Question for weight-lifters: When do muscles degrade?

Quick scenerio. As I have the summer off, I’d love to get back to the gym…more for my cardio and toning than anything else. But here’s the kicker. I’m 6’2" 220. Not fat but not lean either. I’m 33 and at this age it’s tougher to get the fat away from my love-handles. (they are not big, they are just there)

I used to compete in weight lifting as a teen and young adult. I stopped when I was 25. If you saw me now you’d think I was a big guy, I have big pecks and biceps but they are smoothed over with chub. You can tell I used to lift alot because I don’t have the build of a fat guy, more of someone who lifted for a while, got pretty big and then stopped. Weight-lifters will know what I’m talking about. I want to know a couple things.

  1. Why can’t I put up 250 like I used to ? (I recently tried on a try-out day at a gym I want to join. I couldn’t do it. Coming from someone who could put up 350 at my best, I was sorely dissappointed)

  2. Is it possible my muscles have degraded? Atrophied?

  3. How do I turn it around, and do I have to lift regularly to do it? 3-5 times a week? 2-4?

  4. Should I concentrate on reps rather than bulk to regain my tone, or do I have to lift bulk because I used to have it?
    **I am a hands on person. I do a lot of work outside at my house, lifting things like stone etc…etc… This may be why I’ve kept my bulk. Anyone know?

Not only have your muscles atrophied, (muscle is expensive from an energy viewpoint, and our bodies don’t support something that is costly but isn’t used) but your motor neurons have “atrophied” as well.

Don’t worry though, once your body creates the receptors necessary to recruit the muscle fibers, they stick around (even though the body might not use em). This is generally referred to as “muscle memory.” Your body “remembers” how to recruit the muscle necessary to lift 350lbs, but you they are not active currently, and your muscle fibers have shrunk/atrophied.

You can turn it around. How you do so is dependant upon what goals you want, how fast you want it, your genetics, diet, and many other factors. Without being there training you and getting your direct input, I couldn’t tell you what YOU need to do.

How bad do you want it is one question I can think of. Will going all out and doing high reps, high volume weightlifting work for you or would you get burned out and convince yourself you no longer wish to be back in shape? You could try low volume, mid reps (8-10 reps, 1-2 sets per muscle) You could also do a full body workout twice a week, or do a push, pull, legs routine. The possibilities are endless, tell us what you want.

You want tone? All Tone is is muscle growth with a lowered body fat. That is all. What you need to “tone” is to watch your diet and lift weights. How you lift weights is really secondary. Diet is primary. (not the Verb Diet, but the Noun diet, as in the Panda’s primary diet is bamboo)

Just find a routine and stick with it. Muscle will come if you eat right and lift regularly. (key point there, doing it once in awhile will not do much for ya)

You used to work out and now you don’t and you want to know if your muscles have atrophied? Of course they have! I wish I could workout for a few years and keep the muscle for ever; it doesn’t work that way. Use it or lose it. Don’t expect to go back in the gym after a long lay-off and expect to lift what you used to. As you already found out, this leads to a big disappointment. Get back in the gym and you’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll work back up to where you used to be (or at least close to it).

I would recommend you keep reps for most exercises in the 8-12 range. That’s best for building muscle no matter what your body type is.

Muscles respond to resistance. If you increase resistance against your muscles, like lifting weights, your muscles will grow and become stronger in response. When the need to become stronger goes away, like when you stop lifting, your body shifts the resources need to grow and maintain muscle mass to other processes.

Not exactly. There is a much more technical and longwinded explanation, but I’m not inclined to go into anatomy and physiology right now, so suffice it to say that your strength can be recovered.

The bad news is that if you have not lifted weights for 6 months or more, you are a beginner again, so that means you need to start slow with a 3-day full body workout. The good news is that because you have lifted before, your body will respond much more quickly than would the body of somone who has never lifted.

My recommendation is to stick with the intor 3-day workout for 8 weeks, then switch to a 4-day upper/lower split. Stick with that for 3-4 months, then you will be able to move back into an advanced routine.

Remember, it’s about training your muscles, not how much you can lift. You should do 3 sets of each exercise, and probably 9-12 total sets for chest, bakc, and legs, e.g.
Lying bench press 4 sets of 12, 10, 10, 8 reps each
Dumbbell Flies, the same
Incline Bench Press, the same

and probably 6 sets total for biceps, tricep, and shoulders.

Like I said, muslce responds to stimulation and resistance. If you are lifting heavy weight, like doing construction, lifting stone, that wiull keep your muscles big, but only big enough to do the work you demand of them.

In additon, diet is key to progress. Lay off the alcohol, the snacks and any unnecessary calories. Eat 6 small meals a day, heavy on the protein, lighter on the carbs (which should be whole grain oats, brown rice, and sweet potatoes, nothing white or processed), and sparing on the fats and oils.

Try to eat protein and carbs together for maximum absorption.

for example

Breakfast, 3 egg whites, 1 cup of oatmeal

Morning snack, I can tuna. 1 piece of fruit

Lunch, 4 oz chicken breast, 1/2 sweet potato

Afternoon snack, protein bar (and I do mean PROTEIN, and not the fake candy crap like Powerbars, which are just sugar)

Dinner, 4 oz chicken breast, 1 cup broccoli, 1/2 sweet potato,

Bedtime snack, 1/2 cup strawberries

Well my diet is pretty good now. About 6 months ago my doctor told me my cholesterol needed to be whipped into shape. So I started eating the heart-healthy diet. Generally high protein, low carb diet. I walk 3 miles 3 to 4 times a week in the evenings with my wife.
I want to tone. I’d like to do mid reps lowered weight for a while to make my muscles remember. I’m a free weight person. The nautilus machines and kinetic machines don’t suite me too well. Also I worked so hard years ago to get my form right on free weights, I just like that better.

So essentially I want to work on my upper body and back. My legs are pretty strong. So I plan on working them minimally…

Thanks a lot gobear. That diet plan is similar to the one I am using now. 6 small meals a day. But I like that diet you outline. I’ll copy it and try it. I like sweet potatoes but my wife doesn’t. Not that I want to blame her for my weight gain, but I tend to eat what she likes, and if she’s not dieting I’m not. That has drastically changed since my recent visit to the docs.

“Tone” is another word for losing fat. Losing weight is mostly a function of diet. At your age it’s not hard to lose weight. Excersise all you can and limit your daily caloric intake to 13 times your weight in pounds. 13 X 220 lbs = 2860 calories per day.

Muscle building is a function of working out/lifting and requires only 2 things. Intensity and protein consumtion. You need about a gram of protein for every pound of body weight. 220 pounds = 220 grams of protein per day. The muscle heads eat more.

You can easily get more protein via a few cans of tuna. Each can has 32 grams of protein. Chicken, eggs or those egg beaters and of course, red meat provide protein.

And you don’t need many sets in your lifting as long as you do snot bubble intensity. Do drop sets and get home and eat some protein.