If you take off two months — or two weeks — are you back to square one?
As we move into the dog days of August, that going-to-get-my-best-body-ever summer motivation starts to wane, and we’re more likely to skip a few days or weeks worth of workouts. This often leaves us wondering just how much damage we’ve done. I mean, if we take two weeks off, are we (gulp) back where we started?
For a little morale boost and a dose of reality, we called on Craig Rasmussen, a fitness coach in Newhall, Calif. Obviously, just how quickly you lose fitness depends on your starting fitness level, as well as other factors such as age and genetics. But Rasmussen’s general take is this:
After two weeks off… “We will probably start to see a decline in general fitness levels,” says Rasmussen. “These can occur at different rates in the muscular and cardiovascular systems.” At this point, it’s probably safe to jump back in at the same intensity you were cranking at before the hiatus.
Secret shortcut: Cardio levels decrease faster than strength–the magic of muscle memory. To take advantage of this phenomenon, during hellish work weeks, do just one set of five strength exercises–studies show that 50 to 90 percent of your strength gains come from your first set (though when your schedule eases up–to build muscle and ward off bone loss–go back to 2 to 3 sets of 8 to 12 exercises 2 or 3 days a week).
After more than two weeks off… “The longer that is taken off, the more you need to scale back,” says Rasmussen. “I would recommend scaling volume and intensity back a bit, but you do not have to start back at square one.” The good news: Assuming you had a solid foundation already in place, “you will regain fitness levels back at a faster rate than someone who has never had them in the first place.” Phew.
Secret shortcut: No time for recommended dose of 5 to 7 days of 20 to 60 minutes of cardio this week? To preserve heart and lung strength and prevent waistline creep, cut that amount in half and seriously ramp up the intensity. We love this simple interval workout.
Could a break actually be good for me? Totally. If you’ve been going all-out, working out HARD for months, you probably deserve and need a training vacay. “For many people who are stuck in the more is always better mentality, they have accumulated so much fatigue that a week off is just what they need,” says Rasmussen. This allows your muscles to recover fully so you can continue making strides whether you’re training for a race or trying to lose those last five (stubborn!) pounds.