If you make it a habit to get to the gym and work out regularly, you deserve to see results in terms of increased strength. However, sometimes you might notice that the things you're doing are causing you to lose muscle, and such a decrease in mass can weaken your health and body, long-term. Instead, doing things to amp up your muscle building will be helpful, and avoiding disastrous habits that can lead to loss will help you stay safe and really reap your post-workout benefits.
As a certified health coach, I work with clients on getting in a solid workout and developing lean muscle to power their joints, health, and functionality. When you're losing your hard-earned muscle, you might be putting your bones at risk and weakening your body's ability to stay resilient. If you notice that your body isn't changing in muscle growth the way you want it to, or even that you're seeing less definition in areas that should be more visibly strong, it might be worth checking with a trainer or physician for help in changing your exercise program and other lifestyle factors that could be making things worse. Here are nine ways to know that you're losing muscle. Once acknowledged, making better habits can help you increase muscle presence.
1. Lack Of Weight Baring Exercise
According to Martin Kimpston, personal trainer and MAT specialist, over email with Bustle, "any exercise that challenges the muscular system" should be included in a workout program. "Load bearing can be any exercise where you are applying an external force to the body. The external force can be applied using a machine, your own body weight, or a weight. All of this can be done either lying or standing," Kimpston says.
2. Training Only Part Of A Muscle
"Training only a small portion of a muscles" can cause muscle loss, says Kimpston. "Most exercises are performed for the mid-length of the muscle and ignore the extremes of length. Work to challenge the muscles through their entire available length. This can be difficult because of muscles that cross multiple joints require us to move both joints to reach the extremes of the muscles length. In order to challenge those extremes, adjust the load used to accommodate for the strength capabilities of the muscle," says Kimpston.
"Many adults do not initially notice the signs of muscle loss, as they increase gradually as a person ages. Additionally, they may dismiss the signs of muscle loss as simply part of 'getting older,' and not realize there are ways to prevent and reduce the loss," explain Carla Prado, PhD, Assistant Professor & CAIP Chair in Nutrition, Food & Health, University of Alberta and Suzette L. Pereira, PhD, Associate Research Fellow, Strategic Research at Abbott, a global healthcare company over email with Bustle.
4. Not Using A Muscle
According to Dr. Michael Jonesco, sports medicine physician at OSU Wexner Medical Center over email with Bustle, "simply not using a muscle will cause it to atrophy." Jonesco adds, "Have you ever seen someone who broke their arm and just got their cast off? Immobilization allows the bone to heal, but disallows any significant muscle use. Some subtle atrophy can occur in those with improper or incomplete training regimens, even with regular exercise activities."
5. Nerve Injuries
Jonesco explains that nerve injuries can cause muscle loss. "This leads worsening nerve function and the inability for the nerve to signal the muscle to contract. Despite having a perfectly fine, uninjured muscle without a nerve signal, the muscle will slowly die away," Jonesco says. "A great example of this is patients [with] chronic sciatica. The sciatic nerve exits from the back and can be pinched by a herniated disk or bone spur. As this nerve signal becomes weaker, you can see atrophy in the lower legs, especially the calf muscles," Jonesco adds.
6. Doing The Same Workout
According to Reebok Strength and Endurance Coach Nate Helming over email with Bustle, "we are creatures of habit and routine. In fact, good habits anchored in a daily routine helps spare precious will power reserves we need to tap into for those daily difficult decisions. but … physiologically we tend to plateau after six to eight weeks of exposure to the same old same old." As a recommendation, "change the stimulus, the intensity, the training partners, the coach and yes even the weight and you will inevitably be pushed to reach out of yourself."
7. Being Sick
"Being laid up in bed for even as little as a week can start to break down muscle and cause significant atrophy. High fevers, high inflammatory states, and hormonal changes (surges in cortisol) all add significant stress to the body that accelerate muscle loss," says Jonesco. "Furthermore, some viral infections (including the flu) can affect the nerve, effectively causing complete shutdown," Jonesco adds.
8. A Fad Diet
"It's important to work on highlighting a balanced exercise and meal plan program with clients," says Elizabeth Ann Shaw, MS, RDN, CLT over email with Bustle.
9. Other Diseases
"There are several conditions that accelerate muscle loss, ranging from congenital and acquired myopathies (muscle disease), cancer, AIDS, heart and lung conditions, and liver disease," says Jonesco. "Even aging alone will cause and contribute to muscle loss as it becomes less sensitive to growth factors and we secrete less hormones like testosterone," Jonesco adds.
If you notice any of these habits or conditions and you're experiencing muscle loss, try and change your lifestyle to better maintain muscle growth and consult a medical professional.