Taking a break ……. Where's the balance 

It’s that time of year, the kids break up from school, summer holidays begin, with many of us jetting of for our much needed summer hols I wanted to talk about the impact our summer holiday has upon our fitness level.

So you invested a respectable amount of hours working out this year. Maybe a couple of hundred or more? Ever wonder how long you have before your hard work starts to come undone? 

The truth is it doesn’t take long for the body to start losing strength, endurance and aerobic power and anaerobic capacity. In just days or weeks some of these qualities can start to decline. The adage “use it or lose it” has more scientific relevance than you may think. You work out hard and the body adapts by getting fitter, you stop and that hard work starts to deteriorate. Stop training for long enough, and you could lose it all and it might take longer to get it back depending on what level of fitness you were at before you stopped.

Three key things to know:

  1. How much time will you be taking off? If you’re going to lay off your workouts for more than a month (four weeks or less is considered “short term” by some research standards), don’t be shocked at what happens to your body. Your metabolism will change meaning you will start to burn less fat and store more of it.

  2. Are you a cardio junkie or a strength beast? If you’re more about the heart rate training (steady state endurance or interval training), you’ll start losing your mojo faster than if you’re a pumper of iron. 

    Cardiovascular fitness is measured by VO2 max, which is how much of the oxygen that you take in, actually gets used. Somewhere between two and four weeks of no training, that VO2 max really starts to slide steadily downhill until it eventually levels off. In other words, the cardiovascular system detrains rapidly with inactivity. This is mainly because less blood volume is being pushed around which means the heart is pumping less blood with every beat, which lowers the VO2 max. Just like any muscle in your legs or arms will shrink with no use, so does your heart... only faster.

    However, if you’re all about pumping those weights or doing short sprints , you’ve got more time on your side. Detraining effects on strength are pretty minimal in the first two weeks. One study found that taking a two week break after following a strength training program, weight lifters showed only slight declines in bench press, squat and knee extension strength. When swimmers stop training there is no change in their muscle glycolytic enzymes, which affect strength, for at least four weeks. However, their aerobic energy system declines faster. That means short distance sprint times are unaffected by a brief hiatus of up to a month, but endurance performance may show a significant decline in as little as two weeks.

  3. How long have you been training for? The hit your fitness will take has a lot to do with your level of fitness before you go on a training hiatus. The longer you’ve been fit for, the longer you’ll maintain your fitness.

    If you’re an athlete, or at least on some kind of cardio training schedule, in four weeks or less of inactivity your VO2 max will drop between 4 percent and 14 percent. After four weeks, that drop will be between 6 percent and 20 percent.

    If you’re a newbie to doing cardio, taking off for up to four weeks won’t do much damage to whatever cardiovascular fitness you have. VO2 max will only decline a mere 3.6 percent to 6 percent. However, if you give up on your training for longer than a month, you’re looking at a total loss of any gains you made.

    On the flip side, muscular strength gains stick around longer. A well-trained person may only lose up to 12% of their strength even if they don’t lift a weight for more than a month! A newly trained person’s strength will fare differently. In up to four weeks or less, they will only lose 2 percent to 3 percent, but after a month off, the decline in strength can be anywhere between 16 percent and 27 percent.

Just like we all need a break sometimes, so does our body, don’t freak out that your holiday is going to have a huge set back on your long term fitness goals, I advocate balance in everything, use this as a time to recharge your batteries and let your body recover, so after your holiday your ready to come back and hit the ground running.
“Balance is not something you find, it’s something you create.”