The effects of skipping the gym
NO matter how dedicated you are to fitness, sooner or later, it’s going to happen: You’re going to skip a workout ... and another ... and another. Maybe you can blame the weather, a vacation, a mile-high pile of paperwork at the office or just your run-of-the-mill funk. Whatever the reason, before you know it, you’re out of shape.
Neglecting the gym every once in a while is nothing to worry about -- after all, sometimes your body needs to rest and recover. But when you hit pause on your workouts for more than a week, you might actually be throwing your fitness level into rewind.
How fast you fall out of shape? You worked hard to get fit, whether by logging regular runs or striving for new personal bests in your bench press. When your workouts fall by the wayside, how fast you fall out of shape depends on more than just how much time you spent away from the gym.
Your overall fitness and the type of workout you’re missing will also impact your losses, says Dr James Ting, a board-certified sports medicine physician with the Hoag Orthopedic Institute in Irvine, California.
As a general rule, the fitter you are, the longer it will take your muscles to turn to flab, he says. Your physique doesn’t like change; it’s constantly trying to achieve homeostasis.
So the longer you have been exercising (and the fitter you are), the more time it will take for your body to say, “Well, I guess we don’t need to build muscle anymore.”
If it’s only been a week since you broke a sweat, don’t stress. Whatever your workout history, it’ll take more than seven days for your body to soften.
But two weeks? You might not get away with that as easily. One study in the Journal of Applied Physiology suggests that easing up on your workouts for just 14 days can significantly reduce your cardiovascular fitness, lean muscle mass and insulin sensitivity.
Meanwhile, it can take two months or longer to see complete losses of your fitness gains, according to Ting.
Endurance vs strength Your body will react differently depending on whether you’re skipping endurance exercise versus strength
all constitute a ‘break,’“Ting says.
How to jump back in Depending on how long you took off –– and how lazy you were –– you might not want to jump back into your workouts, but rather ease into them. If you’ve taken more than a couple of weeks off, you’ll probably notice some differences. After a month or more, you’ll definitely want to get started with a less intense version of your regular workout, Ting says.
“The most important thing is to back off a little for the first week,” Schoenfeld says. “Choose a weight where you will be able to stop several reps short of failure on your sets.
The following week you should be able to train at your previous level, assuming the reason for stopping wasn’t an illness or injury.” Meanwhile, if you’re getting back into running, start at a pace at which you can run comfortably and are able to speak in short sentences. After a week, try turning up the speed.
It can be frustrating to exercise at anything less than your max effort, sure, but gradual is the way to go to prevent injury. The last thing you want is to walk into the gym after a month off, try to squat your usual load, and throw out your back. (Hello, another month off.)
Luckily, when it comes to getting back into your pre-break shape, you do have muscle memory working for you, Schoenfeld says. There are two aspects to muscle memory. One involves your ability to carry out movements in a coordinated fashion.
Wonder why your first rep on the bench press looked so sloppy? It’s because your body was learning which muscle fibers it needed to recruit, and which ones it didn’t, to properly perform the exercise.
Then second component of muscle memory involves your cells. “Muscles have satellite cells -- basically muscle stem cells -- that help to drive protein synthesis. Resistance training increases satellite cells and these changes remain for years,” he explains. “So even if muscle is lost from taking time away for many years, a person can regain the lost muscle much more quickly after an extended layoff.” Score.
Exactly how long it takes will vary from person to person, but by and large, you can expect to be back in fighting shape in a few weeks.
if you hit pause on your workouts for more than a week, you might be throwing your fitness level into rewind.