Resistance training is one of the best things we can incorporate into our lifestyles in order to get healthy, aid in weight loss and body recomposition, and encourage positive changes in muscle size and strength. Additionally, getting on a structured training program is one of the first steps in establishing consistency and allowing those desirable training adaptations to be achieved over time in an optimal manner.
One thing I’m sure we’ve all thought about is what would happen if we couldn’t train all of the sudden or dropped off of our plan for a bit? Things come up all the time that make us wonder this. For example, this could be injuries, family or life circumstances, vacations, and even a dip in motivation and drive (not to mention quarantine as of lately!). This can be an especially difficult obstacle for many and one that causes some anxiety. When we get into a good routine, whether you’re a beginner or not, it can be easy to think that you can’t take breaks or allow shifts/changes in your training because you may just “lose all of your gains.” All of your hard work and progress will be lost and go to waste, right?
Well, that is not entirely the case. There is ample research that gives us more insight into the different effects of either continuous and periodic resistance training, or in other words, continued resistance training versus interrupted, detraining periods where training does not occur.
Detraining has been defined as either a total or partial loss of desired training-related adaptations like our muscle mass and strength, or simply an end to training as a whole. It’s typically thought that training hiatuses like these lead to decreases in hypertrophy- and strength-related measures we work so hard to build through our training.
Prior research has investigated detraining for months at a time (we’re talking between 3-12 months!), while only a few have tested out shorter-term (less than 1 month) resistance detraining periods in relation to strength gains. Additionally, even fewer studies have experimented with periodic training (retraining following short-term detraining) on muscle strength.
This concept of periodic training would be much more applicable to the average trainee in the sense that it can provide us with some more insight into just how long one can go out of the gym without experiencing any significant detriments in their current progress.
60 young, previously untrained women participated in the present study in order to determine whether or not a difference would emerge between continuous and periodic resistance training over a 10-week period. The subjects had not been actively resistance training for at least 6 months prior to the study period and were also instructed not to change or alter their current nutritional habits/regimen.
Training and Detraining
The women were randomly split into either a continuous or periodic resistance training group and had undergone 2 weeks of familiarization before the training period began. This is where they were instructed on proper technique and where starting weights would be determined.
As for training itself, both of the training groups were given the same resistance training program to follow, that of which consisted of 20 total training sessions spread out on 2 nonconsecutive training days per week. A point was also made to ensure the training sessions had a minimum of 48 hours between them.
The chosen exercises to be performed during training were compound movements (lat pulldown, bench press, leg press, knee flexion). Exercises were done for three sets of 8-12 where training loads were adjusted accordingly to ensure the subjects remained within the appropriate rep range while also reaching concentric failure throughout their working sets. Additionally, single-joint exercises were to be excluded from the program.
The continuous resistance training group trained throughout the entire 10-week period, while the periodic resistance training group was structured to where they would train for 5 weeks, stop training completely (or detrain) for 2 weeks, and finally resume training once again for another 5 weeks. Overall, both groups would accumulate the same amount of training sessions – the only difference between protocols is training continuity.
After 10 weeks of training (and detraining), researchers found that the effect size, or in other words the magnitude or size of the difference being observed, was medium for elbow flexor and knee extensor strength in both of the training groups.
Essentially, the stronger the effect size, the stronger the relationship between the variables being measured.So, both continuous and periodic training protocols were able to produce increases in strength measures for the subjects.
With that said, the researchers were able to conclude that 2 weeks of detraining followed by 5 weeks of retraining was able to produce strength gains similar to that of the continuous training group who did not have any break provided. This shows us that experiencing gaps or periodic disruptions in our training won’t be much of a detriment to our overall, cumulated strength.
Odds are, we will all come across instances where we simply won’t be able to hit the gym as frequently – we’ll need to miss some training days or even have to forgo training for days at a time for whatever reason. Additionally, hiatuses from training can be caused by simply normal dips in motivation, failure to plan ahead/schedule the time for it, or just life circumstances (vacations, emergencies, work). Through working with our clients (both competitive and lifestyle), these occurrences are very normal! These are also, more often than not, followed by the fear that our gains and strength would be lost because of it. This can muster up some unnecessary anxiety towards the gym and our progress as well, which we can do without.
Detraining, or periodically stopping training, is a realistic hurdle regardless of your level of experience, but not one that will have you taking 10 steps back and losing progress. This present study helps shed some light on just what we can accomplish with short blocks of detraining thrown into the mix, granted that we plan on resuming that training. Retraining (or what we can consider as getting back on program) after 2 weeks of going without it shows us that we can attain similar increases in muscular strength as those who’ve been training uninterrupted.
With the current state of things, like being under quarantine and having to adjust to at-home work and training, it can be pretty easy to panic about all the hard work you’ve put in so far at the gym. You’re not alone! Generally, there are a lot of strategies and training methods we can employ in order to make at-home training just as effective. So if you wind up missing a few days here and there, odds are you’ll be fine, and if any decreases do occur they are likely to bounce back rather quickly once you get back into a consistent routine.
Gentil, P., Ferreira-Junior, J.B., Soares, S.R.S., et al. Effects of periodic and continuous resistance training on muscle strength in detrained women. Perceptual & Motor Skills: Motor Skills & Ergonomics. 2015. 121; 3:1-12.