Do You Lose Muscle If You Stop Working Out?


Got a workout related question?
Then just “Ask Lee”…

What happens when you stop working out?

Do you lose muscle?

How long does it take to lose muscle after you stop lifting weights?

These are some common questions that I get asked. And in fact my most recent Ask Lee video Q and A Dav Harrison asks:

Is it true that if you don’t use the muscle you lose it? I read this somewhere. I haven’t been to the gym in a while and I feel weaker and smaller. If I start working out again will I gain the muscle back quicker?


Click PLAY To Get The Answer…

Note: if you can’t watch the embedded video clip above,
you can watch it right on my YouTube Channel by Clicking Here

You will lose muscle if you stop working out. However, it’s not instant. It’s not like if you stop working out for a week you’re going to shrivel away to nothing. But if you let yourself go several weeks on end with no weight training then you will start to lose your muscle strength and fullness.

If you don’t use it, you will lose it. You have to provide stress and demands on the muscle in order to give it a reason to grow bigger and stronger.

However, the good news is that you can re-gain lost muscle quicker the second time around. This is what’s referred to as muscle memory. It’s easier and faster to re-build muscle that you had previously, then it is to build that muscle mass in the first place.

So while it may have taken you a year or more to build up to a certain level of muscular development. You should be able to return to that level within several weeks of regular workouts in the gym.

The main thing you need to focus on is being consistent with your workouts so that you make regular weight training a part of your lifestyle. And not get caught up in the whole working out on and off again pattern.

About The Author

leehayward

Lee Hayward is a competitive bodybuilder and muscle building coach who has been online helping people build muscle, lose bodyfat, and get in shape since 1999. Lee was selected as one of the Top Fitness Trainers Online through YouTube's Next Trainer Program and his work has been featured in several international magazines such as: FLEX, Muscle Insider, Muscle Mag International, Testosterone, Ironmag, and Forbes.

27 Comments

  • Marcus

    Reply Reply

    Okay so I have bee lifting heavy over last couple of years and now I just don’t have time to get to the gym so I do 100 push-ups, band curls, pull-ups, sit-ups and run two to five miles daily, but no weights. Will I lose muscle mass?

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  • james

    Reply Reply

    interesting topic because i seem to lose a good bit of weight when i stop working out. I figured maybe it was low T.. my normal weight is 220-225 as long as i’m in a normal workout routine. but at times, work gets hectic and i may have to stop working out for 2-3 months. I normally drop to about 210 with the exact same meal pattern. is it normal to drop 10-20 lbs while taking a 3 month break Lee? thx.

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  • Thomas Harding

    Reply Reply

    I noticed as I get older, I am the muscle quicker if I don’t do weight training regular. However it does feel like I gain more muscle after a 2 week rest. So I would train 3 months without a break and then take a 2 week break and then hard core again for 3 months. In other words it would feel like I am taking 2 steps back while resting and then 3 steps forward when I start again. It does take about 2 weeks to get to the same strengths but after that I gain about 5% to 10% more strength 2 months after the rest. Could there be a scientific explanation or is it all in my head.

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  • Ryan

    Reply Reply

    Thomas-
    After working out for a couple months regularly, with minimum rest, a week or so break will do you good to reset your body a little bit, and no its not unlikely that you could gain a little muscle in that short period of resting, or even be stronger when you return to the gym. Just as long as your nutrition stays in tact.
    -Ryan
    Thomas Harding,

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  • Ansgar Woo

    Reply Reply

    Thomas Harding,

    Lee Hayward & many other fitness gurus advise taking at least one week off from training after consistent training for 3 months. This is to allow the muscles to rest, grow & repair all the aches & pains that might accumulate from the 3 months of heavy lifting. During the week off, eat sensibly & if possible, go to bed early.

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  • Marcus,

    That should help you to maintain, but ideally you should try to get at least a couple gym workouts per week. If you did a couple gym workouts along with your home workout routine you could still make gains.

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  • james,

    Yes, just like was mentioned in the video. If you don’t place stress on the muscle you will lose it.

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  • Thomas Harding,

    A short break from the gym can aid with recovery and help with your progress. When I say if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it I’m talking about taking an extended break from the gym as in several weeks or even months.

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  • Sam

    Reply Reply

    Hi Lee
    If you’ve done persistent heavy workouts so that your joints actually get bigger, will the joints shrink if you stop training for a long time?

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  • wlf24

    Reply Reply

    of course you’ll lose muscle mass but not entirely or completly. but also if you do have normal training and two to five miles a day, it’s not a bad thing either actually it’s positive for you body 100% meaning that is maintaining well. But don’t be so happy about it annyway, beacause the muscle mass will be lost away after a while, you will lose it because of the obvious fact that muscle mass it’s built to receive a lot of weight, meaning that the only way to built mass is to lift heavy weight to very heavy weight and then to keep giong upper to the next level so that the nmass is built.. that’s the way to gain it.. so what all means is that if you don’t lift heavy weights then heavyer then what ever, you will lose mass.. and if you doing normal training just to maintain yourself and eating like you’re supose to, you will do just fine with no mass on you, having not a beautifull body but pretty nice body because you actually use it. and you’ll have a normal pretty non-bad body. you just not going to have that body muscle mass definition/volumide abs and all so no worries

    ,

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  • wlf24

    Reply Reply

    wlf24:
    of course you’ll lose muscle mass but not entirely or completly. but also if you do have normal training and two to five miles a day, it’s not a bad thing either actually it’s positive for you body 100% meaning that is maintaining well. But don’t be so happy about it annyway, beacause the muscle mass will be lost away after a while, you will lose it because of the obvious fact that muscle mass it’s built to receive a lot of weight, meaning that the only way to built mass is to lift heavy weight to very heavy weight and then to keep giongupper to the next level so that the nmass is built.. that’s the way to gain it.. so what all means is that if you don’t lift heavy weightsthen heavyer then what ever, you will lose mass.. and if you doing normal training just to maintain yourself and eating like you’re supose to, you will do just fine with no mass on you, having not a beautifull body but pretty nice body because you actually use it. and you’ll have a normal pretty non-bad body. you just not going to have that body muscle mass definition/volumide abs and all so no worries

    ,

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  • Has

    Reply Reply

    I worked out for 15 months 3-4x a week with personal trainers but had a pretty crappy diet during this time. then stopped for like 10 years and never worked out and had a bad diet. Would I have muscle memory? If I start working out again? I haven’t trained in 10 years or dieted and I’m outta shape

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  • Lee I’ve been working for to build up my chest but I haven’t seen any progress can you help me

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  • Marcell:
    Lee I’ve been working for to build up my chest but I haven’t seen any progress can you help me

    Here’s a good chest workout that you can try:
    http://leehayward.com/blog/how-to-build-bigger-pecs

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  • Sean Steckbeck

    Reply Reply

    I stopped working out for six months because of a traveling schedule and really busy season this year. However, to my surprise, while I lost tone and strength, the size and mass of my muscles did not change….why?

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  • Alyssa

    Reply Reply

    So lee, how long exactly until you lose muscle? I am a female and my goal is actually to lose muscle so I’m going a month without weight lifting. (I’ve built too much muscle, it doesn’t look very feminine. I want to lose these muscles). So if I stop weightlifting, will this help me achieve my goal?

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  • Israbelle

    Reply Reply

    What does it look like if you gain muscle like how an army man would, then lose it? Does it look any different than it did before you started? I made up a character who worked in the army for years, not during peacetime, then after he left, he lost the muscle. Can you tell if they had muscle before?

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  • issa movement

    Reply Reply

    Marcus,

    yeah

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  • KELLY TAN

    Reply Reply

    i have been doing sit up and lifting dumbbells all these years which ended up
    with very stiif and hard muscle near the bneck and shoulder. Now these muscles
    so tight and gives me probelm, I have neck problem and cause me headache, neck sore and pain. If i stop training, will my muscle gets relax and at least not so hard and stiff?

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  • Suryajyoti

    Reply Reply

    I am doing exercise regularly with day wise except Sunday but I am feeling that my muscles are not pumped lookong dammed lean muscles..plz suggest me.. I’m worried..thanking u

      (Quote)  (Reply)

    • You are probably not doing anything “wrong”. Most likely you just haven’t given yourself enough time to develop a big muscular physique. Building muscle takes A LOT longer than the mainstream fitness media would like you to believe. I have a blog post that talks about this in more detail at: http://leehayward.com/blog/do-you-even-lift

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  • Matt

    Reply Reply

    Basically, I’m 21 now. I have been fitness mad since the age of 7 (The gym, rugby, sprinting etc) . Resulting in having a great lean build with a great power to weight ratio. I stopped training about a year and a half ago. Resulting in losing about 8Kilograms of muscle and putting on some fat.

    How long will it take for me to get back to where I was before this long and regrettable break?

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  • Ismail Mondal

    Reply Reply

    Sir, I worked out excessively for three months and then my body gets very skinny, so as my face..what can I do to regain that state?

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  • Sam

    Reply Reply

    Hey Lee, Great article,
    How long will it take to completely lose all your muscles after having trained consistently for one year?

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  • Ram

    Reply Reply

    I was working on Barbell training,Circuit training,Insanity workout and running.I reduced my weight from 120 kgs to 89 kgs in a space of 2 years.In the past 9 months I was focussing more on walking & running.As a result of this, I’m finding it hard to lift.I used to Squat -100kgs,OHP-60kgs,Bench-90kgs. ,Now my numbers are 60kgs,35kgs & 65kgs respectively.How to regain my strength and lifts back?I’m very disappointed with my squat numbers.Please help!!!

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  • Debby

    Reply Reply

    I have bee quite sick since january 2017 and it is now august 2017. I did weight training along with running and HIIT. I loved the way my body looked. Toned and defined. I just noticed that my arms(tricep area) is loose and saggy. When i go back to exercise will I be able to build the sagginess under my arms.

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