I’m all about being serious when it comes to our personal wellbeing, health and fitness but even the most dedicated of us can experience life getting in the way of our training regime.
There are more external factors at play; no matter if you’re a daily gym-goer, weekend warrior or professional athlete. Injuries and sickness can mean a period of inactivity and if that wasn’t enough, life, in general, sometimes has a way of making more pressing matters a priority while consuming time usually spent running your favourite trail.
But how long does it actually take to get out of shape?
Obviously we’re all different and don’t have the same recovery time, workout more than others or do different things when we aren’t training so there’s no definitive answer…
The time spent for your body to get completely out of shape normally depends on you and how you treat yourself while you’re forced to take a break from exercise, or are just being plain lazy and taking some time off, which is okay too and necessary for many of us!
The good thing to know is that if your training regime was in full flow and you were making gains while getting fitter and fitter, we’re talking about four to five times a week, then it will take much longer for all your hard work to go to waste.
For The Regulars
We all need extended periods of recovery, even athletes get time off after a hectic season, to prevent injuries and fatigue due to overtraining and the muscle mass you’ve built won’t disappear as quickly as you think.
A study by Coyle and others found that, following studies of cessation of training over 12, 21, 56 and 84 days, that VO2max declined by as much as 7% after 21 days and stabilised to 16% after 56 days.
The study thus proved that VO2max decreases quite quickly and that all the hard work you’re putting in, especially if you’re a runner, will start to dissipate and then level out.
There are ways to stretch out this time by doing light fitness but, essentially, you’ll need to regain that level through the resumption of training. This is a contributing factor as to why many football players, when coming off an injury, are said to not be ‘match fit’ and have to condition themselves to a game environment before being thrust into the action.
You may feel as though after a short period of inactivity that your muscle mass and power have significantly dropped but don’t worry, this isn’t exactly the case. It hearkens back to conditioning and you not feeling that daily pump, although strength is definitely lost.
A new study in the Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine explained that after just two weeks of athletes recovering from injury in a cast, there were significant decreases in strength and muscle size in the immobilised limb. It also went on to explain how younger men lost more muscle mass than their older counterparts.
It is also widely known that the more you have, the more you have to lose so decreases in strength and size can be rapid if you’re big.
If you aren’t out injured, then it gets even trickier!
But you’ll be happy to know that if the break you’ve induced on yourself is voluntary then it’ll take more time for you to lose muscle mass and strength – even clipping four to five weeks – if Pete McCall of the American Council of Exercise is anyone to go by, he is. He explains that “if you’re somebody who exercises five, six days a week, taking a little break is not going to make a big difference.”
Although it’s not recommended to do it too often…
For The Irregulars
The concept of VO2max is easier to understand from this perspective: it is the maximal amount of oxygen your body can use during periods of intense running, cycling and during sport. If you’ve never trained, then it is more than likely at a base level. The decrease that was seen in runners before applies the same here and if you’ve improved your VO2max then stop it will still go into rapid decline.
A study conducted in 2011 found that decreases in muscular strength did not decline as rapidly as they did in men who trained often. This correlates with the notion that you have more to lose, if you have more.
But this is also understood because people who train less have built muscle and although they may lose power their bodies still want to retain that strength and mass. Unless you’re living a very unhealthy lifestyle during your period of inactivity you should be fine – but that doesn’t give you the freedom to stop training altogether.
The Other Stuff
But, as we said before, there are more factors at play…
Genetics, age, stress levels, sleep and metabolism all play a role, with your overall nutrition at the head of it all.
If you’ve been eating loads of healthy calories to make big gains then you must be aware that your body is not going to be capable of burning these calories efficiently, which will lead to weight gain.
The trick is to consciously create a diet that is conducive to where you’re at, at the moment, and you will more than likely still stay in shape – you just won’t look at muscular and toned.
It can be a psychological and physical battle to stick to a routine and it’s important to start slowly when you’re getting back into the swing of this.
For long-term results, everyone needs a break but you should recondition yourself back into exercise and you might not be able to immediately get back in at the same intensity.
This is where another problem comes in: motivation. Any of us who have stopped training know that it’s very difficult to get back into the routine once it’s been interrupted. Finding a way to motivate yourself back into a regime will greatly assist your quest to get back to where you were.
How To Stay On Course
When you’re on a break it should also still be important to make an effort. In terms of injury, you should consult your doctor about exercises you can do to stay active. And in the event of anything else, continuing to do light cardio, bodyweight and resistance training.
Light training includes jogging and swimming, cardio that won’t tire you out quickly and still keep you active to some extent. It’s important to resist the pull of a sedentary lifestyle if the aim is to take a break and then get back to training.
Bodyweight and resistance training does not put as much of a strain on your body and allows you to build up core strength. It is a good way to stay active while not pushing the limits you need a break from.
Above all else, don’t cop out on your eating plan – just adjust it to your new lifestyle, and you should be fine. Remember that it is all reversible and possible to quickly get back to full strength and your peak soon after you step foot in the gym again. You’ve done it before so there should be nothing holding you back.
And stay motivated! Don’t see this as the end of a phase in your life but a period of rest and recovery that everyone needs occasionally. Know that you’re going to get back to training and exercising. You were simply listening to your body and now that you’ve got this period out of the way you’ll come back readier to achieve your goals than ever before.