Your body is a work of art. Whether you’re sitting there right this second feeling body confident, or if you’re a little bit unsatisfied with it, there’s no getting around one simple fact: the human body is incredible.
Your body adapts to its environment without your conscious input. If it needs something, it tells you. If it has enough of something else, it tells you that too. In fact, your body is such a miracle that it can change its shape, size, strength and flexibility practically overnight. Well, you probably wouldn’t notice until a few days/weeks later, but it can happen… if you help it to.
When you exercise, or don’t, certain changes will happen. We all know that exercise can lead to fat loss, muscle gain and better overall fitness so, by definition, we can be certain that not exercising will likely do the inverse. But how long does the latter take? What happens when we go through a period of not doing any exercise? Maybe we’re nursing an injury or have an illness or are just generally unable to commit to exercise for a while. I’m not guilt-tripping anyone, we’ve all been there.
Losing Cognitive Function
Already sounds a bit scary, doesn’t it?? But the truth is that the first area of the body to be affected during a period of detraining is the brain. According to research just 10 days of no exercise is enough to lead to lesser blood flow into the brain, subsequently affecting areas such as the hippocampus: the brain’s learning and remembering HQ
Shortly afterwards you’ll notice a drop in your endurance levels. By decreasing your activity levels, it’ll begin to feel increasingly more difficult to carry out the same tasks with the same level of intensity. Research involving marathon runners cutting back on their running recorded a large drop in the amount of blood being pumped into their hearts as the period of detraining lengthened.
It’s only after 2 weeks that your strength and endurance gains will begin to wilt. Frustratingly, getting them back will take longer than that. After you’ve passed a month of detraining research has proven that the beneficial effects of strength training on physical mobility are reversed.
Unsurprisingly, avoiding physical activity can lead to an increase in body fat. Surprisingly, it could take 4-5 weeks for it to become particularly noticeable. Recent research, which saw a group of swimmers take some time off, suggests that bodyfat could increase by up to 12%.
The Take Away
By putting physical stress on your body, regularly, your body will react by either burning away fat/increasing muscle mass, or maintaining its state. Remove that input, that stimuli, and it will, effectively, begin to deteriorate.
So what can you do if you are unable to train? Move just a little! The important thing is not to remove physical activity entirely. If you’re nursing an injury can you do an alternative exercise to help keep you active? If you’re ill/bed bound, maintain an active mind (although focus on getting better, please!).
As you return from a period of not training as usual, remember that you will likely be at a lesser level than when you first entered your period of detraining. Don’t expect to be lifting your PB’s for a little while or setting new time records with your sprints. Maybe even ease back into things with more gentle work like yoga or dance.
In fact, consider training in ways that will help keep your body from becoming accustomed to specific exercises. If you run, swap out hitting the tarmac for other types of cardio like swimming or cycling; if you lift iron regularly, see what you can do with your own bodyweight, etc.
Above all else, take it easy before you take it hard otherwise you’ll end up out of the game again!