We’re all human, and everyone skips a workout every once in a while. And while it’s important to take some time off to rest and enjoy other aspects of your life, it can be very easy to let one skipped workout turn into two, or three, until time on your yoga mat or at the gym is a distant memory. If you’re having a break from staying active, you may wonder, how long does it take to get out of shape?
Before we go on, it’s key to remember that taking breaks from your fitness routine every now and again isn’t a bad thing!
When you exercise, especially with high impact workouts, there is a high degree of stress on the body, and all good regimes include rest days and days without workouts. There’s also the mental aspect to consider, taking breaks and focusing on other areas of your life will ensure you don’t get too single minded in your fitness goals.
That said, taking excessive breaks will cause you to lose fitness and get out of shape. But how much, all depends on the level of fitness you had at the start, and how long you take off.
If you’re a regular athlete
If you have a movement practice, five or six times a week, it’s easier to get back into it, and you may find it's slower to lose fitness and get out of shape, if you’ve been exercising for a while.
Your muscle memory will be stronger if you’ve been working out several times a week for over a year. With such strong habits, your fitness levels drop at a different rate than others who don’t work out as often.
If you’re focused on strength, most people lose strength after about three weeks of not working out, if you’re sick and taking a break. This is because your body is under stress when you’re unwell. If you’re otherwise healthy, and you’re still moving around, you may find it takes up to five weeks to notice any significant strength loss.
Muscular strength fibers appear not to change, even after a month of rest. This goes for general strength - if you’re working out specialized muscle fibers, such as ones you use for certain sports, you may notice change after just two weeks of rest.
With cardio, this kind of fitness deteriorates much faster than strength. Our heart and lungs can get out of shape much more than our muscles. Just four weeks of rest can lead to a 20% decrease of your VO2 max. This is the measurement of your maximum capacity to take in and use oxygen. However, cardio fitness is much much easier to regain than strength, so once you start working out again, you’ll see improvements.
If you’re a workout newbie
If you’ve pressed the pause button on a relatively new habit, make sure you’re not taking time out for too long. Consistency is the most important thing when you’re building up a new habit, as it is easier to lose your progress if you haven’t been working out for long.
It’s slightly easier to retain strength as a newbie, and you can expect to retain the same levels of strength after as long as a three week break from lifting. In fact - you can stop for up for six months and still retain up to half of the strength you gained. For new people lifting weights and doing strength training, a lot of the strength you retain is eccentric strength - the strength used when you’re lengthening muscle fibers. It’s harder to retain concentric strength, the strength you use when you contract a muscle.
However, cardio is a little easier to lose. If you’re new to cardio workouts and take time off, you may find you’re back to square one. Studies have found that VO2 gains made over two month were completely lost after four weeks of inactivity.
There are a few other factors to consider when you’re assessing how quick you’ll lose shape after taking a break.
Age is an important factor, as older people can lose strength must faster than their younger counterparts. And if you take time off because you’re ill or have had an injury, you may lose your fitness at a higher rate.
If you find yourself taking a fitness break, you may be worried that you’ll lose your fitness and get out of shape quickly. There are a few ways you can retain your fitness during your downtime, to ensure you’ll stay in shape.
If you can keep up some form of light cardio, such as walking briskly, you’ll be able to retain your cardio fitness for longer. Body weight exercises or swimming are also good low impact resistance training that you can take up whilst on a break from heavier workouts, especially if you’re injured. This will make a big difference in maintaining your strength. Eating right will also help to avoid getting out of shape faster. This puts off any weight gain and makes getting back to exercise so much easier.
By Amy Cavill
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