Skipping the gym without a good reason isn’t worth the setback.
We all want to adhere to our fitness plans, but sometimes, life gets in the way. You catch a cold or have a particularly busy week and, before you know it, you’ve missed a few workouts. As your gym hiatus grows, you start to wonder: how long does it take to lose your fitness progress?
The answer depends on whether you’re talking about aerobic fitness or strength, as well as other factors such as age and prior fitness level. Generally speaking, when it comes to fitness, if you don’t use your conditioning, you lose it. Your heart’s ability to meet the demands of high exertion and your muscle mass both begin to decrease. The other physiological changes and benefits gained by training, such as increased energy levels, improved flexibility and a more stable mood, reverse as well.
Aerobic conditioning and strength deteriorate at different rates, a process known as detraining, but in either case, it may not take as long as you think.
In as little as seven to 14 days, your aerobic fitness level can begin to decline. How much of your fitness you lose and how rapidly it declines depends on your starting condition. People who hit the gym five-to-six days a week or are longtime athletes retain some degree of aerobic conditioning for several months, but short-term effects can be significant. In a study looking at well-trained soccer players, even one week of inactivity resulted in higher times during sprint tests. The players also experienced greater fatigue after the physical activity.
Beginner exercisers may revert back to their starting condition after a few weeks of inactivity. The unfortunate truth is that you lose fitness gains more rapidly than you build them. Whenever possible, it’s worth it to at least do a “maintenance” workout once a week to keep the losses at bay.
For exercisers of every fitness level, nearly all conditioning gains will be lost after two to eight months of inactivity. After that point, an exerciser returning to the gym will find themselves starting from scratch.
Positive results from strength training generally linger longer during periods of inactivity than the benefits from cardio training. Strength levels and gained muscle mass begin to decline after approximately three weeks of inactivity for beginner exercisers. Longtime exercisers and athletes can retain strength gains for longer, sometimes up to several months, before seeing a noticeable decline.
How can you stave off a fitness decline?
The most obvious and effective answer is, whenever possible, get at least one pulse-raising workout in per week. Decreasing the frequency of your workouts rather than stopping them altogether may be enough to maintain your level of fitness. If you have to take some time off because you’re sick or injured, jump back into your normal fitness routine as soon as safely possible or make adaptations to your normal routine that allow for safe exercise.
If the problem keeping you from the gym is motivation, try mixing up your training routine with a new class, personal training sessions or a different workout and check out this. Adding variety to your training can be a great way to jump-start your enthusiasm for fitness and may even help you discover a new activity that you enjoy.
Photo credit: Thinkstock, iStock, Bojan88.