Hands up if over the last few months slash year, you lost your groove a little on the fitness front? All of us? Yep. Thought so.
If you’re hoping to get back on the horse, or the treadmill, rather. It’s worth knowing how hard of a slog it’s going to be and just how long it can take. We’re a prepared bunch, over here.
So, let’s take a bit of a dive into how rebuilding fitness works, and just how tough it really can be – shall we?
First thing’s first:
How quickly do we lose fitness?
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, friends. The answer here is: very quickly.
Nigel Stepto, associate professor in exercise physiology at Victoria University spoke with The ABC on this topic a little while back, and shared that it doesn’t matter if you’re of average fitness, or if you’re a marathon runner – fitness levels drop fast.
“Of course the marathon runner’s fitness would still be greater than someone whose main exercise is walking — they were fitter in the first place,” he told the outlet.
“But after a week of no training, both would be half as fit as they were the last time they worked out.”
Apparently, cardio fitness is the first to go (course it is, that jerk) and according to sports scientist Tony Boutagy, who also spoke with The ABC, after about two weeks, “you’ll probably start to show a 7-10 per cent loss in strength levels”.
I spoke with Ben Lucas, Director of Flow Athletic, who echoed this point:
“…on the cardio front, you will notice a difference in your body’s ability to transport and utilise oxygen pretty quickly and that will show up in the form of getting puffed out easily, sweating more and feeling tired.
“On the strength front, when there is no stimulus, muscle mass decreases. In just a week some research suggests that you can lose up to 10% of your muscle mass. Over three months, you will lose most of your gains.”
Okay, what about building fitness back up?
Unfortunately, you can’t boost your fitness levels as quickly as you lose them, science indicates, but on the upside – it doesn’t take as long as you’d think.
Accredited exercise physiologist Sam Rooney, from Sydney’s Ion Training, told Fairfax that you’ll begin to experience “those mental health benefits” in just a week. He also pointed out that your sleep will likely improve, and your energy levels will jump up.
It’s at around the month stage that most people will begin to notice improvements in their fitness levels.
Associate Professor Rob Robergs, an accredited exercise physiologist from Queensland University of Technology, told The SMH that at this point, you’re still in the early stages “but you’ll notice you’re better able to tolerate your workout and recovery doesn’t take as long”.
According to Dr Boutagy from The ABC’s piece on recovering fitness, after three to four weeks, you can boost your “VO2 [your maximum rate of oxygen consumption] somewhere between 20 and 30 per cent”.
Pretty impressive if you ask me.
At this point, chances are you’ll be feeling pretty great about yourself and your progress, and new habits will have begun to form. After a month of consistent work and the payoffs that come from that, you’ll probably find it much easier to continue pushing forward.
Just be sure to give yourself enough time to adjust, Lucas stressed:
“…you need to get your body used to the exertion and movement patterns again. So either reduce your exercise time or the weight you are lifting. If you are a runner, start slowly and run a shorter distance until you build up the strength in your muscles again.”
Long story, short: if you want to get back into the swing of things fitness-wise, try and set yourself a month-long goal and work from there. The hardest part is committing to day one. You’ve got this!
This article has been updated since its original publish date.