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:
- Aerobic fitness which is essentially your endurance!
- 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.
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!
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.
Questions for you:
How often do you take rest periods?
When was the last time you fully rested?