For a number of reasons, breaks from training occur. Whether it’s due to an injury, going away on that family holiday, or a planned rest period at the end of a sports season, time off training happens.
Whether these breaks are planned or not, a rest period too long can leave us with a more than desired drop off in fitness and conditioning, making it difficult getting back into exercise and increasing our risk of injury.
So what happens when we stop training?
Studies have shown that detraining effects tend to start after 2-3 weeks of inactivity and can affect endurance, strength and power.
Research has found exercise time to exhaustion declines by 24% in 5 weeks of stopping training. This is closely linked with findings of VO2 max declining by up to 20% in trained athletes at 4 weeks of detraining (Mujika, 2000). Although changes in the first 2 weeks are minimal, studies clearly show endurance in athletes quickly declines. Strength has been shown to remain relatively unchanged for the first 3 weeks of inactivity but will decline by 7%-12% over 8-12 weeks. It’s also important to note that when returning to training after more than 3 weeks of rest, resuming at your previous level of exercise can create high spikes in training load. High spikes in training load alone increase your risk of injury. The combination of the physiological changes occurring during your detraining period and the spikes in your training load can create a real danger period for injury when returning to training!
Tips for returning to exercise:
-Avoid breaks/rests in exercise longer than 2 weeks.
-If you are having a break longer than 2 weeks (e.g. away on a long holiday), perform at least one session a week of high intensity exercise.
-If you’re injured, avoid stopping exercise all together. Modify to what you can do. Consult your physio first for exercise options.
-If returning to exercise following a long break, build into your exercise rather than resuming at the same intensity and load as when might have previously done.
Mujika, I et al. (2000). Detraining: loss of training-induced physiological and performance adaptions. Part 1: short term insufficient training stimulus. Sports Medicine, 30 (2) pp 79-87