How Easy is it to “Get Out of Running Shape”?

How Easy is it to “Get Out of Running Shape”?

I am not in peak running shape.  In fact, I am still a healthy and active person, but I’m not “in shape” right now either.  Thinking out loud, one could argue being “in shape” is actually just a gray area.  Just like fast and slow, elite or not.  One person’s “in shape” is another person’s out.

It takes a long time to lose running fitness.  You don’t lose fitness with a day or even a week off.  In fact, the benefits of rest far outweigh any small consequences.  You could argue the benefits of taking 1…2..or 3 months off of training too.

This is the longest I have taken off from seriously running since starting in 2011, and I’m okay with that.

So Back to the Question: How Long Does it take to Lose Fitness?

Something I learned a while ago is there are two “types” of fitness:

  1. Aerobic fitness which is essentially your endurance!
  2. Structural fitness which is the ability of your body to withstand the impact of running. (Essentially why you can’t go from not running to running 10 miles all of the time without an injury…)

Both are equally as important, but they are both different.

Aerobic Fitness:

For most runners, it takes between 1-2 weeks of full rest (doing zero things) to lose fitness.  Doing any cardio whether it’s biking, elliptical, swimming…whatever will keep your aerobic fitness going.  Since I’ve been doing random things, I haven’t lost 100%.  To be realistic, I’ve probably lost about half.

There are many factors of how fast you lose your aerobic fitness.  For instance, the longer you’ve been doing something, the longer it takes to lose that fitness.  Someone who ran for a month and stops, loses fitness much faster than someone who has been running for a decade.

It’s also important to note you can’t be in peak fitness forever and you shouldn’t try too.  If you never take time off, your body will get hurt, and you’ll be forced to take time off.  Which leads us to structural fitness!

Structural Fitness

We all know I’m injury prone, so this is the fitness I care personally more about.  You can regain your aerobic fitness with proper training and build up.  You cannot recover your body once you have permanently damaged it.  Structural fitness is what keeps your body healthy and injury free.  It can take months to years to gain this type of fitness, but at the same token, it can take months to years to also lose it.

When you don’t use certain muscles, your body loses them.  (This isn’t limited to running.)  As many readers know, I swam for nearly 15 years before starting running.  If you asked me to swim now…well…LOL.

Even if you choose to stop running entirely, doing a little bit of strength can keep those muscles stronger.   When returning to running, it’s important to watch and monitor your body.  Don’t go out for a long run your first week back.  Don’t jump into old training methods and don’t expect your body to be as strong for the activities you were once doing.

Ease slowly into running to build strength as well as function in your muscles.  It can be difficult (yes even for me!), but it definitely keeps you more injury free.

In short, fitness isn't built in a day and it's also not lost in a day.  Your fitness journey spans the course of your life and it's important not to get caught up in a single week, month or even year.

Related Posts:
Racing My Way to Fitness
Quick Core Ideas for Runners
Five Tips for Coming Back after an Injury
The Importance of Easing Back into Training

Questions for you:
How often do you take rest periods?
When was the last time you fully rested? 


10 responses

  1. This is such great info! I haven’t thought about it in this way before, with the two different types of fitness, especially the structural fitness and the importance of respecting it.

  2. i think about this all the time. thanks for writing about it. i hadn’t thought of it as two sep kinds of fitness before.

  3. A nice informative post!
    I’ve been a bit lazy this week having run a 15km on Saturday (my longest distance – woohoo!) and I’ve been feeling guilty about the rest but it’s good to know I’m not actually losing anything from having the break.
    Having said that it’s back to it tonight 😀
    Thanks for sharing!


  4. Hmmm…fully rested? I don’t know. Even after my knee surgery and I was non-weight bearing for 6 weeks, I still found things to do. Ride the motorized cart in the grocery store? Heck no! I must crutch through the whole store because I’m unable to run and I need to get my exercise! Yes, I’m crazy. But you’re so right about aerobic fitness! When I was finally able to go out and run, it wasn’t as hard as I expected it to be because I had done ski erg or rowing (one leg, thankyouverymuch) or just walking, once I got out of the brace. At this point, structural is the most important to me because I did have surgery. I’m not trying to hurt anything else!!

  5. I fully rest a lot, haha. Not from running, but weight lifting. And although I am NOWHERE close to lifting as heavy as I once was, I actually think I’m not -that- much different appearance wise. My muscles have bulked back up fairly well for lifting so much lighter. But I think that because I’ve been doing it for so much longer now, the muscle memory really is there and is so much faster to come back. I remember feeling like I was starting completely over in the past after injuries and it seemed like my body was much more resistant to change. This time, I took quite awhile off but it seemed like I bounced back to being much more fit waaay faster. I’ve never heard the term “structural fitness.” Interesting. And totally makes sense.

  6. I’m just coming back from a two-week break. TWO WEEKS-that’s all! And I feel like I’m basically starting over. Normally I can get back from a short break like that and feel almost no impact, but this time has been rough.

    • Even though I’m coming back from about 3 months now I can completely relate. Usually I feel decent coming back too but this has just not been easy. Best of luck Jenny!

  7. I always take one full rest day a week and scale back every 4-6 weeks or so. But, recently with a baby on the way I’m a wee bit more relaxed these days! Excellent posts with very valid points. As a trainer I can not emphasize rest, recovery enough to maintain structural integrity!

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