Ever just get to the point where you need a break?? I think we all do! Listening to your body is always recommended, as only you know how you truly feel. It has amazed me to learn how important rest is to not only recovery but your overall fitness levels. Rest allows our muscles to repair and grow, allows our central nervous system to recover, and let’s face it – sometimes being lazy is just plain awesome! What isn’t good for us is when those rest days turn into hiatuses.
I came across a really interesting breakdown from PopSugarFitness of what begins to happen to our bodies after during prolonged breaks from working out. It is to be noted that results do vary depending on what kind of workouts you enjoy doing (i.e., Cardio buffs tended to lose less of their fitness gains in the short term than say strength and bodybuilders). I’ve posted the article and a link to the original below. I don’t claim any credit for this work, I just find it to be a really interesting piece and wanted to share it with you all. As a hybrid athlete (strength and cardio), I can attest to how the prolonged time off can affect not only your power but your respiratory capacity and cardiac endurance. It can be tough to get back on that horse, but I promise, the quicker you do, the quicker you will notice your gains returning. Let me know what you think about this article in the comments section below. I’d also love to hear from those of you that have experience with periods of time off and what kinds of things you experienced as a result, and how long it took you to see a return.
It turns out that weight trainers have the greatest risk of losing strength over time. “With isometric training not including high-intensity exercise (classic weightlifting), strength loss can occur at a rate of 0.3-percent to 0.8-percent per week,” [Liz Letchford (MS, ATC, PhD candidate)] told POPSUGAR through email. But those who have more of a cardio schedule typically keep their strength even when they take time off. Also of note, the more advanced you are, the more you have to lose. “Those who are highly trained show a greater magnitude of strength loss when compared to untrained or moderately trained individuals.”
She told POPSUGAR the “performance decrease” is because the connection between your brain and your muscles isn’t firing, and that connection becomes weaker; it happens during the first two to three weeks of missed exercise. After that happens, “the muscles undergo a process that causes their fibers to get progressively smaller.”
- 3 days: You probably won’t notice any outward effects, but your body will start to make changes internally. “The body recognizes that it needs to mediate the loss of muscle fibers and begins to make changes to preserve the muscle. You won’t notice much, and you won’t gain fat as long as your diet doesn’t drastically change.”
- 10 days: “The muscle physiology changes and the physiological pathways that lead to muscle atrophy begin.” Translation: you start to lose tone.
- 2 weeks: This is the point where you start to lose muscle mass, but don’t worry — you won’t lose strength. If you’re used to using eight- to 10-pound weights at the gym, you should be able to get back in there and resume as if you’d never been gone. “Power athletes [think HIIT, cardio, running] will retain their strength, while strength athletes [think bodybuilders] will see losses at this time.” You shouldn’t see a major shift in weight, though, as she told us “there are no changes in body mass or body-fat percentage.”
- 3 weeks: Liz described a “significant reduction in anaerobic power performance during activities like sprinting or HIIT.”
- 4 weeks: At this point, you’re going to notice that you might be a little out of breath when you get back to the gym. Technically speaking, this includes “up to a 10-percent decrease in max force production of muscle (1RM)” and the beginnings of “a decrease in VO2max (aerobic capacity).”
- 6 weeks: “Strength can still be maintained depending on activity,” Liz said, but you’ll keep losing power, meaning you’ll definitely feel more tired when you hit the studio or gym again. “Anaerobic power performance during activities like sprinting or HIIT continues to be negatively affected.”
- 6 to 8 months: After a while, you’ll lose a good amount of strength — weights are going to feel heavier, and moves that were once easy for you will feel extra challenging — but the good news is you can definitely bounce back and quickly. “One study found that during 32 weeks of rest, a group of women lost a considerable amount of extra strength they gained during a 20-week training program,” Liz said, “but they gained the strength after only six weeks of retraining.”
- 2 years: “Even after two or more years of detraining, muscle has the ability to retain up to 15-percent higher force than before the training program started,” she said. What this means is even if you take two years off from exercising, you won’t ever go back to square one where you started. Your muscle memory is really your saving grace here. “And if after a period of detraining, one wants to start it back up again, those who have experience with training will build strength quickly. This is because muscle memory stays long after muscles have atrophied.”