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Recovery, Overtraining, and Detraining: Sometimes Less Is More for Muscle Growth


calendar-iconFebruary 15, 2019

Foundational Training Series


You've finally gotten you're routine down- the couch is no longer calling your name, you find yourself heading to the gym like its clockwork, you're a well-oiled fitness machine. You feel like you could keep this up forever.

Believe it or not, though, stopping every once in a while is not only acceptable, its recommended if you want to keep your muscles growing as quickly as possible.

Now hold on a second- to keep your muscles growing you should stop going to the gym? It may sound hard to believe, but well-timed rest and recovery are paramount if you want to stay at 100% and stay in your workout rhythm.

In this post, we'll outline the importance of recovery, how to incorporate it into your regimen, and the risks of not giving your body the rest it needs.

Recovery Time

Eighty percent of participants completed within 1 repetition of baseline for all exercises at 48 h except bench press (70%) and deadlift (60%); suggesting 72 h of recovery should be implemented for multi-joint barbell lifts targeting the same muscle groups in slower recovering lifters.

Korak, Green, & O'neal

Recovery is an important variable in any training plan. Muscle growth occurs during recovery from resistance training, so adequate rest is essential.1,2

It has been shown that it typically takes at least 48 hours to properly recover from an exercise.1,2 Protein synthesis peaks about 24 hours after exercise, so performing the same exercise within a 48 hour window breaks down muscle that has not yet recovered or grown since the last time it was exercised.1,2

With this said, it's recommended that you give your muscles 48 hours of rest before exercising the same muscle group again.1,2 For example, if you hit leg day and did squats on Monday, hold off on another leg day until at least Thursday or later.


Fatigue accompanied by a number of physical and psychological symptoms in the athlete is an indication of 'staleness' or 'overtraining syndrome'.

Kuipers & Keizer

Over the long term, you'll also want to incorporate longer periods of rest or lighter work. In periodized workouts, for example, it's common to have a "deload" week before cycling through the phases again. During this week, you use lighter weights and lower volume in order to make sure your body is fully recovered and ready to go. Without proper recovery time, you risk overtraining.

Overtraining is defined as exceeding your body's ability to recover from strenuous training. Overtraining is associated with numerous harmful and deleterious symptoms. 88-92 Someone suffering from overtraining will experience fatigue, decreased physical performance, lower motivation, worsened mood, poor sleep quality, and general disturbances in their hormonal, psychological, and neurological systems.3-5

In serious cases, it can take weeks and sometimes even months to fully recover from overtraining.3-5 Milder cases of overtraining (known as "overreaching") usually only take a few days to recover from.3-5 

You can avoid overtraining with proper sleep and nutrition, incorporating deload weeks into your regimen, and making sure to take time off if you begin to feel any symptoms of overtraining.3-5 Taking a week off may feel unproductive, but in the long run, avoiding overtraining will allow you to maximize your time in the gym and keep your muscle growth going.

Detraining and Muscle Loss

A 2-week period of DT appeared to retain muscular strength in resistance-trained men. Therefore, a short-term period of DT can potentially retain lower-body strength in young resistance-trained men irrespective of supplementing with 25 g of whey protein postexercise.

Hwang et al.

A common concern with taking time away from the gym is the risk of losing your hard earned muscle mass during your time off. Fortunately, you can rest easy knowing that the chance of you losing muscle during a week or two away from the gym has been greatly exaggerated by the online fitness community.

Research on muscle atrophy, or the decrease of muscle due to a lack of resistance training, indicates that atrophy usually only begins after 2-3 weeks of detraining.6-15 More than that, when atrophy does take place, the lost muscle mass will grow back more quickly than it did initially. This has been hypothesized to be due to "muscle memory".6-15 

You may also notice a decrease in muscle size and strength during a short break, but fear not! This is mostly due to decreased glycogen storage and water retention. This is a temporary effect, and will reverse itself quickly once you resume training.16-19

The Takeaway

If your goal is maximum muscle growth as quickly as possible, don't be afraid to take a week or two off! Allowing your body to fully recover from training is important to both your muscle growth and your general health. Your gains won't go anywhere during a week or two off from the gym, and you'll be able to come back fresher and stronger than ever.


  1. Jones EJ, Bishop PA, Richardson MT, Smith JF. Stability of a practical measure of recovery from resistance training. J Strength Cond Res. 2006;20(4):756-9. Link
  2. Korak J, Green J, O’Neal E. Resistance Training Recovery: Considerations For Single Vs. Multi-Joint Movements And Upper Vs. Lower Body Muscles. Vol 8.; 2015. doi:10.1249/01.mss.0000493760.95261.f6 Link
  3. Kuipers H, Keizer HA. Overtraining in elite athletes. Review and directions for the future. Sports Med. 1988;6(2):79-92. Link
  4. Fry AC, Kraemer WJ. Resistance exercise overtraining and overreaching. Neuroendocrine responses. Sports Med. 1997;23(2):106-29. Link
  5. Kreher JB, Schwartz JB. Overtraining syndrome: a practical guide. Sports Health. 2012;4(2):128-38. Link
  6. Hortobágyi T, Houmard JA, Stevenson JR, Fraser DD, Johns RA, Israel RG. The effects of detraining on power athletes. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1993;25(8):929-35. Link
  7. Jespersen JG, Nedergaard A, Andersen LL, Schjerling P, Andersen JL. Myostatin expression during human muscle hypertrophy and subsequent atrophy: increased myostatin with detraining. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2011;21(2):215-23 Link
  8. Hwang PS, Andre TL, McKinley-Barnard SK, et al. Resistance Training-Induced Elevations in Muscular Strength in Trained Men Are Maintained After 2 Weeks of Detraining and Not Differentially Affected by Whey Protein Supplementation. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 2017;31(4). Link
  9. Kadi F, Thornell LE. Concomitant increases in myonuclear and satellite cell content in female trapezius muscle following strength training. Histochem Cell Biol. 2000;113(2):99-103. Link
  10. Gundersen K. Muscle memory and a new cellular model for muscle atrophy and hypertrophy. J Exp Biol. 2016;219(Pt 2):235-42. Link
  11. Kadi F, Schjerling P, Andersen LL, et al. The effects of heavy resistance training and detraining on satellite cells in human skeletal muscles. J Physiol (Lond). 2004;558(Pt 3):1005-12. Link
  12. Bellamy LM, Joanisse S, Grubb A, et al. The acute satellite cell response and skeletal muscle hypertrophy following resistance training. PLoS ONE. 2014;9(10):e109739. Link
  13. Petrella JK, Kim JS, Mayhew DL, Cross JM, Bamman MM. Potent myofiber hypertrophy during resistance training in humans is associated with satellite cell-mediated myonuclear addition: a cluster analysis. J Appl Physiol. 2008;104(6):1736-42. Link
  14. Costill DL, Fink WJ, Hargreaves M, King DS, Thomas R, Fielding R. Metabolic characteristics of skeletal muscle during detraining from competitive swimming. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1985;17(3):339-43. Link
  15. Mujika I, Padilla S. Detraining: loss of training-induced physiological and performance adaptations. Part I: short term insufficient training stimulus. Sports Med. 2000;30(2):79-87. Link
  16. Mujika I, Padilla S. Cardiorespiratory and metabolic characteristics of detraining in humans. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2001;33(3):413-21. Link
  17. Knuiman P, Hopman MT, Mensink M. Glycogen availability and skeletal muscle adaptations with endurance and resistance exercise. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2015;12:59. Link
  18. Fisher, James & Steele, James & Smith, Dave. (2013). Evidence-Based Resistance Training Recommendations for Muscular Hypertrophy. Medicina Sportiva. 17. 217-235. 10.5604/17342260.1081302. Link
  19. Ogasawara, Riki & Kobayashi, Koji & Tsutaki, Arata & Lee, Kihyuk & Abe, Takashi & Fujita, Satoshi & Nakazato, Koichi & Ishii, Naokata. (2013). MTOR signaling response to resistance exercise is altered by chronic resistance training and detraining in skeletal muscle. Journal of applied physiology (Bethesda, Md. : 1985). 114. 10.1152/japplphysiol.01161.2012. Link
Date Created: February 15, 2019

Last Updated: September 16, 2020

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