Does your muscle turn to fat when you stop weight training?

When you have to unexpectedly take a break from weight-lifting either due to injury or illness, your body and muscles will generally have to adjust. Here is what you need to know.

1.    Muscles

When you exercise, especially by weight lifting, your body does not actually build new muscle. Instead, the existing muscles are strengthened, elongated and they become more defined. A break lasting more than three weeks from your usual workout routine is considered long enough to bring changes to your body. It is obvious that this break will lead to a decrease in muscle mass. In fact, individuals who have built more muscle with weight lifting undergo greater muscle mass loss with halting exercise. However, decrease in muscle mass does not directly translate to muscle turning into fat. What actually happens is that losing muscle size decreases your metabolism. Unchanged nutritional uptake may provide the body with more calories than required for the level of inactivity. Eventually, fat builds up when the same diet is maintained during the break. Expert fitness trainers recommend key adjustments to your eating habits to delay loss in muscle mass. The good thing is that retraining can bring back the muscle mass more quickly due to the concept of muscle memory.

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2.    Strength

Strength builds up when an increase in muscle mass increases the contractile proteins that along the muscle fibers. These contractile proteins (actin and myosin) pull against each other and contribute to the general body strength. Experts say that you lose strength at about half the rate you gain it. Decrease in strength may be due to decreased muscle mass, decrease in capillary size and lack of blood flow. While strength may take longer to decline due to not training, the power of endurance declines significantly when weight lifting ceases.

Making a comeback?

When you start training again after a long hiatus, be careful not to jump into it with the intensity you were used to. Due to reduced stability and endurance after detraining, your body is more prone to injury. Concentrate on proper form and stick to basic exercises. It is safe to start with mild muscle conditioning exercises before you gradually move to small weights as you ease your way back to training mode. An individual who started weight-lifting earlier in life has a good muscle memory base to regain muscle within a shorter period as compared to a middle-aged or older starter.

The best way to ensure that you do not miss out on the benefits of weight training is not to abandon it. Take time to rest and recover and get back to it when you are ready.

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