A strong woman sweating after a workout

How to maintain muscle without a gym

Whether its an upcoming holiday, illness (or even a global pandemic), gym-lovers everywhere are constantly in a panic about their hard-earned muscles deteriorating. The good news is that with a bit of careful tweaking to your daily routine, you can help minimise the loss of lean muscle mass until you’re back in the gym and kicking butt again!

Will I lose my muscles if I stop working out?

The short answer? Yes. 

But hold on! Before you write me off as a pessimistic PT, let me unwrap my thoughts a bit more for you. Of course if you stop working out completely, your muscles will go (eventually)- we all know that. I’m guessing that the real question though, is: “What do I need to do to maintain muscle?”

Am I right? Thought so. 

I’ve got you covered! This post will give you all the info I give my clients, about how to retain muscle without a gym.

A flat lay of dumbbells, running shoes, weight plates and skipping rope
Having weights at home is a great option for the days you can’t make it to the gym!

How long before I lose my muscle?

It’s really hard to answer this one without knowing your starting point, training history, and what your current diet is like.

As a general rule of thumb, 2 weeks of doing nothing at all probably won’t do a lot of damage; however any longer than that, you’re bound to start noticing some drops in strength, body composition, or both.

Remember too, that strength and body composition don’t automatically go hand in hand. A well-defined 6 pack doesn’t necessarily mean good core strength, and some of the world’s strongest people have no 6-pack in sight.

Why is that relevant, you ask? Because, unless you’re one of the very rare, genetically blessed individuals romping around on our social media channels; strength and physique are usually mutually exclusive (again, not always, but for most of us).

Physique vs strength

Well, if you’re worried about losing your physique, you’re probably in better luck than someone worried about strength losses. Physique relies heavily on a careful diet and (usually) muscle isolation workouts. These are the guys and girls who usually have sessions split up into different muscles groups (“back and biceps”, for example). For someone with little access to gym equipment, it’s going to be a lot easier to eat well and keep isolating different body parts, than it would be for someone who usually trains for strength, using large, compound movements, and who relies heavily on squat racks, deadlift platforms and pull up bars. 

Get stronger online video workouts
Stay active, move your body

A high protein diet can prevent muscle loss

The overall good news for all gym-junkies, is that it’s a heck of a lot easier to maintain muscle, than it is to grow it! You can train at a much lower effort level, and maintain everything you’ve built.

A good option for those away from the gym without much option, therefore, is to focus on maintenance rather than growth. Protein, being the building block for our muscles, is key. Include a variety of protein sources in your diet, including fish, eggs, poultry, tofu and soya beans to give yourself the best chance of hanging on to those muscles!

Most men should hit around 150g of protein each day, and women between 80-130g each day is ideal. 

Protein, meats, seafood, eggs, veggies and milk
Eat a protein-rich diet with lean meats, seafood and eggs

Don’t give up on training, find a great home workout program!

I’m sure it goes without saying, that the only possible chance you have of not losing your hard-earned muscle, is to not stop training!

If you think doing 3 sets of 10 push ups each day, with a heavy back pack on, won’t make a difference to maintaining some of your bench press strength, you’re sorely mistaken. 

Your body doesn’t know the difference between  a backpack full of bricks on your shoulders, and a fancy bench press. All it knows is the resistance it’s pushing against, and knowing it needs to keep building your muscles fibres to accomodate the resistance. You can find great “on the go” workouts, including bodyweight or full equipment, in my Strong membership here.

How to stay motivated to exercise

The best advice I can give on this one, is by setting yourself some intermittent S.M.A.R.T goals, and I’ve already done a whole post on this here, to make it super easy for you!

SMART goal writing example on paper
S.M.A.R.T goal writing is quick and easy

Take care of your mental health

I cannot stress this last point enough. There is no point beating yourself up over things out of your control. 

If you can exercise and eat well, great. Do that.

If you feel overwhelmed, sick or stressed; it’s probably just a good idea to take that well-deserved break and really kick back for a while. There are also many great, free services available, if you’re struggling with depression or feelings of anxiety. These include Beyond Blue, Lifeline, and financial support from organisations such as The Salvation Army.

Remember, “It ain’t weak to speak”, and there is a lifetime to get those muscles back!

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Jess Neill

Jess Neill

I'm a Personal Trainer, Pilates Instructor and Pre and Post Natal Training specialist. I'm also a mother of two, and I live on the beautiful Northern beaches of Sydney. If you liked this post, don't forget to leave a comment and share! Subscribe to my monthly newsletter for the latest health and fitness news.

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