It is fun to think about how much strength we can gain by training hard for a month, or even a few months. It is not so fun to think about how much strength we can lose if we stop training for a month.
Well, I stopped training pull ups for one month and tracked the results. How much strength did I lose in one month?
After one month of not training pull ups, my pull up strength decreased by 43%. I went from 7 unassisted pull ups to 4 unassisted pull ups. I lost 4 months of pull up gains in the process.
That is a pretty big drop in pull up strength in just one month. Let’s look deeper into the numbers and the progression of my pull ups to see if we can glean any more insights.
If you don’t use it, you lose it!-Albert Einstein***
***”Too many quotes are wrongly attributed to Albert Einstein.”-Albert Einstein
My Pull Up Journey So Far…
On October 1, 2020, I was able to do 1 pull up… kinda! I was 34 years old and that was the first (kinda) pull up I had ever done in my entire life. Seriously!
I really wanted to change this, so I trained hard with the specific goal of improving my pull up strength.
On January 31, 2021, after four months of consistent training, I was able to do 7 unassisted pull ups in a row!
This is what the progression looked like:
|Date||Training||Number of Pull Ups|
|Day 1 – Oct. 1, 2020||-Starting Test Day||1 (kinda)|
|Month 1 – Oct. 31, 2020||-Full Body Workouts 3-4x per week||4|
|Month 2 – Nov. 30, 2020||-22 Day Pull Up Challenge by ATHLEAN-X||5|
|Month 3 – Dec. 31, 2020||-8 Week Pull Up Challenge by Calisthenicmovement|
-Jogging a 5k Every Day
|Month 4 – Jan. 31, 2021||-8 Week Pull Up Challenge by Calisthenicmovement||7|
|Month 5 – Feb. 28, 2021||-NO Pull Ups|
-Light Yoga Every Day
Then, of course, I stopped training pull ups during the month of February 2021 and my strength gains returned to the same level as it was 4 months earlier. I went from 7 unassisted pull ups back down to 4 unassisted pull ups and I lost 43% of my strength in the process. Ouch!
How Much Strength YOU Thought I Would Lose!
I sent a poll to my awesome subscribers on my Jack Clancy YouTube Channel. I asked everyone how much strength they thought I would lose on my pull ups after not training for a month.
Here are the results:
35% of people who responded thought I would go from 7 to 5 pull ups. Pretty close.
What I found surprising was that:
- 22% of people thought that my pull up strength would stay the same after a month of not training!
- The voting was spread reasonably evenly throughout all of the answer choices.
It seems that when it comes to losing muscle strength, at least among the people polled, that there is no overwhelming majority opinion about how much strength we lose after a month of not training.
How Long Does It Take To Start Losing Muscle Strength?
The experts agree that muscle strength begins to decrease after two to three weeks of inactivity. The longer you remain inactive, the more strength you will continue to lose.
In my particular case, I did not do pull ups for exactly 4 weeks and lost 43% of my pull up strength! I did do some light yoga and I walked often, but it was not enough to prevent the loss in pull up strength.
There have been many studies looking into strength loss in athletes and men who do resistance training. Here are some results to consider:
- A 2017 study showed that men who lifted weights held on to their strength gains 2 weeks after taking a break from lifting.
- A 2013 study, however, showed that elite athletes started to lose strength after 3 weeks of detraining.
- Also in a 2013 study, NON-athletes (like me!) trained their legs 1x per week for 3 weeks, then took 2 weeks off. They maintained their strength gains after 2 weeks of not training.
- This 2015 study showed that after 2 weeks of complete immobility, young athletes lost about a third of their leg strength… not good, but again, this was total immobility.
Factors That Influence How Quickly You Lose Muscle Strength
Everyone is unique and there are multiple factors that will influence how much strength you lose compared to someone else.
A non-exhaustive list of factors includes:
- Stress levels
- Quality of sleep / rest
- Previous strength training experience
- Current strength level (professional vs. newbie lifter)
- How active you are during your non-training period
- And… individual genetics!
My best advice is not to worry too much about these factors and do your best to get back to training as quickly as possible.
The good news is that your strength gains will return, so long as you get back to putting in the work and training appropriately.
Why Did I Stop Doing Pull Ups For a Month?
I stopped training pull ups for a month because my body was feeling sore after having completed the following challenges:
- 100 Pushups Every Day for 1 YEAR
- Abs Training Every Day for 9 Months
- Running a 5k Every Day for the Month of December 2020
- Training Pull Ups Hard for 4 Months in a Row
My upper back and right shoulder were feeling a bit tired. I could have continued doing pull ups 3x per week like I had been doing, but after consulting with my doctor we decided that a little rest would be good for me!
Instead of getting discouraged, I used this as an opportunity to work on some other neglected aspects of my training, like my mobility and flexibility. It also meant that I needed to put even more attention on my nutrition to ensure proper recovery and to avoid weight gain due to lowered amounts of resistance training.
It also provided me an opportunity to test to see how much strength I would lose in a month to share with you!
What Would Happen If I Stopped Doing Pull Ups for Two Months?
I don’t know!
Based on the research I have seen and just some simple common sense, should I continue to not train pull ups, my strength should continue to decrease back toward my baseline (starting) number.
Since I was only able to do 1 pull up when I started training my pull up strength for the first time 5 months ago, I assume that the number of pullups would continue to drop from 4 towards 1. It could be 3, or 2, or 1, but it would certainly continue to fall.
What To Do If You Can’t Train Pull Ups?
It can be scary to think about losing strength after spending so much time and energy working to build it up in the first place.
It also might feel unfair to think about how much longer it seems to take to build muscle than it does to lose it.
Now, let’s say that you are in a position like me where you are unable to train pull ups for more than 2-3 weeks, the point at which strength losses begin. What can you do instead?
First thing’s first… I am not a doctor. If you are injured, talk to your doctor and do what your doctor advises you to do.
If you are not injured, you can use this opportunity to:
- Train your back muscles in other ways (like rowing movements)
- Focus more on your cardiovascular training
- Or your balance training
- Or your mobility and flexibility
- Or your speed, agility and quickness
- Or spend more time focusing on your nutrition
- Or spend more time walking
Or you can just enjoy the rest knowing in advance that you will lose some strength, and that it’s OK! Rest is important, too.
And the best news is… you can get your strength gains back!