Atrophy -- or loss of muscle mass -- occurs within one week of weightlifting cessation, according to the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Therefore, you should support your muscle mass with regular exercise. Luckily, muscle maintenance requires far less lifting frequency and duration than muscle growth. Following a high-intensity, reduced-frequency strength training protocol preserves muscular size and strength during periods of reduced exercise ability.
Muscle growth, or hypertrophy, occurs during repeated bouts of weight-bearing exercise followed by rest. Weightlifting breaks down worked muscle fibers, which are later repaired -- if given adequate rest, according to the American Council on Exercise. According to the NSCA, resistance training increases muscle size, improves muscular strength and endurance and enhances body composition.
Detraining occurs when physical activity falls below a habituated level, and it reduces muscular size, strength and endurance. The length and severity of reduced training dictates magnitude of detraining outcomes. In addition, highly-trained individuals detrain at a slower rate than people with only a few months of exercise experience, according to the NSCA. Therefore, a one-month break affects novice lifters to a greater extent than weightlifters with more than one year of training. Regardless of training status, it will take longer than one month to regain fitness variables lost during four weeks of detraining.
Maintaining Muscle Mass
Maintenance exercise enables reduced training frequency while limiting or eliminating detraining effects. Although maintenance can save your current muscle mass, continued fitness gains will not occur at a reduced training level. Recommended training frequency depends on your previous exercise schedule. For instance, a weightlifter who previously trained five to six days per week can reduce frequency to two or three weekly sessions, while a novice weightlifter may train one time per week. Maintenance success relies on adequate training intensity during completed sessions. For example, you should lift loads of 80 to 100 percent of your maximal ability, according to the NSCA. Furthermore, strength training only four times in one month is better than not training at all.
Inadequate rest halts muscular adaptation and impairs performance. Therefore, fatigued muscles require one to two days of rest between exercise bouts. In addition, the NSCA recommends planned one- to two-week phases of reduced weightlifting intensity as part of a one-year training program. However, one-month rest periods should be reserved for injured individuals or those who are not concerned with substantially reduced muscular fitness. Consult a doctor before starting a weightlifting program.