Today I came across one of the lovely members at Park View Health Clubs very disheartened at her performance during our 9.30am Abs and Back class. Not herself though as she had been out of the gym and her normal fitness regime for about 2 months. She asked me a question “ how long does it take for someone to fall out of shape?”
This got me thinking – how at some point all of us that have skipped a workout. That has lead to having three days off, then six, then 10. Before you know it, we’re all asking that same question, when the gym feels like a distant memory: How long does it take to lose my fitness?
First, it’s important to remember that taking time off now and again is a good thing—exercise inflicts a degree of stress on the body, and any good workout program includes a heck of a lot of rest days, especially if the exercise is very intense. And there’s a benefit to both “active recovery” and complete rest.
That said, the expression “use it or lose it” is pretty much the rule. But exactly how much fitness you will “lose” depends on the length of your break and how fit you were to before you had the break.
If like her you exercise on the regular lets say four, five times a week it’s a lot easier to bounce back from time off. Generally speaking, if you’ve been working out several times a week for more than a year, your muscle memory is solid . In fact, with that strong of an exercise habit, scientists are quite willing to drop you in the “athlete” category. As an athlete, your fitness can deteriorate at different rates depending on whether you’re looking at strength or cardiovascular losses.
For most, strength loss occurs after about two and a half to three weeks of inactivity, says Molly Galbraith, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and co-founder of Girls Gone Strong. But it depends on why you take the break.
“If for example your sick or your body is stressed, you’ll start to lose strength after two to three weeks,” she says. “If you’re not sick, and especially if you’re able to get in some movement and light exercise, you can probably take four, even five weeks off without significant strength loss.”
Science agrees. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise published a review of several studies on the subject that looked at runners, rowers, and power athletes. For all of these groups, muscular strength fibers appear not to change, even after a month of inactivity. But here’s the kicker: While general strength doesn’t change much in that period, specialized, sport-specific muscle fibers start to change in as little as two weeks without a workout. For example, endurance athletes lose a significant amount of the extra slow-twitch muscle fibers that they worked so hard to accumulate, and the same thing happens for the power athletes and their hard-earned fast-twitch muscle fibers. Sadly squats, press and cleans become hard again.
Simply put, the body likes to hold onto strength for as long as it can, but specialized skills for more specific sports, they will decline much faster. Fortunately for the average gym goer amongst us this isn’t the worst thing, as I guess squats are always pretty grim.
So what’s left is the cardio lovers out there who are more concerned with the strength of their heart and lungs? Sadly we lose this kind of conditioning more quickly than we lose strength. One study I found showed that for endurance cyclists, four weeks of inactivity resulted in at least a 20 percent decrease of their VO2 max, which measures a person’s maximum capacity to take in, transport, and use oxygen during exercise . The results were more or less confirmed that after 12 days of inactivity, VO2 max dropped by seven percent and enzymes in the blood associated with endurance performance decreased by more than 50 percent .
To conclude, while your cardio conditioning does fall faster than your strength, it is also easier to regain. So for all those that have had a busy summer break from the gym, all I can say is holidays are pretty much over so get your dragging feets back into Park View Health Clubs.
We are always here and happy to throw motivational abuse at you and remind you that we care!
Just another gym day by Rama.