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How Long Does it Take to Lose Muscle after not Working Out?

How Long Does it Take to Lose Muscle after not Working Out?

, by Ronald de Hoog, 4 min reading time

People who have worked to cultivate a fitness routine and muscular physique have invested quite a bit of time and energy to reach their current status. As a result, they may sometimes worry about how time away from the gym due to an injury, vacation or something else will impact their gains.

Of course, building muscle demands that rest time be built into a routine, that things like high-quality collagen protein powders are consumed and that hydration levels are constantly monitored. However, too long of a break can result in the loss of muscle mass or strength. This begs the question:

How long after you stop lifting will you start to lose muscle?

Unlike belly fat, which seems to stick around far longer than anyone desires, the muscle will fade over time. However, there are many factors that will determine the rate at which a person loses muscle due to inactivity.

Factors that Impact Muscle Loss

As it stands, there are several variables that will influence the rate at which a person loses muscle from not exercising. Some of the most potent of those forces include:


Your current level of fitness has a lot to do with your potential rate of muscle loss. For this discussion, we will break folks down into three groups:

  • Athletes
  • Non-athletes
  • Inactive

For a person to fall into the “athlete” category, they must either exercise an average of five to six times a week throughout the year or exercise at least three times a week for several consecutive years.

Muscles being used when exercising on the LifeSpan Fitness Aqua Rower

This group is going to be the least prone to quick muscle loss. According to a 2013 study on muscle development, retention, and decay rates among specific athletes, declines in muscle strength would become noticeable in about three weeks. Thus, athletes can take between two and four weeks off from training without seeing any noticeable losses.

Nonathletes, on the other hand, are those who do not exercise five times a week or who have not been working out for very long.

Surprisingly, a 2012 study on comparative muscle hypertrophy found that these folks, too, can engage in roughly three weeks of inactivity without seeing substantial losses.

Naturally, those who are inactive, meaning that they only exercise a couple of times a week and have not been doing so for long, will lose muscle gains the most quickly of all groups.


Age can impact people in unexpected ways. For instance, the older generation should be drinking more water.

As a result, older people who do exercise are urged to carefully monitor their water intake and utilize a sugar-free electrolyte powder to remain well hydrated.

Similarly, as people age, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain muscle mass and strength. Thus, older people will experience a bigger drop during a window of inactivity when compared to younger person.

Fortunately, where sex is concerned, this does not appear to be a factor in how quickly a person will lose muscle strength or mass during a break. Therefore, men and women will lose muscle at a similar pace.

Building Back Muscle

While three weeks or less might seem like a pretty small window of time for your gains to start disappearing, the good news is that the better of shape you are in when the break starts, the more quickly you will bounce back.

This is largely due to the fact that you have already trained your body to run, lift and engage in similarly strenuous activities. As a result, you will not be starting from scratch and will regain your lost ground much more quickly than someone who is just getting started.

Losing Muscle Mass and Strength

There are events in life that will sometimes derail our exercise routines. These circumstances could range from an injury to having a baby and everything in between. Therefore, for the physically inclined, it is important to know how long they have before their progress starts getting undone.

Three weeks seems to be the general threshold at which people will begin to lose muscle mass and strength. However, if you need to stay away from the gym for longer, don’t be afraid to do so, especially if you are already in good shape.

Your body will bounce back relatively quickly, and you’ll get yourself back to your baseline level of fitness in no time.

Additionally, keep in mind that most life events don’t need to sideline you from exercise completely. This means that even doing a small amount of strength training or cardio can help you to maintain more of your muscle than if you were to become completely inactive.

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