How Long Can I Take a Break From Exercise Without Losing Fitness?

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While exercising consistently is important for building endurance, conditioning your body and losing weight, there almost always comes a time when you have to take a break.

It may be because you're tired, injured, extra busy, or maybe you're bored and desperately need a break. Or maybe you get sick, go on vacation or have some other life event happen that takes you away from your workout routine.

Taking a break may be just what you need to rest, recover and rejuvenate, but how long before you start losing your fitness?

It's Okay To Take a Break

You may be surprised to learn that taking a few days or a full week off from training won't necessarily hurt the gains you've made. In fact, many serious exercisers and athletes regularly schedule a week off every 8-12 weeks.

Think about a marathon runner. He or she will typically peak during training about 2 weeks before the marathon, then start tapering down so he or she is fully rested for the race.

Sometimes it's good for the average exerciser to take extra days off to get rid of every bit of fatigue in your body.

The great news is, it takes a lot more than a week off to undo all your hard work, so don't be afraid to take a break if you're feeling tired and sore.

How Long Does It Take to Lose Fitness? 

The question is, whether you're taking a break by choice or because you have to, how long can you take a break before it affects your fitness?

  • Aerobic power can decline about 5-10% in three weeks
  • It takes about 2 months of inactivity to completely lose the gains you've made
  • Extremely fit exercisers will experience a rapid drop in fitness during the first three weeks of inactivity before it tapers off
  • Muscular strength and endurance last longer than aerobic fitness. Muscles retain a memory of exercises for weeks or even months

    There's no hard and fast rule about how many rest days to take or when to take them. The key is to listen to your body for signs of overtraining and to your mind for signs of boredom or exhaustion.

    And keep in mind that, even if you only take a few days off, you still may get sore when you come back to your workouts. How sore you get often depends on genetics, how long you were out, and how intense your workout is.

    Signs You May Need a Break

    Taking a few days or a week off may be just what you need to get back to your workouts with more energy and enthusiasm. Remember, you don't have to be completely inactive and, in fact, this may be the perfect time to try activities you usually don't have time for. Leave the routine and the heart rate monitor at home and try:

    • Taking a long walk

    Getting Back on Track

    If you do find you've taken a longer break than you really wanted, it's important to ease into your workouts so you avoid injury and misery. Yes, it may feel like you're starting over, but it won't take very long for your body to get right back to where it was before your break.

    Getting back on track is always possible, no matter how long it's been since you've worked out. It's tempting to want to make up for lost time and jump into an all-out workout routine, but that's the last thing you want to do.

    Not only will you risk being very sore, you may even risk injury.

    Just start with simple workouts, brisk walking or jogging, and a basic total body workout 2-3 times a week. Each week, gradually increase the intensity until you're back to your usual routine.

    Sources:

    American College of Sports Medicine. ACSM's Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription - "Maintenance of the Training Effect." 7th ed. Baltimore, Md: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2006.

    American Council on Exercise. "If You Don't Use It, Will You Lose It?" American Council on Exercise. Retrieved April 22, 2009.

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