We are currently living in some very challenging, different times. You can’t go to visit family or friends. You can’t travel and going to the store is a task within itself. Most can’t go to work either because the business had to shut down or their work was considered to be “ non-essential”. All of this from a vicious virus that has spread not only continentally, but globally. And if fitness is a part of who you are, that too has been stripped from you. Gyms, fitness centers, studios, and whatever else fitness gatherings that we have taken for granted are closed. What is one to do? More on that in just a bit. A bigger concern is what happens to the fitness we have all worked so hard to build and/or maintain if all of the sudden it stops!
The News is Not So Bad
First, it’s important to remember that taking time off now and again is a good thing. Any good workout program includes a heck of a lot of rest days, especially if the exercise is very intense. And there are benefits to both “active recovery” and complete rest. Exercise inflicts a degree of stress on your body. Generally speaking, if you’ve been working out several times a week for more than a year, your muscle memory is solid. When it comes to fitness, we’ve all heard the saying “Use It or Lose It”. While it’s true that when you stop exercising you lose fitness, how quickly you lose it depends on several factors, including how fit you are, how long you have been exercising and how long you stop. Losing fitness when you stop working out, also called detraining or deconditioning, is one of the key principles of conditioning. The principle of use/disuse simply means that when we stop exercising, we generally begin to decondition and lose both strength and aerobic fitness. Most of us need to stop exercising on occasion for any number of reasons. Illness, injury, holidays, work, travel, and social commitments often interfere with training routines. When this happens, we will often see a decline in our level of conditioning. That being said, the better in shape you are, the minimal that is lost. A few weeks, ok; a month, a little bit more; a month or two more and you’ll see and feel a drop in both muscular strength and cardio fitness. Here are some of the general guidelines to how we lose fitness.
- For most people, strength loss occurs after two to three weeks of inactivity, but that can vary. A 2017 study showed that men who did resistance training held on to muscle strength after a two-week break. But a 2013 study showed that athletes will start to lose muscle strength after three weeks without a workout.
- The more muscle you have, the more you stand to lose. A 2015 study found that active young adults lost one-third of their leg strength after just two weeks of inactivity.
- Sadly, we lose this kind of conditioning a little more quickly than we lose strength.
- An older, but a landmark 1984 study showed that after 12 days of inactivity, VO2 max dropped by 7 percent and enzymes in the blood associated with endurance performance decreased by 50 percent.
- A 1993 study of endurance cyclists found that four weeks of inactivity resulted in 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 really good news is that while your cardio conditioning does fall faster than your strength, it’s easier to regain.
Consistency is key for building new habits, and it’s as true for the body as it is for the mind: If your body hasn’t been enjoying exercise for long, it can be easier to lose the progress you’ve made. While your fitness level is key to how quickly you get back to your fitness baseline, a few other variables also come into play.
- A 2000 study found that age plays a role in bounce-back time. Among 41 study participants who were either 20 to 30 years old or 65 to 75 years old, the older people lost strength almost twice as fast as the younger people during a six-month “detraining” period.
- Children have a serious advantage. A 2018 study found that 10- to 13-year-olds were able to hang on to fitness gains after four weeks of detraining.
How to Make the Most of Your Time in Quarantine
1. Go for a walk. Indeed, training a little will do a much better job of maintaining your gains than totally stopping, especially if you’re able to squeeze in the odd cardio session that’ll train you at the upper end of your intensity level.
2. Incorporate some resistance training. If you have some equipment, great, but it’s not necessary. Do some body weight training exercises like push ups or squats. For the really inclined, do a four-minute Tabata session (or two) that will make a huge difference in maintaining your strength.
3. Hire a coach. No one thinks they need a coach until they need one. Technology today, especially in today’s era of “social distancing”, makes it easier to reach people in every corner of the world right from where you are currently.
3. Eat well. Exercise helps control junk food cravings, so you may need to try harder to avoid less-healthy foods while you’re not working out. Get lots of protein, healthy fats, and low-GI carbs, and your body will thank you. Eating well will help you avoid any weight gain, which would make restarting fitness all the more challenging.
When this is all over, and believe me, it will end, the gym will be right there waiting for you when you’re ready for it, but for now, do what you can and do what makes you happy. Until then, stay safe and stay well.
Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.