What Happens When You Don’t Train for a Few Weeks?

This post is mostly a log of my own experience rather than a general answer to the question, but I will include a few external links that you might find helpful if you’re curious.

Even with the best intentions, there can be periods in your life where it’s just harder to train, perhaps due to injury, illness, travel, or a crazy couple weeks at work. What happens when you go for a few weeks without proper training? How quickly do you lose strength, and how long does it take to get it back? I’d always heard that re-gaining strength is easier than gaining it for the first time, but never had the chance to experience it.

What I Did

In November, I went traveling for 23 days. I did my last calisthenics session on the morning Friday the 1st November, before getting on a plane that evening. I came back on the 23rd, and did my first proper class back on Monday 24th morning. I planned to do some training while on holiday, but I knew it wouldn’t be the same as my regular schedule. I hadn’t really had a break longer than a week in several years, and I was worried that I would lose much of what I had worked so hard for. I did some research, but the conclusions weren’t clear – it usually depends on your situation. Not having time to train is one thing, but a serious illness or injury will have other side effects. I can’t speak to that right now, but I understand the simpler case more. If you’re in a similar position, I also found this video by Natacha Oceane quite helpful and reassuring.

This post is a log of how I felt after three weeks of little training, and how long it took to get back to where I was before leaving. For context, the week before leaving for holiday I was on about 70kg, doing 4-5 pull ups and 8 solid dips.

To be completely honest, I’ll explain how much exercise I actually did. The first hotel we stayed at had a gym, so I did a decent workout (still doing 4 pull ups) on the 3rd. After that, no more gyms. We hiked a lot, and biked a little. The only place I felt DOMS in during the holiday were my calves. I did some yoga, stretching, core exercises, push ups, and resistance band exercises a couple of times a week, but usually fairly short sessions, and typically I don’t push myself as much at home as I would if exercising with others. In the first week, sleep was terrible due to jetlag (3-6 hours for quite a few days). It normalized after that. Twice I found a park where I could try a couple of pull ups before we had to move on. I brought rings for pulling workouts but sadly failed to bring the door attachment, so at this point I was expecting to notice the biggest difference in pull ups.

Regaining Fitness

We came back on a Sunday. I did some stretching, which always feels good after a long plane ride. Flexibility was a bit weaker but actually not too much – I’d done enough of that during the holiday.

I did my first proper work out on Monday morning, after another lousy night of sleep. Unsurprisingly after several weeks of mostly eating out and indulging in food & drink, I weighed in a bit heavier at 72.0kg. The work out was rough. 1 pull up, maybe 2 dips. Endurance was weak – I could only do things once, then really drop. Grip felt weak, hands were tired. Shoulderstand felt quite scary again.

I decided to eat lightly control eating to help drop some holiday weight, and it was pretty effective. On Tuesday I was down to 71.2kg. I could still barely do one pull up, and no more dips. I felt more sore after exercise than I typically do, so I decided to rest for Wednesday and Thursday, which resulted in almost total recovery. I did some stretching, and checked that splits were still almost to the floor. Partial dropbacks felt good, but I didn’t test full wheel.

By Friday I was on ~70.4kg. I was up to 2 pull ups (almost 3, but not quite). This time, core felt strangely hard, especially tuck to L-sit extensions. Shoulderstand still felt scary, and I decided I needed an extended solo inversion practice to normalize it again. Saturday was very similar.

Sleep schedule adjusted better than expected, given how rough it was the other way with the 8+hour time difference. There were some wake ups, but I managed to get blocks of 6-7 hours a night. No crazy 3h sleep nights, or ones with a big break in the middle. In the beginning, the compulsion to sleep at 8 or 9pm was basically irresistible. Initially I was waking up at around 4, but it soon moved to around 6. At least it was very convenient for morning exercise classes.

During the second week (2-8 Dec), I reached low 69kg, but went back to 70 a few days later, and stayed there for the rest of December (too many Christmas parties and mince pies). I was stuck somewhere between 2 and 3 pull ups.

Even in the third week (9-15 Dec) I was till struggling a bit on 3 pull ups, but could be due to soreness. I definitely finally managed them at the end of that week. I had been doing slightly different exercises (e.g. rings class, going for high reps on banded pull ups, band ring dips…) so progress can be hard to tell sometimes (plus time of the month can and did mess with these things). Sleep schedule definitely became “normal” in the sense that it was a bit harder to get to sleep and then wake up as early as I’d ideally like.

Conclusion

December is a busy month, and I only had half a week left before traveling again for Christmas on the 20th, plus I felt the beginnings of a cold. I was starting to feel closer to where I was before November, but not quite. My weight was normal, but I was a pull up below my normal and two below my max. I couldn’t check dips on the last week as my triceps were unusually sore, but I think I could have managed about 6. I felt like I had regained most of the core strength, but I didn’t have a good benchmark to verify that. Inversions felt similar to how they did before after a couple dedicated practice sessions.

Some sources say you you shouldn’t lose practically any strength in three weeks, but that really wasn’t the case for me. I had hoped that 3 weeks of proper training would be enough to undo 3 weeks of little training. It came close, but not quite far enough. Of course everything was further complicated by December festivities and food, but it was still a good lesson to learn. Next time I’ll try much hard to fit in at least one proper session per week during time away.

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