Take a Break...or Not?

How much time is OK to take off from the gym without losing muscle and strength?

Kevin Levrone was known for taking months off from the gym after competing, losing a great deal of body weight in the process. How much time is OK to take off from the gym without losing muscle and strength?

Researchers randomly divided young men into either a continuous resistance training group or a periodic resistance-training group (i.e., taking a break). Both groups performed freeweight bench presses three days per week. The continuous group trained for the entire 24-week period, while the periodic group performed two cycles of a three-week detraining/six-week retraining period after a six-week initial training period. Training intensity was set at 75% one-rep max (1RM), and the subjects did three sets of 10 with 2–3 minutes’ rest between sets. Before and after the study, the subjects’ 1RM was assessed. Also, upper arm and chest muscle size were measured using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

At the end of the study, both groups experienced similar increases in 1RM bench press, and muscle size of the triceps and pectorals, with no significant differences between groups.

During the three-week detraining period, the men lost some size and strength, but this was rapidly regained with retraining. In fact, the gain was twice as fast as that of the continuous group, such that by the end of each six-week retraining phase, the periodic group had caught up with the continuous group.

You can take a few weeks off from the gym and still make continuous progress.

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