Covid 19: are you going to lose muscle and gain weight

Pat James
3 min readDec 14, 2020

It looks like we may be headed towards another shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. Gyms are closing or limiting capacity, and most people only have access to their body weight or very limited to the type of equipment they have.

So what now? Are you going to lose muscle and gain weight? Hopefully not. You just need to understand one and how to apply it to your fitness routine.

3 weeks is the amount of time it takes to lose muscle when you stop training.

“ (3 weeks) absences from training appear to cause significant atrophy and potentially promote greater hypertrophy upon return to training” Fisher J et al. 203

In 2013 a study conducted 27 training and “detraining” (basically no exercise), with a focus on development and retention of muscle. McMaster et al. (2013)

They found that strength levels can be maintained for 3 weeks, but decay rates will then increase after.

Now, this 3-week timeframe is assuming you will not work out at all. As long as you do some weight training (including bodyweight) you will less likely lose muscle.

So the question then is….how can you adapt your training because of the pandemic to avoid losing muscle and gaining weight?

The answer is: Intensity

Take your reps to a high count. I recommend between 12–40 reps. Researchers found as long as the sets were taken to failure, muscle growth was the same regardless of a heavier rep range of 5–12 reps

This is great news for those of us who currently don’t have access to a gym and are using bodyweight or limited equipment.

Use this information and apply it to your own training

  1. Choose the hardest variation of an exercise you can do with good form. For example, if you find regular push-ups too easy then do decline push-ups.
  2. Take each set to (or 1 rep before) failure. By taking sets to (or as close to) failure as possible, you provide your body with a strong stimulus that tells it to hold on to (or even grow) muscle.
  3. Note down how many reps you did and try to do more at the next workout. For example, if you did 20 reps of push ups in week one, then in week two your goal should be to do 21 (or more) reps. you’ll increase the number of reps performed to keep progressively overloading.
  4. Once an exercise starts to feel easy, and you’re hitting between 20–40 reps, select a harder variation of the exercise and repeat. This will ensure you’re keeping the intensity high.
  • It takes about 3 weeks for muscle loss to occur when you stop training completely.
  • As long as you’re providing your body with some form of resistance training, muscle and strength can be maintained.
  • If you’re using bodyweight or light DBs/bands, ensure each set is taken to (or 1 rep before) failure as taking sets to failure becomes more important when using lighter loads.
  • Choose the hardest exercise variation you can perform with good form and aim to do as many reps as you can going to (or 1 rep before) failure.
  • Once this becomes easy, select a harder variation of the same exercise and rinse and repeat.




Pat James

Health✖️Entrepreneurship✖️Lifestyle, Founder of Lab243