workouts are less frequent, that you keep your nutrition tight and clean to ensure you don’t add body fat during your training lull. 

What Kind of Workouts Can Maintain Muscle Strength?

This was another area that researchers dove into to get some answers.  We obviously know that with as little as 1-2 workouts per week we can maintain muscle strength, but are there certain training protocols that are more efficient at preserving muscle strength?  There is.

One study was conducted where subjects were asked to do only isometric exercises two times each week.  What they found was that those subjects were able to maintain their strength as well as 80% of their gains[3].  Another study found that training a muscle group two times per week yielded 70% of their gains as well as their muscle strength[4]

What these studies are proving is that your muscle strength and even muscle mass will not turn you back into a beginner where you’ll go from He-Man status to a stick-figure if you can’t train as frequently.

During the period where you cannot work out as often, I would focus more on the compound movements rather than isolating specific muscle groups.  What this means is that your workouts should be made up of the bench press, military press, squats, and deadlifts.  The reasoning behind utilizing these precise movements is that they recruit more than one muscle group in order to perform the exercise.  There are also movements that we can tend to push more overall weight per set than an isolation movement (think concentration curls).  Therefore, if you want to be as efficient as possible with keeping your muscle strength and gains, compound movements should be your friend.

Hopefully, this article shed some light on the topic and added some value to your healthy lifestyle and how to maintain muscle strength and even size when life happens and your workout schedule gets thrown for a loop.  The key is to not stress out about it, yet, try to fit in at least one or two workouts each week until you are able to get back to your normal routine.  Have fun with the process and this little breather can also do wonders for helping your body recover fully for when you’re ready to get back after is hard with your 3-5 day routine.

References:

  1. Bell, G. J., et al. (1993). Maintenance of strength gains while performance endurance training oarswomen. Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology. 18(1), 104-15.
  2. Bickel, C. S., et al. (2011). Exercise dosing to retain resistance training adaptations in young and older adults. Medicine & Science in Sports Exercise. 43(7), 1177-87.
  3. Braith, R. W., et al. (1989). Comparison of 2 vs 3 days/week of variable resistance training during 10- and 18-week programs. International Journal of Sports Medicine. 10(6), 450-4.
  4. Carroll, T. J., et al. (1998). Resistance training frequency: strength and myosin heavy chain responses to two and three bouts per week. European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology. 78(3), 270-5.
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