How Easy is it to Get Out of Running Shape?

How easy is it to get out of running shapeOne of the most common questions any runner asks is: How Easy to Get Out of Running Shape?

It’s no secret I am not in peak running shape, and even without an injury, I haven’t been in peak running shape in a few years.  In fact, I am still a healthy and active person, but I’m not “in shape” right now either.  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 not.

So How Easy is it to Get Out of Running Shape?

I’ve had several injuries. Some injuries I cross-train like it’s going out of style. Some I want nothing to do with the sport.  This time, I would have loved to swim more, but everything was closed.  So I did a whole lot of nothing for a few weeks!

It’s not as easy to get out of running shape as most people think. It takes a long time to lose running fitness and get out of running shape.  You don’t lose fitness with a day or even a week off.  In fact, the benefits of rest far outweigh any small consequences of getting out of running shape. The benefits of long breaks are great too. As runners, we forget that rest days can save us from rest weeks. No one gets out of running shape in a week!

To eventually run faster and feel great, you have to take time off. It doesn’t matter your fitness level.  Shalane won NYCM after taking time off because of an injury. Most elite runners take anywhere from 14-21 days off a year. Full days off with no running! They purposely get out of running shape for a period of time, so they can come back feeling good and run long term. So it’s not as easy as you think to get out of running shape.

So Back to the Question: How Easy is it to Get Out of Running Shape?

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

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

Both are equally important for getting into running shape but are both different.

Getting Out of Running Shape with Aerobic Fitness:

First, what exactly is “aerobic fitness”?

Aerobic means “in the presence of oxygen.” This is the easy and slow (for you) type of running that feels comfortable.  It almost feels like you could run forever. Your muscles get enough oxygen from the blood to process the energy in the cells.  Running feels effortless and easy.

It takes between 1-2 weeks of full rest (doing zero things) to lose aerobic fitness and get out of running shape for most runners.  Doing any cardio, whether it’s biking, elliptical, swimming…whatever will keep your aerobic fitness going.  For some, it’s 14 days, and for others doing some cardio, it’s 21 days.

While not much replaces running miles, many cardio forms such as swimming, biking, hiking, and walking can help keep some aerobic fitness.

There are also many factors of how fast you get out of running shape and lose your aerobic fitness.

For instance, the longer you’ve been running, the longer it takes to lose that fitness.  Someone who ran for a month then stops loses running fitness 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 after a training program, your body will get hurt. You’ll be forced to take time off, which leads us to structural fitness!

Get Out of Running Shape with Structural Fitness: 

Structural fitness is what keeps your body healthy and injury-free.  We all know running is a high impact sport and structural fitness is the strength of your muscles and connective tissue to withstand running.

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.  Like riding a bike, it “comes back naturally.”

You can regain your aerobic fitness with proper training and build up.  You cannot recover your body once you have permanently damaged it.

When you don’t use specific muscles, your body loses them.  After taking almost 8 years off from swimming, I decided to get back in the pool last year. My specific swimming fitness was gone, but my body still remembered how to swim. No lifeguard how to come fish me out.

Even if you choose to stop running entirely, doing strength training can keep muscles stronger.  Even doing something a few times a week helps keep your muscle mass.  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. Focus on easy running for a while. 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 and function in your muscles.  It can be difficult, but it keeps you more injury-free and eventually improves your blood volume and VO2 max.

Conclusion:

In short, fitness isn’t built in a day, and you don’t get out of running shape in a day. A week or two off will do your body much more good. When you start running after a fitness break, you’ll be less tired, burned out, and even more motivated.

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. You won’t get out of running shape in a day or a week. Like building running fitness, it takes time, BUT it’s also important to remember you can’t be in “your best shape ever” year-round.

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Questions for you:
How often do you take rest periods? Do you follow a training plan? 
How long does it take you to get out of running shape?