Taking a break from your exercise routine is a common occurrence for various reasons, such as injury, travel, health conditions, or simply a lack of time. While the saying “Use it or Lose it” is often heard, the impact on your body, including muscles and flexibility, is more nuanced than it may initially appear.
The Impact of Muscle and Strength Loss According to the American Council on Exercise Personal Training Manual, the absence of resistance exercise in adults can lead to a gradual loss of approximately 3 pounds of muscle every six years.
When individuals discontinue their resistance training routine, the rate of strength decline is roughly half the rate at which it was originally gained. For instance, if someone achieved a 50% increase in leg press strength over a 10-week period, they would lose half of that strength gain within 10 weeks of ceasing resistance exercises. After 20 weeks without training, all previously gained strength would be lost.
Prolonged periods without training may eventually cause the muscles to decrease to a level that merely meets the demands of daily activities. However, incorporating a basic strength training program can help add 3 pounds of muscle tissue in just three months, offering the potential to counteract these effects.
Impact on Cardiovascular Fitness
The effects of detraining on cardiovascular fitness are influenced by an individual’s initial level of fitness.
Highly trained athletes, for example, undergo a rapid decline in fitness within the first three weeks of detraining, followed by a more gradual rate of loss. Remarkably, they can retain a substantial level of fitness, surpassing that of an untrained individual, for approximately 12 weeks.
In contrast, individuals with low-to-moderate fitness levels may initially experience minimal changes in cardiovascular fitness during the early stages of detraining. However, their fitness abilities rapidly decline in the subsequent weeks, highlighting the importance of consistent exercise to maintain optimal cardiovascular health.
The Importance of Activity
Inactivity can lead to detrimental effects on muscle mass. Even astronauts returning from space experience difficulties walking due to muscle loss. Prolonged periods of bed rest can accelerate muscle mass decrease. While there may be reasons not to engage in resistance training, if your body is in good health and capable of movement, it is crucial to stay active. Otherwise, muscle loss will occur at an even faster pace.
Taking a break from your exercise routine can result in the loss of muscle mass and strength. The principle of reversibility applies, meaning that gains achieved through resistance training can be lost when training ceases. Cardiovascular fitness is also affected, with highly trained individuals experiencing a rapid decline and those with lower fitness levels showing gradual decline over time. However, staying active and engaging in appropriate exercise programs can help mitigate these effects. Remember, consistent physical activity is essential to maintaining and improving your overall fitness level.