It’s Not “All Or Nothing”
Maintaining Strength and Mass is Easier Than You Think
For some people, one unhealthy meal can be enough to derail an entire diet; a cheat meal turns into a cheat day and before you know it you’re back at square one. The same can be said of working out. But while one healthy meal a week may not suffice to keep you healthy, research shows that even minimal exercise could be enough to significantly offset decreases in strength and aerobic capacity.
In one recent study , researchers at the University of Murcia, Spain, observed fourteen world-class kayakers for five weeks following the end of their competitive season to witness the effects of reduced training versus total inactivity. Seven athletes ceased training entirely, while the remaining seven scaled their training down to just one resistance training workout and two endurance sessions per week, a mere fraction of their in-season regimen. Using two exercises – bench press and prone bench pull – and a kayak ergometer, the researchers tested various measures of the athletes’ physical strength as well as their maximal oxygen uptake.
By the end of week five, the data showed a significant difference in the two groups’ performance. While athletes who reduced their training saw their bench press one-rep max decrease by about 4%, the group that ditched the gym entirely lost more than double that! And even though the first group’s maximal aerobic power decreased by 5.6%, it was considerably less than the 11.3% loss experienced by their inactive teammates.
“Short-term TC (total cessation) results in large decreases in maximal strength,” the study’s authors concluded. “These results suggest the need of performing a minimal maintenance program to avoid excessive declines in neuromuscular function.”
These findings support those of another recent study in which, instead of professional athletes, researchers focused on one group of males aged 20-35 and another aged 60-75. Subjects engaged in intense resistance training three days a week for 16 weeks, followed by a 32-week phase in which they were split into three groups where they either reduced their training by one third (one workout a week), one ninth (one workout a week with just one third of the exercises), or stopped exercising altogether.
Just like the kayaking study, the group that stopped exercising entirely experienced a reverse effect on their muscles, while those who cut their training down to one full session a week were able to preserve most of their muscle mass and strength.
So, what’s the moral of the story? Well, you probably didn’t need a scientific study to figure out that it’s easier for young guns to pack on muscle than it is for their folks. The real point to take home is how much easier it is to maintain strength and mass gains than previously thought. So next time you find yourself deciding whether to work out or not, just remember that a little can go a long way, and it’s not “all or nothing.”