Will I Lose Fitness?

author : TINKARRA
comments : 0

If I were to take 3-4 months off from training, in which I would probably lose most of my fitness, would I get back to my former level quicker, or would it take me just as long as the first time?

Member Question

I'm doing my first Ironman in May. I've been doing triathlons for about three years now and me and my family are both ready for a little break from it - especially after the IM training. My question is about losing and gaining fitness. It's taken me three years to get to the level that I'm at. I'm usually somewhere between 22-23 mph on bike in sprint races and 6:30-6:50 run pace for sprints. My question is, if I were to take 3-4 months off from training, in which I would probably lose most of my fitness, would I get back to my former level quicker, or would it take me three years to get back to where I was? I'm always hesitant to take any kind of break because I hate to lose everything I've worked for. What do you think? 

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Answer from Martina Young
D3 Multsport.com Coach

Dear athlete,

It would only seem fair that if it took three years to build fitness it would also take three years to lose it all. But that is unfortunately not the case.

Here is what the research says:

A study by Coyle et al., looked at seven-endurance trained athletes who stopped training. Measurements were taken at 12, 21, 56 and 84 days after regular physical activity had stopped. Maximal oxygen uptake (V02 max) declined 7% during the first 21 days of inactivity. The good news is that the drop stabilized at 16% below the initial trained levels. Even better news is that after 84 days of inactivity the previously trained individuals sustained higher V02 max when compared to completely sedentary individuals. To summarize, the study by Coyle and his colleagues determined that a trained individual starts losing “fitness” significantly as early as 12 days after cessation of training. However, the decrease of fitness plateaus and at two months of inactivity a previously trained individual still maintains a higher V02 max level when compared to someone who has never been active consistently.

Another interesting study was conducted by Pallares et al. The authors compared blood levels of two groups of elite kayakers who either reduced their training or ceased they training completely. V02 max significantly decreased with both groups - not surprisingly, but the V02max for the group who reduced training decreased by 4.8% whereas the V02 max values for the group who terminated training completely dropped by 10.1% 

The main changes that the body goes through with cessation of training consist of, but are not limited to, changes in the skeletal muscle such as reduction in capillary density, oxidative capacity, mean fiber cross sectional area etc. Therefore to maintain some level of aerobic/anaerobic capacity, the training during the active recovery needs to target the aforementioned physiological factors so that the return to the previous level of activity is faster and less risky in terms of sustaining an injury.

Pallares et al., also wrote about alternatives to complete termination of training and mention that a single high intensity 35 minute weekly session could maintain V02 max levels, however, the endurance capacity (ability to carry an effort at 75% of V02 max) decreased by 20% with that same type of training. Their recommendation to maintain as much fitness as possible, but still get the much-needed psychological and physiological rest would be one resistance and two endurance-training sessions per week at moderate intensity (endurance meaning 40-60 minutes). I would add to that the resistance training should consist of power lifting and pure strength work at high weight, low repetitions, multi-joint exercises (after a good stability base has been established) and that the endurance sessions should include at least six 30 sec max efforts with full recoveries in between.

In summary, if you are tired of swim, bike and run workouts look at alternatives such as hiking, kick boxing, rowing and even Cross Fit (if you find a gym with knowledgeable staff). Instead of a rigid schedule, start the week with a notion that you will get three workouts done and do them when it is most convenient for you and your family.

I hope that my answer helps. Have a fabulous Ironman race and a great time enjoying your active recovery. 

Sincerely,

Martina Young, PT, DPT
USAT Triathlon coach
D3 Multisport Assistant Coach

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date: March 20, 2014

TINKARRA

Being an athlete, mother, wife and a working individual I am aware that time limitations can be a struggle and a source of frustration for most typical age group athletes. Therefore I place a lot of importance not only in gathering objective data, such as lactate threshold, from the athlete but also subjective information such as routines and stressors that an athlete faces on a daily basis.

Finding a healthy balance to fulfill the needs of “athletic” and “non-athletic” self is a form of art that requires attention to detail and commitment to perfection, both of which I am proud to offer.

avatarTINKARRA

Being an athlete, mother, wife and a working individual I am aware that time limitations can be a struggle and a source of frustration for most typical age group athletes. Therefore I place a lot of importance not only in gathering objective data, such as lactate threshold, from the athlete but also subjective information such as routines and stressors that an athlete faces on a daily basis.

Finding a healthy balance to fulfill the needs of “athletic” and “non-athletic” self is a form of art that requires attention to detail and commitment to perfection, both of which I am proud to offer.

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