In the middle of a global pandemic, many questions race to mind: When will I get back to work? When will life go back to normal? When will the gym open up again? With that last question comes another set of questions: How much will this stump my progress? How much weight will I gain? What can I do to stay active during the pandemic ? How much muscle mass am I losing?
It’s important to note that unless you’re on strict bed rest, without movement, there is no way you can lose all your muscle mass due to lack of training. You may not be training as hard as pre-isolation, but you should still be moving around, going outside, training at home, doing sports, etc. Doing something as simple as walking engages your muscle tissue, helping you maintain your lean mass base.
Will I make the same gains from training at home than at the gym? No.
Will I lose all my gains because I’m not lifting heavy weight? Also no.
We all have something called muscle memory, which is defined as previously trained muscles acquire strength and volume much faster than naive muscles. This means that following strength training, a mechanism in your cell activates which facilitates muscle gain post-rest. This rest period can be a day, a week, a month, or even six months; your muscle tissue doesn’t disintegrate completely from lack of use.
Through muscle memory, you are able to get back to your pre-rest muscle pump faster, and sometimes even see more gains as your body was able to fully recover from strenuous exercise. You may feel like you’re softer to the touch now, from not training as heavily as before, but that doesn’t mean that you’re losing your gains. You’re simply losing the “pump”.
We discussed glycogen very often in this blog, as it’s what helps in muscle growth and energy. It gives energy and strength to your muscle tissue, and helps speed up repair post-workout when replenished. The more glycogen you have stored, the fuller your muscle tissue feels.
“I eat a lot of carbs, so why are my muscles fuller?” Simple – you’re not using your muscle tissue as intensely, therefore you’re not storing glycogen as effectively as before. Your body directs glucose to your muscle tissue when you need the energy and strength, i.e. before a workout or after a workout. If you’re not lifting heavy weights, your body won’t direct the majority of your glucose to your muscle tissue, since it doesn’t need it.
Keeping your muscle mass
That being said, it doesn’t mean that you should stop training during this pandemic. Training has many benefits other than just gaining lean mass; working out improves your mood, releases endorphins and “happy” hormones, and helps boost your confidence levels and self-esteem. All of which are needed during these uncertain times. If you’re not training for physical changes, at least exercise for the mental health benefits that come with it.
Physically speaking, exercising can also help improve your muscle memory, as you’re still engaging your muscles even if it’s with less intensity. When you’re running, you’re using your quads, core, and glutes. When you’re doing push ups, you’re using your pectorals, triceps, and core. When you’re playing tennis, you’re engaging your delts, core, and traps. We can go on forever. What ever activity you decide to do during this pandemic, whether it’s a live training with Astrofit, or going outside for a quick run, you’re moving and using various muscle groups. Your gains are safe.
Can your muscle mass turn to fat?
No. Muscle tissue is one, fat cells are another. Your muscle tissue can’t turn into fat because they are two completely different things. What will happen, as mentioned above, is that you will lose the pump and hardness in your muscle tissue, that you get from strength training. This will make you feel fatter, but it doesn’t mean that you gained fat. If you’re in a caloric deficit or at maintenance level, you won’t gain fat.
Final thought: as long as you’re moving and engaging your muscles, you will not lose your gains. The only way to lose all your gains is through strict bed rest. What you might lose is the aesthetics that comes with strength training, where you’re able to target smaller muscle groups that add depth to your physique. Through muscle memory though, you will get that aesthetics back once you start lifting again.