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Detraining.  How quickly do you lose fitness?

Achieving fantastic fitness gains has got to be one of the most satisfying things in the world today.  Watching your own body tone up, your endurance capacity increase, having more energy day to day to do the things that you want.  There can't be too many more rewarding experiences.

However, on the other side of the coin achieving your fitness goals can be very frustrating.  You train religiously week after week, only to be interrupted by a change in routine, injury, illness, and your fitness levels seemingly return to square one.

The concept of losing your fitness level is known as deconditioning or detraining. 

How quickly do you lose your fitness levels when you stop training?  Losses in established fitness depend on a variety of factors including:

1.  How fit you are when you stop training.
Fitter individuals tend to lose their fitness more slowly than the moderately fit ones.
2.  How long you have been training.
If you have been training for years, your body tends to hold its fitness more effectively.
3.  How long you stop for.
Obviously, the longer you stop for the greater the level of deconditioning.

It is however, still reasonably difficult to quantify the extent to which you become deconditioned.  There has been limited research in this area ... probably because fit individuals are loathe to become unfit on purpose!

However, one study concluded that well conditioned athletes who had been training hard for one year lost half of their aerobic conditioning following 3 months of stopping exercise.  Those that were less well trained fared even worse, losing a greater amount of conditioning.

Even more concerning is the fact that after 3 months of complete rest, it has been shown to take up to 3 months of hard training before you can return to your previous level of fitness.  So for those that think they will quickly return to pre rest levels of fitness following a break, think again!

Research into reducing training levels as opposed to completely terminating training is however more promising.  A study on strength training athletes showed that decreasing their training frequency by up to 2/3rds (from 3 times per week to once) made little difference in terms of strength gains, so long as the intensity remained the same.

The moral of the story...  if you do have trouble continuing your training due to injury, change in routine etc...  try to ensure that you continue some sort of cross training at least once a week during this difficult period.  Your body will thank you for it in the long run!