Detraining Demystified – What Really Happens When You Stop Running

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Cross Training For Runners
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David Dack

Ever wondered what goes on inside your body when you hit the pause button on your running shoes—or any exercise routine, for that matter? Well, hold onto your seat (or your sneakers), because we’re diving headfirst into the fascinating world of what happens when you give your workout regimen a breather.

If you’re drawing a blank right now, no worries—this is the perfect pit stop for your curiosity. In today’s chat, we’re going to unravel all the nitty-gritty details about what goes down when you bid adieu to those heart-pounding sessions. We’ll explore the science behind detraining, the way it tinkers with your body, and hey, we’ll even dish out some tips on how to minimize the “uh-oh” moments for your fitness level. Intrigued? Well then, let’s not waste any time. Lace up those shoes, because we’re about to embark on an enlightening journey

Long Breaks Are Unavoidable

Ah, the inevitability of those unexpected pit stops in our running journey! It’s like life’s way of reminding us that even the most dedicated runners can’t outrun the occasional hurdles thrown our way. Think of it as the universe hitting the pause button, forcing us to step off the track for a breather. Whether it’s the unwelcome embrace of sickness, the unpredictable tantrums of weather, or just a bout of good old “I’d-rather-stay-in-bed” vibes, we’ve all been there.

And oh, let’s not forget those unexpected encounters with our arch nemeses: ankle sprains, runners knee, shin splints—the villains that can bring even the mightiest of runners to a standstill. They swoop in like supervillains, reminding us that our bodies are both incredible and vulnerable, all at the same time.

Now, picture this: you’ve had to hit pause for a week or more. It’s like your running playlist suddenly switches to a different track—one you didn’t quite sign up for. But here’s the thing, during this unexpected intermission, your body is undergoing its own set of changes behind the scenes. It’s almost like a backstage makeover, where the curtains close and your body starts to adjust.

But here’s the kicker: understanding what’s happening during this “off” time can actually be your secret weapon for a smoother comeback. Imagine you’re stepping into a treasure hunt of knowledge, where each physiological change is like a clue leading you to a more comfortable and confident return to the road.

You see, when you’re forced into a break, your body’s gears shift. Research papers and studies have shown that within those first few weeks, your muscles might lose some of their pep. It’s like they’re taking a vacation of their own. But remember, muscles have memories too, and they won’t forget those past runs—it’s like muscle nostalgia! And while some of your hard-earned endurance might take a slight dip, don’t worry, it’s not waving goodbye forever. Your cardiovascular system, that trusty engine of yours, might also experience a temporary lull. But it’s not a full-on shut down, just a temporary dimming of the lights.

Now, here’s where the plot thickens. The missing puzzle piece here is knowing how to ride this wave of physiological changes. It’s like maneuvering through a maze with a map that you’re creating as you go. Gradually easing back into your routine, rather than sprinting headlong, can prevent that jolt to your system that can feel like an unpleasant surprise party.

What Is Detraining In Runners?

Alright, let’s unravel the mystery behind this “detraining” thing. Think of it as a plot twist in your running saga—a twist that’s not all that thrilling. So, you’ve been pounding the pavement, putting in the miles, and feeling that runner’s high. Your body has been like a sponge, soaking up all those adaptations from your training. But what if I told you that these gains aren’t set in stone?

Enter the antagonist of our story: detraining, also known as the sneaky sidekick of deconditioning. Imagine it as a magician’s trick, where all those hard-earned physiological upgrades you’ve gained through your training sessions start to unravel like a pulled thread.

Now, let’s set the stage. You know that feeling when a week goes by and you haven’t laced up those running shoes or hit the gym? Well, that’s when detraining sneaks in through the back door, like an uninvited guest crashing your fitness party. It’s like your body’s way of saying, “Wait, we were doing all that hard work, and now you’re just lounging on the couch? I’ll show you!”

During this hiatus, your body’s physiological adaptations that you’ve carefully cultivated begin to take a bit of a vacation. It’s like all those finely-tuned systems—your muscles, your cardiovascular machinery, even your endurance—are dialing down their performance. Imagine your body as a finely tuned instrument that’s starting to play a little off-key.

And here’s the kicker: this temporary setback leads to a not-so-welcome surprise. Your physical fitness takes a hit, sort of like your favorite character in a story facing a challenge they didn’t see coming. But hey, here’s the silver lining: just as in a novel, this is not the end of the story. It’s a plot twist, a new chapter waiting to be written.

Good news: detraining is no final battle. In fact, it’s like a temporary slump that’s waiting for you to conquer it. Once you lace up those shoes again and dive back into your workout routine, your body is remarkably resilient. It’s like a superhero that got a bit rusty but quickly regains its powers as soon as the training signal is back on.

Factors That Affect Loss Fitness

Alright, let’s dive into the juicy details of how this detraining phenomenon plays out. Picture it like a recipe with all these ingredients that determine how much of your fitness goodness goes poof! Now, I won’t bore you with the nitty-gritty science, but I promise it’s more interesting than a mystery novel’s plot twists.

Time Away From Your Shoes

Ever heard that even a couple of weeks can be a game-changer? It’s like your fitness fairy godmother turns into a pumpkin after a certain time. According to some fitness detectives who published their findings in the Journal of Applied Physiology, just two weeks of chilling on the couch can lead to a whirlwind of changes. Endurance, muscle mass, and even your body’s sensitivity to insulin—the stuff that manages your blood sugar—wave goodbye, like old friends fading into the horizon.


Imagine taking a hiatus that’s longer than a Netflix binge-watch session—let’s say around two months. Suddenly, you’re in a different ball game. Your body composition—the stuff that makes you “you”—starts to shift like a chameleon changing colors. Your metabolism, that internal furnace, might start to flicker like a candle in the wind. And your overall fitness and health levels? Well, they’ll start to play hide and seek, and you might just find yourself wondering where they disappeared to

Fitness Level

Alright, let’s roll up our sleeves and dive into the nitty-gritty of how our fitness levels behave when the plot takes an unexpected turn. Think of this as decoding the secret language your body speaks—oh, the stories it tells!

Now, picture this: you’re the kind of person who straddles that middle ground of “moderately fit.” You’re no couch potato, but you’re not training for an Olympic marathon either. According to the scientific whisperings of research papers, it might take you anywhere from two to four weeks to really feel the weight of detraining. It’s like your fitness fortress has a moat, and after a few weeks, the bridge starts to crumble.

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The Physiological Changes

When you stop running, going to the gym, or whatever, many physiological changes happen. Some of these include:

Diminished Aerobic Capacity

When you halt your running escapades or the gym rendezvous, your body responds with a whole parade of changes. Imagine your cardiovascular system as a well-oiled machine, pumping blood with the precision of a conductor leading an orchestra. Cardiovascular exercises, especially running, are like the love notes your heart adores. They make it better at pumping blood, which in turn delivers the goods—nutrients and oxygen—to your muscles.

But when you hit pause, this symphony starts to go out of tune. Your heart’s ability to pump extra blood takes a bit of a nap, like a tired musician after a long performance.

And that oxygen delivery service? Well, it starts to run a bit late, like that friend who’s always fashionably tardy. Suddenly, even the simplest tasks, like strolling to the store or climbing the stairs, feel like a scene from an action movie.

Your body is like, “Hold up, I wasn’t ready for this!” It’s like someone turned up the gravity dial a notch.

Enter VO2 Max

Ah, the mystical world of VO2 max—a term that might sound like it’s from a sci-fi movie, but it’s actually the key to unlocking some fitness secrets. It’s like your body’s way of saying, “I’ve got this, and I’m going to make those workouts look easy-peasy.”

Now, here’s the plot twist: VO2 max doesn’t just sit there, static like a statue. It’s like a living, breathing character in your fitness narrative. And when you stop exercising for a while, this character starts to change its lines. This decline in VO2 max kicks in around day 10 of your exercise hiatus, like the beginning of a new chapter.

As the days turn into weeks, this decline keeps picking up momentum. Imagine it as a snowball rolling down a hill, gaining size and speed. Suddenly, your once-heroic VO2 max starts to lose its powers. And here’s the kicker: after just two weeks of detraining, this superhero power meter can take a pretty hefty blow. It’s like your fitness fortress gets a little rusty, and that once-mighty sword starts losing its shine.

Now, let’s chat about the science behind the scenes. Researchers have put their lab coats on and discovered that drastic reductions in VO2 max can happen within two to four weeks of detouring from your exercise routine.

And the culprits? Well, they’re the usual suspects: lowered blood volume and a less robust cardiac output. Imagine your blood vessels getting a little less spacious, like roads narrowing during rush hour. And your heart, that trusty engine of yours, starts to take it a bit easy, like a car engine idling instead of revving.

So, the moral of this story is that VO2 max is like the crown jewel of your fitness journey. It’s not just a number; it’s a reflection of your body’s incredible potential. But don’t let the decline in VO2 max during detraining be a sad ending. Instead, think of it as a plot twist that adds drama to your fitness narrative. When you decide to step back onto the stage, lace up those shoes, and hit the track, you’re giving your VO2 max a second chance to shine.

The VO2 Max Stages of Decline

Alright, let’s break down this VO2 max decline like it’s a thrilling series of episodes in your fitness saga. Imagine it as a countdown, each week bringing a new twist to the story—a plot that unfolds right before your eyes.

Week 1:

It’s like the opening act of a play. Your fitness takes a little dip—about 5 percent to be precise. That’s like your body’s way of saying, “Hold up, we’re missing a little oxygen here.” Your muscles have less energy to play around with, so your 10K time could feel a bit sluggish—maybe around 30 seconds slower or more. It’s like the first chapter of a novel, setting the stage for the drama to come.

Week 2-3:

Cue the dramatic music, because this is where things start to get intense. Imagine the curtain rising on a sudden drop in VO2 max—like the grand finale of a fireworks show. In just two to three weeks of detraining, even seasoned athletes might see a 5-11 percent decline in their superhero power meter. It’s like a rollercoaster that takes a nosedive. But hey, even beginners aren’t immune; their aerobic capacity takes a hit too, albeit to a lesser extent. It’s like the plot thickens, and the suspense keeps building.

Week 4-6:

Here’s where the tension reaches its peak. Imagine your 10K time slowing down, maybe even by a full minute or more. Research chimes in with its findings—VO2 max waving goodbye at about 6 percent after four weeks and then plummeting to 8-10 percent after six weeks of detraining. It’s like the climax of a movie where everything seems to be hanging by a thread.

After 2 Months:

And now, the big reveal—the moment you’ve all been waiting for. Eight weeks or more of detraining and your VO2 max takes a hit of around 20-25 percent. It’s like the grand finale of a fireworks show that leaves you in awe. Suddenly, that 10K you used to breeze through becomes a much bigger challenge, like climbing a mountain. You might find yourself taking walk breaks just to catch your breath.

Increased Blood Pressure

When you’re in your exercise groove, your arteries get a signal to put on their dancing shoes. It’s like they expand, making more room for that blood to flow freely and elegantly. It’s as if the roads widen during a parade to accommodate the floats and marchers. But when you decide to hit pause on your physical activities, it’s like the music changes. Your arteries lose their flexibility, and suddenly the parade feels like it’s marching through a narrow alley.

Now, let’s dig into the science behind this plot twist. Research has unveiled some intriguing findings about blood pressure. Imagine a group of prehypertensive subjects—the ones who were on the edge of high blood pressure territory. They embarked on a six-month training journey, and what happened? Their blood pressure played nice, taking a step back and decreasing. It’s like exercise was a magic spell that calmed the storm.

But here’s where the story takes a turn. Just two weeks of no exercise, and suddenly the tides change. Blood pressure starts to rise, like a sea breeze turning into a gusty wind. It’s like those dancing arteries forgot the steps and started to feel a bit out of sync.

And it’s not just about the numbers; there’s a deeper story here. Japanese researchers put on their detective hats and found that even endurance athletes aren’t immune. A three-month break from their training regimen, and guess what? Their arteries got a little stiffer, like a marathoner who’s taken up knitting instead. This stiffness, like a stubborn drumbeat, is believed to contribute to the rise in blood pressure. It’s like the once-flexible roads becoming bumpy and uneven, causing a traffic jam.

But wait, there’s more to this tale. If you let this arterial stiffness become a regular guest, it can turn chronic. Imagine your once-spacious highways turning into narrow, cobblestone lanes that slow down the traffic. A year without exercise, and suddenly the situation escalates. It’s like a temporary hiccup becomes a lingering issue.

Blood Sugar

Imagine carbs as the energetic violin section, ready to spike up those blood sugar levels as soon as they enter the stage.

But wait, here’s where the plot twist comes in. Imagine regular exercise as the conductor of this orchestra, guiding those extra sugars to a different stage—the stage of your muscles. It’s like they’re whispering to the carbs, “Hey, come join us; we’ve got a dance to perform.” So, those sugars get absorbed by your muscles, becoming fuel for the activities you love. It’s like a seamless performance that keeps everything in harmony.

But here’s the tricky part: if you decide to take a vacation from this fitness symphony, the music changes. Your blood glucose levels might decide to linger around even after the carbs have left the stage. It’s like the musicians finishing their performance but not leaving the theater. This lingering glucose can be a bit of a party crasher.

Now, let’s get scientific. Picture a group of young, healthy subjects—a bunch of party-goers who decided to skip the dance floor for a few days. What happened? Research from the journal “Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise” uncovered that just three days of no exercise could lead to glucose intolerance. It’s like your body’s ability to manage those sugar spikes decided to take a vacation too.

But hey, there’s hope on the horizon. Imagine another group, this time committing to an 8-month aerobic and strength training plan. What happened to their blood sugar levels? Well, they improved, like a symphony hitting all the right notes. But here’s the twist: about half of these participants lost those gains within two weeks of hitting the brakes on exercise. It’s like their blood sugar harmony got disrupted..

Weight Gain

Let’s talk about the weighty matters when it comes to taking a break from your fitness routine. Imagine your body’s metabolism as a scale—it’s constantly balancing the calories you take in and the energy you burn. When you’re in your workout groove, those extra miles you log act like a secret agent, helping you keep that scale in check. But, and here’s the twist, when you hit pause on the miles, that delicate balance starts to shift.

If your eating habits remain untouched while your sneakers gather dust, you might notice a visitor on the scale—weight gain. It’s like the calories that once got burned off during those runs are now deciding to throw a party on your hips. Your body’s used to those calories being zapped away, and when they start piling up without the calorie-burning help of exercise, well, the math is pretty straightforward.

Energy Levels Drop

Picture each mile you log as a drop in a bucket, filling it up with endurance and energy. But when you decide to let that bucket sit idle, the water starts to evaporate. It’s like your endurance takes a plunge off a cliff. Suddenly, you might feel like you’re huffing and puffing after climbing a single flight of stairs. It’s like your body’s saying, “Hey, where did all that stamina go?”

And here’s another twist: if you notice you’re more tired than usual, hitting the snooze button might not be the answer. It’s like your body’s energy engine needs a kickstart, and the solution isn’t more sleep but rather a workout session. It’s like your body’s way of saying, “I don’t need more rest, I need a jumpstart.”

So, what’s the takeaway here? When it comes to

How To Manage Detraining

Alright, let’s talk about managing this detour in your running journey. Imagine it’s like navigating a detour sign on your fitness road—temporary but manageable. Here are some tips to keep you on the path and minimize those unwanted side effects:

  1. Injured? Cross-Train: So you hit a bump on the road, but it’s not the end of the journey. If injury has sidelined your running plans, consider cross-training. It’s like taking a scenic route that still gets you to your destination. Opt for low-impact exercises like aqua jogging, biking, yoga, or even upper body strength training. It’s like giving your body a different kind of workout while letting your injury heal.
  2. Scale Back, Don’t Quit: Running might be taking a coffee break, but it doesn’t have to quit the job entirely. Instead of hanging up your running shoes, try scaling back your routine. It’s like switching gears, going from full-throttle to a more leisurely pace. Aim for just one to two easy runs per week and sprinkle in plenty of walk breaks. It’s like enjoying the scenery along the detour.
  3. Eat Smart: Your body’s GPS is still set on the road to health. Keep your eating habits on track by focusing on nutritious choices. Picture your plate as a map, with complex carbs, lean protein, and healthy fats as your compass. Remember, since your activity level has changed, your body needs fewer calories. It’s like recalibrating your nutritional GPS to match the new route.

Detraining In Runners Explained – The Conclusion

There you have it! If detraining is something you have to deal with—whether due to injury, lack of time, whatever—then today’s post should have provided you enough answers on how to deal with it. The rest is just details.

Please feel free to leave your comments and questions in the section below.

In the meantime, thank you for dropping by.

Keep training strong.

David D.

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