And if so, is regression more powerful if I build up my muscles from, say, the 90th percentile to the 99th percentile as compared to from the 30th percentile to the 50th percentile? As in, is the "regression" faster for higher levels of buildup?


1 Answer 1



Nearly all parts of our body will atrophy if we do not use them: muscles, ligaments, neurons. If you train to be able to deadlift 300 pounds then stop lifting, you will very quickly be unable to deadlift 300 pounds. You will eventually be unable to deadlift 250 pounds. A great while later, you might be unable to deadlift 200 pounds. Unless you are totally inactive--say, from paralysis or a coma--your atrophy will stabilize.

And Yes.

If you train hard enough to set a world record in, say, the clean & jerk, then stop training, your strength and power will rapidly fall from that peak. The regression to the mean will be rapid at first, since the last few percentile points of performance are the hardest to attain and maintain.

Other factors

One major factor to consider is that long-held physical attributes are more resistant to atrophy than briefly-held ones. If you are able to lift 300 pounds (but no more) for several years, that ability will stay longer than if you were able to lift 300 pounds only after a period of training, then stopped as soon as you got there.

Also, see this question about missing workouts, and this one on losing muscle mass.

  • 2
    Also important to note is the effect of "muscle memory". When you start training again, your body will regain its old strength faster the second time than it took the first time. Feb 13, 2012 at 14:54
  • Berin & Dave, Is it just a myth that there is a window of opportunity for training during key late teenage years that determines what the adult body will be capable of? I.e., could you take two identical twin high schoolers, train one as a powerlifter and one as a marathoner until they are 20, then still see the difference when they are 40?
    – J. Win.
    May 24, 2012 at 0:07
  • @J.Winchester Good question...short answer, I don't know, but there seem to be a couple qualifiers we'd need to make there. I could pontificate if you posted a separate question :) May 24, 2012 at 2:11

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.