When You Stop Lifting Weights, This Is What Happens

If you spent the last year getting buff by focusing on strength training, you likely have the muscles to show for it. But what happens to those muscles if you stop lifting weights?

If you become a couch potato after being a serious gym-goer, you can expect to lose muscle over time. It won't turn to fat — that's a common misconception — but it will shrink, and if you're adapting a sedentary lifestyle, you can also expect to potentially pack on a few pounds of fat in the process, so it might seem as though your muscles are turning into fat. However, in addition to losing that muscle mass, if you stop lifting weights and don't replace that with other exercise, or start eating poorly, you may also notice some damaging health effects as well (via Livestrong).

And your mental well-being may suffer as well. From brain fog to poor sleep, a lack of lifting suddenly can be devastating. "A lack of exercise will lead to higher levels of energy in the body and reduce the need for deep sleep, which could lead to restless or insufficient sleep," Pete McCall, an expert exercise physiologist at the American Council on Exercise told Men's Journal.

How fast do you lose muscle?

It doesn't take long to lose muscle tone and strength, unfortunately. "Unfortunately, exercise is truly 'use it or lose it,”" Meghan Nagel, manager of fitness programming at Virtual Health Partners, told POPSUGAR. "Researchers have found that you lose strength at about half the rate you gain it. In other words, if you increased your arm strength by 20 percent in four weeks, you would lose 10 percent of that strength within four weeks and all of your strength gain within eight weeks."

Losing muscle doesn't just translate to a lack of strength. You may also notice that your metabolism is more sluggish, since your body requires less energy to recover and function compared to when you were working out. You may also notice that your blood sugar levels are higher — that's because when you exercise, your body is better at regulating glucose. And a rise in blood sugar can lead to type 2 diabetes, and generally make you feel less like yourself (via InBody).

Sometimes stepping back from strength training isn't a choice, thanks to illness or injury. But if you are just heading off on an extended vacation or having a big few weeks at work that are keeping you from CrossFit, you can still keep most of your muscle. The good news is that it's not too hard to maintain strength gains even if you can't get to the gym to lift heavy. Even a short series of bodyweight exercises like squats and pushups can help maintain healthy muscle with short sessions a few times per week (via Barbend.com).