Being injured sucks. Even if you can still get in the gym and continue training around the injury, it still sucks. Working out at anything less than 100% just isn’t fun.
Do you know what’s even worse? When the injury is something that forces you to stop working out completely. No going lighter. No training around it. Just sit at home and wait for everything to heal. Now that really sucks.
And while not being able to do what you enjoy doing (assuming you actually enjoy working out) sucks, and not being able to push yourself to make more progress also sucks, the thing that may very well suck the most is knowing that you’re going to slowly begin losing the progress you’ve already made.
I’m talking about the muscle mass and strength you’ve worked your ass off for months/years to gain.
And now an injury is forcing you to sit around and watch it disappear. I hate to use the word “sucks” again, but that sucks as much as suck is possible of sucking.
What Can You Do To Prevent It?
Anyone who has been in that shitty position before knows this all too well, and anyone who hasn’t can surely imagine. And that brings us to the almighty question of the day…
Is there anything you can do about it? Is there some way to maintain some (or all?) of your muscle and strength while you recover from your injury?
Well, in all honesty, that depends on the specifics of your injury and the time frame for it to heal. The more serious the injury and/or the longer it’s going to take to get better, the less likely you’re going to be to maintain ALL of your muscle and strength. It’s just unavoidable.
That’s the bad news.
There is however some good news. Regardless of the extent of your injury and how long it prevents you from working out, there are most definitely some things you can (and should) do to put yourself in the best position for maintaining as much muscle and strength as you possibly can.
Here now are my 7 recommendations…
(NOTE: A significant amount of the info that follows also applies just the same to people looking to maintain muscle while out of the gym for a variety of other reasons… not just injuries. For example: vacations, trips, traveling, illness, etc..)
1. Set Calories At Maintenance (Or Maybe A Surplus)
There are 3 things you can do with your calorie intake during this time (or really any time). You can either be in a:
- Caloric Deficit (the cause of weight loss).
- Caloric Surplus (the cause of weight gain).
- Maintenance Level (the cause of… well… weight maintenance).
So, which calorie intake would be most ideal for a period of time when you’re going to be forced to stop working out and your primary goal is to just maintain as much of your hard earned muscle and strength as possible?
Most of the time, maintenance level is the way to go. Some of the time, a surplus is the way to go. None of the time, a deficit. Here’s when and why to use or avoid each.
When To Use A Caloric Surplus
If you were already in a surplus when the injury occurred AND it will only keep you out of the gym for 1-2 weeks, I’d probably keep a tiny surplus present just like I would if someone was going to spend 1-2 weeks deloading or taking a scheduled 1-2 week break from training.
Why? Two reasons. First, because it may improve your ability to maintain muscle during this time AND recover from your injury (more about that in a minute).
Second, since the time frame for being away from the gym is so short, it’s practically the equivalent of a scheduled training break. And during a scheduled training break I’d typically recommend keeping a small surplus present (assuming it was present before the break) to best allow for recovery and super-compensation to occur.
Might as well get those same benefits now, don’t you think?
When To Use Your Maintenance Level
But what if you weren’t in a surplus at the time of the injury? For example, maybe you were in a deficit for the purpose of losing fat. Or, what if you WERE in a surplus but the injury is going to keep you from working out for longer than the 1-2 week period I just mentioned?
In both of these cases, I’d recommend staying at your maintenance level.
Reason being, a prolonged surplus WITHOUT the training stimulus that signals muscle growth is basically the recipe for gaining fat. Look at every fat person on the planet. They gained that fat because they consistently ate more calories than their bodies burned (a surplus) and didn’t provide the training stimulus that would have signaled their body to use at least some of those calories for creating new muscle tissue.
So, long story short, all of those surplus calories just went directly to fat storage. And in a case where an injury is going to prevent you from working out for weeks and weeks (or months and months), that’s exactly what would happen to you.
Which means, in order to not only put your body in the best possible position for maintaining muscle and strength but ALSO prevent yourself from gaining any fat during this time, maintenance level is often the best way to go.
When To Use A Caloric Deficit
I guess I shouldn’t say never, because I’m sure there are some rarer cases where a deficit might have its place during a scenario like this (e.g. an injury caused by being obese). But, for most of the people most of the time… you DO NOT want to be in a deficit when injured and trying to maintain muscle/strength.
Why? Well, let’s start with the maintaining muscle and strength part.
As I’ve written about before, the key requirement for maintaining muscle while losing fat (and therefore being in a deficit) is to maintain the heavy strength training stimulus that built that muscle in the first place. More about that here: How To Lose Fat Without Losing Muscle
So the last thing you want to do in a deficit when trying to avoid muscle loss is start lifting lighter weights for higher reps (one of the more common/idiotic fitness myths around).
Come to think of it, that’s actually the second to last thing you’d want to do. The absolute last thing you’d want to do is just stop working out altogether. And hey, what a coincidence… that’s precisely what you’d be doing when you’re injured and forced to stop training.
So consistently combine NO training (goodbye muscle maintenance signal) with a caloric deficit (hello signal that tells your body to start burning fat and/or muscle for energy) and you have something close to a worst case scenario for maintaining muscle and strength.
But wait, there’s more!
As I’ve also discussed before, one of the other downsides of being in a caloric deficit is that stuff like recovery, performance and work capacity are reduced. This is why certain adjustments should usually be made to your workout to compensate. Not to mention, this is why the primary training goal while in a deficit is to maintain muscle/strength rather than increase it. A deficit just isn’t the ideal state for making that kind of progress.
So what the hell does this have to do with anything we’re talking about now? Here’s my theory…
As far as the 3 calorie intakes go, your body tends to be at its worst in terms of improving, recovering and performing while in a deficit. Do you think a deficit is where you want to be when you’re trying to heal and recover from an injury as fast as you possibly can?
Probably not. If I had to guess, I’d say your body will be better/faster/stronger at getting healthier when sufficient calories are present than when they are not.
Meaning, maintenance or a surplus depending on the specifics explained above.
2. Keep Your Protein Intake High
The single biggest dietary factor for maintaining muscle while losing fat is eating a sufficient amount of protein each day. Every study I’ve ever seen looking at different weight loss diets and the composition of weight that was lost (was it fat or muscle?) confirms it.
Protein is THE dietary difference maker between losing muscle and maintaining muscle.
So even though this has little to do with weight loss or fat loss, it still has everything to do with trying to avoid losing muscle while injured. Which means, even in the temporary absence of training, protein should still be kept at sufficient levels.
3. Safely And Cautiously Do What Little Training You Can
Let’s say the part of the body you’ve injured is on your upper body. Is there any lower body training you can safely do? If so (and your doctor agrees), then do it! The same goes for if the injured body part is on your lower body. Is there any upper body stuff you can safely do?
And you’re not just limited to upper vs lower. Maybe your elbow is totally screwed. You might still be able to do exercises that don’t require any flexion or extension without any problem… like front and lateral raises. Shoulder injury? Can you do rows pain-free and without making things worse? Maybe. Ankle problem? Can you leg curl and leg extension? It’s possible.
I’m not your doctor (or even A doctor), and I don’t know the extent of your injury. But what I do know is that during the handful of minor to slightly-less-minor injuries I’ve personally dealt with, there’s often something – no matter how small and seemingly insignificant – that I was still capable of doing without negatively effecting the injury.
And when you’re looking to maintain as much muscle and strength as possible, every little bit helps as long its not making anything worse.
4. STOP Trying To Train Through It You Idiot!!!
You see, I’m just like you. If an injury is going to keep me from working out, it’s going to drive me insane, mainly with the fear of the muscle and progress I’m going to end up losing.
When I was dumb enough early on, this fear would completely overtake all sense of intelligent and logical decision making I was capable of to the point where I’d just keep trying to train through the injury so I’d avoid missing any workouts and losing any muscle/strength.
And then, you know, I’d just kinda hope for the best. Maybe things will magically get better?
You know what ends up happening 99.9% of the time with this mindset? You make the injury worse, and something that would have only kept you out of the gym for a couple of weeks will now keep you out of the gym for a couple of months. Or worse.
Which means, if you want to avoid losing the progress you’ve made, you’re going to want to suck it up now and get 100% healthy as soon as F-ing possible. That means doing whatever is needed in the present to avoid screwing yourself in the future by adopting the “ignore the problem and hope for the best” mentality which just makes things worse and prolongs the entire situation.
5. STOP Trying To Come Back Too Soon You Idiot!!!
Ah yes, the equally ugly sister to #4. You are smart enough to stop training so your injury can heal, but then you start to get a little antsy as more time passes and you’re still not back in the gym.
You look in the mirror and see results beginning to fade and muscle beginning to disappear. You feel weaker, fatter and less muscular each passing day. (Note: Depending on how long it’s been, some of this may be legit. Often however, it’s largely in your head and your mind is messing with you.)
So, what do you do? You go back to the gym too soon because you just can’t take it anymore.
And what happens? You tweak the still-not-fully-healed injury you’ve been recovering from, and set yourself back days/weeks/months. Or, even better, to a point worse than where you initially started at.
So rather than just waiting the extra little bit of time it would have taken to fully heal 100%, you went back at maybe 80% to “avoid losing any more muscle,” and this genius idea set you back to 20% which causes you to miss even more workouts and lose significantly more muscle and strength than you would have if you just held out a little longer.
Like I’ve heard Lyle McDonald say before: Wait until you think the injury is healed… then wait another week.
6. Keep Doing Everything Else Right
Keep getting plenty of sleep (details here: How To Sleep Better). Keep drinking plenty of water. Keep eating a sufficient amount of various macro and micro nutrients. Keep your intake of essential fatty acids at sufficient levels (e.g. keep taking a fish oil supplement). Keep your diet higher in quality foods and lower in garbage that makes you feel like crap. Limit stress. Blah blah blah.
Basically, everything you would be doing to put yourself in the optimal position for improving your body should still be happening just the same.
No matter how big or small, it all plays some beneficial role. Whether it will help you maintain muscle longer, help your injury heal faster, make returning to lifting a little easier or just keep you feeling sane during a time where it’s easy to go insane, do it.
Speaking of sanity…
7. Remember: Muscle Memory IS Real
No matter how long it takes, or how bad it gets, or how much it sucks… there is one important fact you should always keep in the back of your mind during this time. In fact, maybe you should keep it in the front of your mind.
And that is, muscle memory is real and legit.
I’ve known this for quite a while, but it was mainly based on things I’ve seen and heard rather than experienced. It wasn’t until I was forced to miss a truly significant amount of time — 3 months due to injury — that I was able to see it happen first-hand.
And let me tell ya, it’s real… and it’s spectacular.
I’m talking simultaneous fat loss AND muscle growth for starters, along with muscle/strength gains (or more accurately, re-gains) at a rate significantly faster than I can ever remember at any other point in my training.
I fully intend on doing a post covering all of the details and specifics, but until then, just remember… no matter how much muscle/strength you may end up losing, you’ll be able to gain it back much faster than you initially gained it.
Injuries Suck, But…
There is nothing good about being injured. It’s always gonna suck. But, that degree of “suck” is something you still have some amount of control over.
As someone who has been in your shoes, I can tell you first-hand that you’ll maintain muscle better, get back to 100% faster, and just generally feel less like crap during this time off if you follow the simple basics laid out above.
110 thoughts on “How To Maintain Muscle When You’re Injured & Not Working Out”
Great article and timing! I just incurred a shoulder injury a few weeks ago and finally got around to seeing a specialist this week that diagnosed me with inflammation (which did not get better due to breaking #’s 4 & 5 above) and I need to take a full 3-4 weeks off. I am still able to squat and work my lower body without a problem so definitely working what I can without being an idiot. As someone that has broken some of the rules/suggestions above and needed surgery on both elbow tendons about a year apart, LISTEN TO THIS STUFF. An extra few weeks off the gym when needed can help save you MONTHS off and thousands of dollars after needing surgery and never feeling 100% confident again. No time better than November/December to up the calories for a bit to be ready for regular training again in the New Year (albeit much lighter than before to start)!
I feel for you bro. Its taken me nearly 11 months to get my shoulder strong enough and healed enough to start dumbell pressing again (doubt whether i’ll go back to dips for some time).
Really recommend you search youtube for “shoulder impingement” for some excellent physio exercises.
I’m in the same boat with both shoulders and elbows shot.
Orthopedics and neurology clinics next year. The nerves are so damaged in my shoulders, numbness runs down both arms making my hands numb from the ring finger to the little one. Quite annoying. Grip strength is pretty low. X-rays had shown “Inflammation”! My ASS! I’m sure it’s much worse! Why the appointments?
I’m far from an expert, but that sounds like a bit more than just inflammation. I’m semi-familiar with elbow and wrist anatomy, especially nerves and tendons, and there’s a bunch of different issues that can cause the type of numbness you’re referring to in your hands. If it’s only the pinky and ring finger, it could be ulnar nerve entrapment which if I remember correctly can become compressed at both the wrist or the elbow.
But again, this is just a random guess from someone who isn’t qualified to make guesses like this over the internet.
I’d definitely get it looked at by some other qualified doctor.
DrSeRRoD, exactly. It’s hard to look at it this way at the time, but in the grand scheme of things, what’s a couple of missed weeks to get healthy over the span of 52 weeks in a year over the many years you’ll be lifting injury-free?
A VERY tiny amount that won’t even be a blip on the radar.
Nice post. Glad you went directly to the diet aspect of what one can do during injury periods. Also, wonder why that other crucial factor of “physio” isn’t up there? Surely, physio is an excellent and critical tool to help firstly decrease any pain and discomfort and secondly, speed up recovery.
In my experience there’s a few typical injuries both to WATCH OUT for by carefully warming up those parts in the first place and to treat when inevitably, they get injured and they would be as follows:
Lower Back – I say lower because its often the most serious of injuries usually involving discs. I’ve had herniated discs and sciatica which made me “cry with pain”. No kidding, back injuries are no joke. What I understood after a decade of pain (throwing lower back out every 6 months) was that I needed to stabilize it and properly balance my exercise regimen. I used Stott Pilates (machines in v small groups) to treat very painful back injuries. The Pilates removed pain, helped heal and massively strengthened both back and abs. Concerning the balance of regimen, I realised that all the swimming I was doing breathing on one side only. It happened to be using only the strongest side of my back. When I learnt to breathe on the other side (by sheer coincidence)… the back problem melted away and never came back!
Shoulders: In January the dips/dumbell press supersets combo game me a nice shoulder impingement. Its taken since January until now to get back to dumbell presses (still only at 80% of what I was lifting then) but only through huge amounts of specific exercises using rubber bands and other weird looking shoulder movements to strengthen my rotator cuff.
Knees: Forgetting to warm up knees before any sort of squatting, squat thrusts, dead lifts etc can result in a lot of pain. There’s some great ways to treat this, cycling comes to mind. Thankfully I’ve never seriously injured my knees (thank God!!). Whenever I have felt any kind of twinge down there I immediately back off.
I’d say one of the kew things to preventing injuries in the first place is LISTEN to your body. Ignoring that “initial twinge” and ploughing on regardless will come back to haunt your ass!!
Good luck everyone to pain free successful workouts!!
I think adding dips to my workout as a burn-out set is what killed my shoulder as well since I never did them before and then did a set of max reps each upper day for 2 weeks and BAM pushing exercises became extremely painful, especially bench. I think I will stay away from those from now on or wait for me to lose about 20 more lbs and work my way up instead of going all out.
Sometimes I wonder what dips have done more: built people great triceps/chests, or destroyed people’s shoulders.
That’s why I do them straight up (no forward lean), and use gymnast rings to keep the elbow motion more natural (less static).
Rings can make a huge difference for sure. Same thing with pull-ups/chin-ups.
Good points. And yup, I was trying to keep this one more aimed at preventing muscle/strength loss than fixing the injury even though the 2 overlap quite a bit. But for sure, a doctor/specialist, physical therapist, etc. would be highly recommended.
Yes, true I realised that when i opened the article the second time. Its all about maintaining muscle whilst injured not about being injured. Fairplay!
Upon returning to lifting weights after an injury/sickness, should you go back to immediately lifting the same poundage as before, or start off lighter?
I’d say definitely start off lighter and work your way back up. You want to make sure you are ready for heavier poundage by working up to them, both from any lost strength/form and also to ensure the injury is completely gone. Better safe than sorry I think!
DrSeRRoD is right. You definitely do NOT want to just start back where you left off. Exactly where you should start back depends on how long your layoff was (2 weeks? 2 months? 2 years?) and the type of injury.
Either way though, start back significantly lighter than you were previously lifting, and slowly work your way back up. At the same time, exercises directly affecting the injured body part should come back even slower than that.
Someone, I think it was Lyle McDonald, recommends just doing 1 set of one exercise and see how everything feels over the next couple of days. If you’re all good, do 2 sets next time. And on and on and on. Good advice.
But in the case of a 1-3 week break for something minor, I’d probably come back to about 75% of where you left off, and add 5-10% back each week.
You had some great timing with this article! I know it’s nothing TOO serious, but I just had four of my wisdom teeth extracted last week and I’m required to not do any heavy lifting or exercise in general for a couple of weeks. Taking a break is fine, I’m prepared for that, but it was the change in my diet that feels like it’s hurting me. I couldn’t eat whole foods that I usually ate in my diet. Protein shakes made me feel nauseous and uncomfortable. I was stuck eating baby starred pasta with no tomato sauce and instant mashed potatoes all the time. I’m just now able to eat scrambled eggs and oatmeal, thank God. It’s a gradual and frustrating process that I think a lot of us had to go through! I can’t complain about being able to eat some ice cream though, that’s about the best part of this recovery process.
To get back on track, this article confirms, if not reassures me, that as long as you maintain your diet the best you can and make sure everything is in check and you rest, you will, without a doubt, be able to get back to your A-Game when you recover.
All I wanted to say was thanks for this very informative and supportive article. 🙂
Glad to hear it man. And yup, it’s going to be really easy to go insane during forced unplanned breaks like this. But as long as it’s not going to be too long of a period of time (2 weeks is NOTHING) and you keep your diet in check, it will only take a few weeks to work right back to where you left off.
And when you consider that most people never take planned breaks from training, many will find they do even better after a few weeks of coming back thanks to the the break they got.
Easy on the carbs and ice cream mate!! 😀
Nice one this has been really helpful as I have been told to have 2 weeks off weight training due to a pulled ligament in my left arm and have been concerned about loosing muscle and/or strength! I obsess over things quite a lot especially my training! Thanks again! 🙂
Glad to hear it!
It SUCKS that U ARE SO AWESOME ! [ coz I want to see u & meet u & just keep reading your article’s]
Great article… Thanks !
If someone is gonna tell me I suck, I’m glad it’s because of my high level of awesomeness. 😉
Great article and just in time. My daughter is a gymnast and just had lisfranc surgery. She’s worried about everything. From the amount of time not being able to practice in the gym to gaining weight. This article has answered so many of her questions and will definitely help her feel better about the recovery process. And when the information comes from a source other than her mother, it makes all the difference in the world to a teen. Great advice, thanks.
Ha, happy to hear it!
Do you have any tips on how to work around shoulder pain?
I’ve just started your beginner full body split (instead of the lower once a week frequency I was on before).
And, I thought with the new start I’d really focus on form. This has worked out well for squats and deadlifts BUT..
The flat bench press has given me a shock. I’ve ended up with two painful shoulders on my first try!
I had researched (blogs, youtube etc..) proper form on this in advance.
I did warm up sets focusing on arching my back, wideness of grip, and bringing the bar down to my lower chest (not nearer the neck as I think I was doing before.) I kept the weight at the same 30kg that I had been doing for weeks.
I’m not sure what I did wrong. I focused on the placement of grip with my ring finger on the markings. I felt this made my grip quite a bit wider than I had been using before. Is this the culprit? I should say that maybe I was more focused on the barbell coming to my lower chest than I was on bringing my elbows in. Is this more likely to be the problem?
If you’ve got any additional tips/tricks for proper form on this, I’d be grateful.
Should I try and do some different form of compound horizontal push to work around this or should I avoid it like the plague until the pain subsides?
I should say that I’m not in constant excruciating pain or anything. But both shoulders get twinges (in the front and to the side)when moved in certain ways and certain angles. It certainly doesn’t feel like something that should be happening.
Honestly, when it comes to injuries, I’m not really going to be of much help. It could be a million different things with a million different causes and million different solutions. All of which is impossible to figure out over the internet and give specific individualized advice. It’s gonna (ideally) take someone qualified and there in person.
As for bench press form, I haven’t written anything about that yet.
I have however written a bit about shoulder injuries.
Hey Jay, I absolutely love all of your articles and I trust your opinion above all others that I read online. I recently sprained my wrist pretty badly and assume that I will be unable to do any pressing exercises for a month or so. I CAN actually do knuckle push-ups but that’s it as far as chest or upper body exercises and they don’t even seem to hit the chest that well. Should I do these in order to maintain upper body muscle mass or would you do nothing at all until healed? Push-ups are a reduction in weight for me so I am curious. I am already noticing that I am shrinking up there. Also, Should I go wider on the knuckle push-ups to hit the chest more? Thanks!
As long as it’s not having any kind of negative effect on your injury or prolonging the healing process in any way (and your doctor agrees), then I’d definitely recommend doing whatever you are capable of doing… even if it’s a huge drop-off from what you were previously doing. The biggest drop-off of all is doing nothing, so ANYTHING above that is a good thing (again assuming it’s not causing pain or making anything worse… check with your doctor).
Hello, i absolutely loved reading this article! Like to thank you for that first, I’ll definitely be coming back to this often! I pulled a muscle in my back 3 years ago, lat/rhomboid I do believe. Over the last 3 years, I’ve worked on and off, while the muscle wasn’t 100% better, and it keeps knocking me back to square 1, but as you say, you get the urge to go back the gym as you’re losing muscle, but it’s never good! I started working out again about 2 months ago, strange thing is, there’s no pain when I’m working out, only when I breathe in heavily or twist awkwardly. SO I had to go and be the big man and do some 100kg deadlifts(no pain at all during the lift), which my sore muscle was NOT prepared for and now I’m back to square one 🙁 Would you recommend only lifting very light weights to keep the muscle active and yoga and stretching (which I already do) until the muscle heals fully? Sorry about the long read, I had to get it off my chest. Thanks man 🙂
Honestly, whenever it comes to injuries, I avoid giving any specific individualized advice. It’s impossible to know what your exact issue is, which makes it impossible to say what you should or shouldn’t be doing.
Seeing someone in person (who actually knows what the F they’re doing) would be my recommendation.
Hi Jay! Great article! I learned a lot from this! One question for you… I’m not able to do any lifting right now due to an injury but can do some walking. I’ve started walking outside 4 miles a day 5-6 days per week. I’ve been eating maintenance calories lately since prior to the injury I was lifting heavy and could afford to be at a surplus. Lately I feel like my clothing are getting tighter around the waist. Could these daily walks be too much and be raising my cortisol? I’m a bit confused since my diet is on point. I’m 5 2 114lbs and am eating roughly 1400 cals per day. 50-30-20(fats,protein,carbs). Carbs are primarily through green veggies very little if any starch. Any insight would be helpful thanks!
If you’re saying your clothing is getting tighter as a result of some fat being gained, then it’s definitely not because of the walking. If anything, the walking would only help prevent fat gains, not cause them.
If you are indeed gaining fat, it’s much more likely that you’re eating too many calories/not burning enough (or eating more than you think you are, or burning less than you think you are).
I had arthroscopic surgery late march, and the surgeon said prior to the surgery that I’d need to take 3 months off lifting. That was catastrophic. The first 2 weeks I loved, since I needed 2 weeks off to be a bum anyways. However, it was he’ll looking at the last 1.5 years of hard work start to melt away. I always flexed my left arm to test my elbow. This was just a OCD thing to do. When I went back to see him 2 months later he said that I was 1/3 there to full recovery. What??? He said do only bis/ tris starting mid June, and everything else in August. Also, the loose bodies in my elbow created “snapping triceps syndrome”, which means that the ulnar nerve snaps and pops every time you bend your elbow. The surgeon said that it doesn’t need surgery as long as it doesn’t bother me. After the 3 month period, I said screw it and told myself to introduce new stuff every week until my August 14 return date. If I can do triceps, then certainly, some chest is better for elbow than tris. I pretty much am doing dumbells for chest, since I highly doubt they are worse for my elbow than skull crushers, which is a tris exercise. I’ll probably start some benching soon. Also lost ten pounds, since I needed to fit into my jeans for an internship which is 40 hours a week. I bet lifters dont wear jeans, anyway. the cutting/ bulking, and thigh building makes them useless.I gained some back now, though, and they are back to feeling like skinny jeans.
My only concern is if a loose elbow nerve( not caused by premature lifting) will hinder triceps muscle gain on my less dominant arm
Thanks for the article. I am dealing with burnout from work, family etc. I had stopped weight lifting to rest and now its been 4 weeks really. I stopped taking my protein shakes because my nerves were bothering my stomach. I am better now and hope to return to the gym next week. I am going to start back my protein supplements today. I have lost 7 – 8lbs and I was already slim to begin with. I hope it doesn’t take long for me to get it back. Thanks for the article.
Got a bad sunburn , so i decided to give the gym a rest for 1 week.
only 1 week right? so i thought hell i dont need to lower the weight im lifting..
after 2 days in the gym bam my shoulder gives me this nasty annoying pain at the front side when i bench.. inflammation .. again… after i made so much progress… last time i had to wait 4 months to get back.. this sport can be very frustrating..anyhow.. thx for the tips
When coming back from any kind of break (especially due to injury), you ALWAYS want to be slow about it and start back lighter than you left off and then gradually work back up.
Thanks so much for the great article! I was dumped hard from a friend’s horse a month ago and probably pulled a muscle in my groin area which caused pain enough to make me limp around for the first three weeks. The soreness is almost gone so I am at that stage where I think I can start exercising again but don’t want to blow it and have to start all over again. I am going to print out this article and read it everyday until I can get back to my regular exercise – cycling. (I started biking a year ago and really love it, lost 30 pounds and feel great at 61! And I have been riding horses for 3 decades so it was just one of those things with the horse.) Thanks again for all the great advise!
Hope it helps!
It’s taken me about four months to gain ten pounds eating in a caloric surplus and working out. I got hit with a sickness that has left me out of the gym for two weeks. The other thing is that I had no appetite for a few days and ate very little. I lost 7 out of the ten pounds I gained. I’m ready to get back into the swing of things now. Will I be able to make my gains back quicker this time?
Yes, you’ll always regain muscle faster than you originally gained it.
Excellent post from an obviously well informed and a have-seen-been-there guy! very useful. about 3 weeks ago, i initiated (i think!)a tendonitis in my tendons on the ulnar side of the right wrist (does not look like a TFCC tear) and have backed off from all exercises since then. having injured myself before, i may also recommend the following to help recover and return to gym faster:
1. don’tt keep testing your tendon/muscle everytime (as some of us who are obsessive, would tend to do!. i used to do this and have paid the price before)during the rest period. when your doc/physio says REST, it means REST. And that means, no weight lifting (and i am talking about things such as groceries, chairs) or undue twisting motions (depending upon body part) which are AT HOME but nevertheless strain your injured part. of course, those movements that do not involve the injured segment are fine to do. wait for it COMPLETELY heal before you start doing these.
2. Keep up another hobby mates!! i mean, when i started training 4.5 years ago, it used to REALLY suck sitting around sucking your thumb while you wait for the storm of injury to pass over. having rekindled the joy of making music about a year ago, i found it a very useful get-away in the present injury period. keeps me away from not always thinking about the gym!!
Those are both VERY good pieces of advice. Agreed 100%.
Would you recommend to also recalculate maintenance level based on the now different activity level (as used in the Harris-Benedict equation) or just keep that factor the same?
Yes, I would recommend adjusting calories to compensate for the reduced activity level. Although, rather than using the calculator, you can just estimate the amount of calories you were burning and subtract that from the amount you’re currently eating.
And then of course monitor what happens and if needed, adjust further.
Great post. Just finished working out with a broken rib.. really dumb. You’ve convinced me to just suck it up and wait till it’s healed. Thanks!
Very happy to hear it. Not the broken rib part… the “waiting until it’s healed” part. It’s the right move.
I got a chest injury at the begging of October.I stopped working out near the end of October. Since then I’ve gained like 20 pounds… I use to do ALOT OF cardio to maintain weight and now I’m doing nothing. It’s the absolute worst point in time of my life. I hate it so much, and I can’t do anything about it. I figure by the time my injury heals fully I’d be a whale. I wish there was some quick fix to this, but I”m pretty sure I tore some ligments/tendons. I’m out for the long count. I can’t even go for long wals without being in pain.
Being unable to train is one thing, eating like shit during this time is another. You can’t control the first, but you can control the second.
Do you think your gains after taking several months off could have more to do with the fact that you are now more experienced in working out than you had been previously, or do you think it really is muscle memory? I think muscle memory is real, but I think the gains you could see after this kind of break may have more to do with the fact that you are an experienced weight lifter.
You’re right, but what you’re not realizing here is that what you’re saying (being more experienced when you return) is actually part of what muscle memory is.
Great article. I have a rare morgagni hernia(hernia in the diaphragm where my small intestine has pushed through) that is about to keep me out of the gym for about 2 months. Go in next wed. for surgery. Just the info i needed because not being able to train is stressing to even think about. Gonna be following this to a t.
I know how you feel dude. Glad this helped.
Did you eat at maintenance or surplus when you came back and gained your muscle back?
I’d have to go back and check old logs to know for sure, but it was definitely NOT a surplus. I had gained too much fat during the time off that I needed to lose first, so it was either maintenance or a small deficit.
Cool. Was it a shoulder injury that kept you out for 3 months? Mine is taking ages to heal, it sucks
Nope, this one was an elbow.
Love this article man. Makes me feel a lot better, especially that regaining that lost muscle fast part when getting back into the swing of things. I have actually had an injury right below my SI joint, I think my sciatic nerve is F-ed up, and I’ve been dealing with this injury for 7 months. I know I was kind of stupid cause when I’d get better a little, that is I wouldn’t really feel it, I would go back to workout and start feeling it during the night. This would repeat every other day because those same thoughts would go through my mind…”Oh its past rest day and i kinda feel better now” and BOOM that pain again after. Now I’m promising myself to stay out for 2 months. But you think you can tell me more of that loss of muscle thing and gaining it back faster than before? It’ll probably make me feel better.
Oh yea and two super “subtle” tears in my lower back according to my doctor. This could probably be because I didn’t deadlift at all so my back muscles were really weak and my back was taking the full impact right?
Impossible to say.
Ha, all I can tell you is that it’s very real and extremely fun/motivating to watch happen.
Great article! I have found it very helpful. I have been told that i will need to have 6 weeks off from working out as i will be having bowel surgery. The doctor said i can do light walking when i am up for it but no other physical activity. I am really worried about losing my gains and putting on weight but i am also confused as to what my macronutrients should look like. I was with a personal trainer for 6 months and made great gains but i was in a deficit. I am now happy to maintain but have not found a good calculator to work out my daily macro’s. Would you be able to suggest a good calorie/macro calculator??
Thanks so much. Once again. great article. Very informative!
1g of protein per pound of body weight (unless you’re obese, in which case go with 1g per pound of your goal weight), 20-30% of your total calorie intake from fat, and the rest from carbs.
No need to make it any more complicated than that.
I read your recent article about reducing elbow pain which I am going through right now but only in my right arm. I have been adjusting my lifting habits, for example in deadlifts my left hand is over the bar, while my right hand grips underneath, as I found out the when I have both overhand grips it caused pain in my right elbow. Also, I did take a bit of a break (7 days) not by choice. I still notice the pain in the elbow, should I give it a longer rest? Or continue working through it? I am doing the 3 day beginner routine. Which is awesome by the way. I used to be the 5 day a week typical bodybuilding routine guy, when I was single and had no responsibilities.
I just got back into the gym scene after many years so, I don’t want to lose the progress I have gained, nor is the pain getting worse or so severe where I can’t stand it.
This would depend on exactly what the injury is (and what’s causing it). And that’s something that can only be answered in person with a proper examination.
Incredible timing. I was abusing 4 / 5 pretty badly. I literally was looking for anything to make me feel like I wasn’t going to turn into a fat slob if I didn’t dead lift or even lift heavy for that matter for the next 6 weeks. Awesome article that hit on every single one of my fears. Thank you for this.
You’re welcome dude, glad it helped.
Imagine you could not workout for 4 weeks and all the food you have access to is “pretty bad” like pasta, white rice, white bread etc.
Would you rather eat enough bad food to be in a calorie surplus or eat less food and try to cut out all the empty calories?
I have to go to the army for some more weeks and unfortunately this is exactly my situation. They don’t offer a gym and the food isn’t healthy at all.
How would you eat to avoid muscle loss?
Thanks in advance
Honestly? I eat significant amounts of white rice every single day. It’s not a “bad food.” Assuming your total calorie, macronutrient and micronutrient intake is what it needs to be (and you have no issues with digestion), there’s nothing bad about pasta, white rice or bread.
What’s about the insulin respone of white bread for example?
Why do lots of builder cut all these things of their diets?
Read this one.
Thanks for this article. I have an inflamed disc in may back so I am not able to work out at out. It’s only been two days but the frustration is mounting. My coach recommended I “do some research” to help eleviate my frustration and I found your article. Thanks!!
Glad it helped!
This is encouraging. I’m not injured but pregnant and decided not to continue lifting much weight about halfway through the pregnancy. I’ll be taking about 6 months off including the recovery afterward. Do you have any advice or a previous post more specific to this issue? Or even other sources on working out while pregnant?
Nope, sorry… pregnancy is one of those things that I have virtually no knowledge/experience with at all.
Thanks for responding anyways. I’m still encouraged by what you say about muscle memory so hopefully I’ll be able to regain the muscle quickly once I start up again!
Great stuff! Nearly all my questions were answered either in the article or through these comments. But one questions remains: when coming back from a long injury-induced sabbatical (2 – 3 months), what should one’s calorie intake be? That is, once returning to the gym, starting with much lighter weights, and slowly getting back to where one was before injury, should one be in surplus, maintenance, or deficit? I understand being in maintenance DURING healing time so as to maintain as much muscle possible, but should one move to surplus when back in the gym to promote muscle memory regrowth?
Thanks for any thoughts on this, and thanks again for the great articles!
If a bunch of fat was gained during the off period (or the person was just in the process of losing fat when the off time began and that fat is still there), a deficit would usually be the way to go. Otherwise, maintenance would be the ideal option to allow a recomp to occur.
I am 42 and it has been one week since my first heart attack. I had been working out vigorously for the past two years, so much that it had become a very big part of who I am. I have been searching the web for the past week, trying to figure out how to minimize the impact of the months of down time I am going to have. Your post was the first article I found that provided some hope. Thank you.
Glad it helped, hope recovery goes well (and quick)!
I recently stacked it pretty hardcore during a downhill mountain run and buggered my knee pretty bad.
I was almost instantly depressed with the notion of no more lower body workouts. Good bye running, cycling, legs days and worst of all, good bye progress thus far!
A good read for me. I’m tempted to jump back on the legs training bandwagon and push through the residual pain, but I will hold out until healed. I’m also lucky enough to have a friend who is a fantastic PT, who showed me routines I can do to still engage the core and glutes without and strain on my knee.
Thanks for your advice on the calorie maintaining.
It’s tough to refrain but when I’m healed I’m determined to train more than ever!
Smart move, Vicky. Hang in there, you’ll be back before you know it.
Great article! I learned a lot from it. I was wondering though for a question, I have had pain starting at my elbow down to my forearm for a few weeks now. I got it from doing a barbell bicep curl when I felt pain through there. I took a week and a half off and now have been doing light bicep curls and a few other weight exercises I can manage, even in doing them I feel inflammation from my elbow to forearm afterwards. I was wondering do I need to take more time off? I hate having to wait and feel like I’m losing muscle but I don’t want it to get worse. I have been icing it and taking advil but if you have any advice on a mild elbow/forearm pain it would be very appreciated, thank you.
Read this one.
I love your articles. I started weight lifting and body building based on your articles. I loved them. Everything is was correct and helped me to gain over 20 pounds of muscles, lose 70 pounds of fat, and have 6 packs. I didn’t need any trainer, your site was more than enough. People thought I had been working out for years, though it was only 10 months 🙂 they were asking me for advice in front of other trainers, lol.
But unfortunately I didn’t read your articles about injuries. As you accurately mentioned, I thought these article are not related to me. It won’t hapien to me 🙁 Then like an “idiot” I kept working around a shoulder injury till I had to have a surgery. Now I have to be out if gym for 9 months or more. It sucks. I started to do some legs but my shoulder began hurting again. It was inflammation around the rotator cuff which was not healing in itself. I thought inflammation heals if you give a week break, but not for thus one. Now, I watch how I’m losing the muscle. But I will be back again!
Fantastic progress dude! Glad the site has helped in any way!
Sorry to hear about the injury, but hopefully everything returns to normal ASAP. Good luck!
Great Article!!! I absolutely did the “stupid” thing and worked out through an injury and ended up really hurting myself. Now instead of 2-3 weeks off, I’m looking (optimistically) at a couple months off. I started weight training a year and a half ago, and over the last 6 months really got into the 5×5 power-lifting exercise routine, this of course led to me using some really heavy weight. Well, I ended up tweaking both wrists power-cleaning my OHP’s (which I will no longer do) and ignored the pain and kept working out the following 2 weeks. A few days ago, I ended up shredding my left wrist (grade 2 sprain) and my right wrist (grade 1/possible grade 2 sprain). Obviously I was beyond discouraged. But your advice about keeping up the other things such as diet, and focusing on what I can still do (trying not to throw-up, I guess I’ll have plenty of time to take leg day more seriously) But honestly, this article was just what I needed, and the Muscle Memory part was very very encouraging.
The one question I have, I’m a smaller guy 5’5 (short not skinny, Endomoprh), and my girlfriend swears I hurt myself because my “frame” was not meant to handle such heavy loads. I want to state that I lift very consciously and I’m a stickler for form and technique. To me that sounds ludicrous, there’s plenty of guys that safely lift 2 or 3 times their body weight. Could my frame be the culprit for my injury? Or simply do injuries just happen, and I should have initially listened to my body and rested instead of exasperating the situation by continuing to lift?
Thanks again, great read!
The culprit in and of itself? Nope. A contributing factor? Potentially… I think yes.
So, I’m about 3 years into regularly lifting after both extremes (a distance runner for 10 years- at most 90ish miles/wk and an intense partier for about the same time after that- pack+ a day smoker and regular blackout drinker) and like i told my wife, the gym has now become a lifestyle and my playground, i truely enjoy it. Recently i have had slowly increasing elbow pain and in trying to flex my affected arm, see little biceps flexion. My (somewhat un) educated guess is biceps tendinitis for which I’m reading rest is my best option unless i wanna face a tear upcoming… here’s the real rub, i have a moderately physical job requiring regular lifting of 50-75 # boxes and 2 young kids (one of which has to be one of the world’s largest 9 month olds at almost 28 #s, lol). As you could probably imagine, because of the running background, the gains (after initially of course, have come very slooowwwly), will things like my job and kids slow the healing and should it therefore also slow my return to the gym? Thanks for the great read and encouraging article!
Unfortunately yes… if you’re doing things outside of the gym that require the use of the injured body part (especially if it’s in a manner that hurts), chances are it’s going to delay or even prevent the healing process to some degree.
Damn my biceps injury has been haunting me for 3 years because I have been working through it. I gonna take your advice from now on. Thanks!
Hope it finally helps!
Thank you so much for this article, I have just recently suffered from a boxers fracture and was starting to get depressed just thinking about losing all the progress I made (35 pounds lost and dropped from 19% to 8% body fat over the course of 3 months) when my doctor hit me with the “bad news” of not being able to get back into the gym for about 6-8 weeks. This article has definitely helped me to worry less, but I’m still going to feel withdrawal from the “pump” lol. Thank you so much!
Hang in there dude!
9+ years of lifting (4-5 days a week), reached my goal (licking my genetic max) and now i’ve been forced to rest my legs for 8½ weeks and my upper body for 6½.
I’ve never been gone this long before and i can’t describe in words how hard it is mentally to see all that hard work vanish, and with it, alot of my self-esteem.
The reason for it is pain in my hip flexor/sartorius area on both sides, it came after a few weeks of wide stance squats (new for me), i suspect some kind of hip impingement or tendonosis, currently waiting to see a doc.
When it comes to my upper body i managed to get a big grade 1 or small grade 2 tear in my left triceps long head tendon and a grade 1 in my left teres major, both tears happened during a set of barbell rollouts ~2 weeks after i started to rest my legs, never been so angry/frustrated in my whole life before.
Yup, I know the frustrated feeling well. Hope things heal quickly.
Great article! Really helping me along.
I can’t train upper body for a torn rib muscle about 1 month. Right now I’m still hitting the lower body and little cardio work eating at maintenance.
Question : when I am able to train again should and getting the upper body muscle back I might have lost , where should calories be? Note I might have gained a bit of fat in those 4 weeks.
Stay at maintenance, get upper body strength back up to where it was at, and then you can switch over to a short fat loss phase to get rid of whatever fat you may have gained during that period period of time.
I wonder because of muscle memory. Gaining what little I lost back could be done while losing the little fat I gained…maybe a little defecit?
Just going through a forearm injury myself. 6 weeks to heal my muscle says the doctor. Your article helped me a lot, as usual. Thank you.
Glad to hear it! Hope everything heals as fast as it’s supposed to.
what if i’m unable to train upper body but i could train lower body should i be at maintenance or surplus? I was at the beginning of my bulk and wanted to start lean phase but got an injury in my elbow which made me stop training upper body however should i stay on surplus since i could train lower body ? And should it be the same ?( 250 calories above maintenance ) or less since i could train my lower body only?
Either a much smaller surplus, or maintenance. I’d personally avoid a surplus until I was 100% and therefore capable of utilizing a surplus to 100% of my body’s ability.
Thank you for always having the answers I need. I have been lifting 1 year almost on Nov 2nd will be 1 year but I am getting Breast Implants Nov 2nd and I am freaking out because I wont be able to lift for 2 or 4 weeks this made me feel much better..
Glad it helped!
This article is very helpful. I lost 35 pounds in the last one year, trained for a 5K, did my first 5k, did Crossfit for two months and then continued to run. After about 5 months into weight loss, i started knee pain and continued Crossfit with the pain. Finally, when the knee pain worsened, I went up to a doctor to be diagnosed a torn meniscus. 🙁 Haven’t worked out in the last one month and I feel miserable (which has led to bad eating again) because I was so motivated to continue with this journey. Although I wanted to run my next 5k in Dec, but looks like I can’t. Your article helps me to continue with the journey I embarked, maybe not with the same rigor. I will definitely continue with upper body workouts, take small walks, leg extensions…but no surgery….does anyone have any thoughts about torn meniscus surgeries…do they help in the long run?
Glad it helped!
As for your injury question itself, it’s something only a doctor can answer for you.
Thank you for this article! I injured myself a week ago (bruised rib/pec) and I continued to stay in a calorie deficit and tried to work around the injury…dumb! I will adjust course now and trust the process. Happy I found your advice. Cheers!
Glad to hear it… hope it helps!
Great article! Question: when you suggest going to maintenance when taking time off to recover from an injury (or to deload entirely)- is this the maintenance level you would have when training regularly or the maintenance level that you would have when not going to the gym at all? For instance, when I’m training, my weekly maintenance is at 2700 cals, but if I were to stop going to the gym for a week it would probably be closer to 2200. If I am cutting (which I am right now), if I were to deload for a week or two should I stay at 2200, or go higher?
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