Given the time, effort and dedication it takes to build up your strength, endurance, agility and cardiovascular fitness, the thought of going backwards and ‘losing’ your hard-earned fitness while you take it easy over the Christmas break can feel incredibly daunting. 


So, is it a matter of ‘use it or lose it’ or have you got a decent grace period? Here’s what you should know about ‘losing’ your fitness – and how to prevent yourself starting back at square one in January.


How Quickly Do You Lose Your Fitness? 

While we can’t give you an exact timeline, the rate at which your fitness declines is linked to your level of athleticism, meaning the fitter you are, the slower the loss. When you have a break from exercise, the first place you’re likely to notice a change is your cardiovascular fitness, which measures how well your body produces energy by taking in oxygen and delivering it to your muscles and organs during prolonged periods of exercise.


One week away from exercise can see you physically feeling a difference to your cardio fitness, with significant changes after two weeks, according to Exercise and Sports Science Australia. You may notice yourself getting more puffed than you’re used to when running up the stairs because your heart has to work harder to get enough blood to your muscles.


When it comes to muscle strength, muscle mass decreases when there is no stimulus, causing your muscles to become less efficient and able to exert less power. This effect can start to be observed within two to three weeks of rest, with one study examining the effects of fourteen days of bed rest on middle-aged adults showing that rapid skeletal muscle loss in the feet and legs was induced. 


According to a Head of Athletic Performance Coach in the NRL, for someone that is athletic, you can expect a decline in speed potential after 2-7 days, in muscular endurance after 10-21 days, in anaerobic endurance after 14-21 days, and in both maximum strength and aerobic endurance after 21-28 days. While this will be faster for the general non-athletic population, it is also influenced by the duration of consistent training, with those that have been regularly training for 12 months, for example, experiencing a lower fitness decay rate when they take time off than those that have recently started their fitness journey. 


How Much Exercise Does It Take To Retain Your Fitness?

The good news is that maintaining fitness requires significantly less work than building it. A recent study examined adolescent athletes that had been regularly training for over a year, and then as part of the study started performing significantly less exercise – though still performing lighter movement almost daily – as part of a ‘detraining’ protocol for three weeks. Interestingly, their muscle strength and sports performance were not affected.


The general rule for maintenance is 2 strength sessions and approximately 2-3 hours of cardio per week. In practical terms: just try to maximise your movement over your days. Say yes to those evening walks, take the stairs, walk to the shops or take the bike, play a game of backyard cricket – it all counts.  


It’s Hard To Retain Your Fitness If You’re In Pain Or Injured

Perhaps the biggest barrier we see to retaining fitness is foot and leg pain or injury. A common pattern is that a patient will have an ache or niggle before the break, they’ll go away on holiday or to visit relatives, and that ache will ramp up into a fast, furious and limiting pain. Often it’s because we ramp up our walks with our families and day trips, causing our ‘controlled’ exercise routine to turn into something less than ideal – like carrying heavy bags and beach chairs over uneven and unsteady sand without supportive footwear – or any footwear for that matter. 


This is why we highly recommend coming in to treat any problems before they turn into something serious. Our experienced podiatrists perform a comprehensive assessment to understand what has caused your pain and why – and will help you both recover from the pain and put the right measures in place to prevent it from throwing a spanner into your summer plans.


Finally, don’t be too hard on yourself if your exercise schedule takes a hit – rest is an important part of any training plan (and great for our mental health!), but if you do want to prioritise maintaining your fitness, we like to work out first thing in the morning before the day has begun – and get that fantastic hit of endorphins – the happy hormones – to see us through the day.


To take control of any aches and pains, book your appointment with us by calling (02) 8405 6850 or book online.