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Fitness & Wellness

How long does it take to regain fitness after a major break?

Fitness journeys can often be hard and difficult to stay consistent with and life can always have other ideas. As such, it might take someone a while to get back on track with their fitness goals after an extended break.

How long does it take to regain fitness after a major break?

Anjishnu Roy

Published: 14 July 2023 9:00 AM GMT

There are plenty of reasons that can lead to someone ‘falling out of shape’ or losing sight of their fitness journey. Injury, declining motivation, crunch deadlines at work, or sometimes, life in general can get in the way and keep a person away from the gym for extended periods.

As such, individuals can lose some of the muscular and cardio gains that they had been making in the gym for a while. But how long does it take to affect?

It is believed that a person is capable of losing cardio endurance and muscular strength with just two weeks of complete rest. Now, it doesn’t mean that within two weeks someone will lose all their gains but that is when the the decline is expected to begin. Usually, cardio levels decline slower than muscle endurance and strength which undergoes a fairly rapid decline following a long pause in training.

A loss of physical fitness can cause an increase in blood pressure, reduction in blood oxygen levels, decreased neural-muscular efficiency and heart strength, reduced lung capacity, and even a change in resting heart rate.

Now that we know how fast the body is capable of losing fitness, let’s discuss how long it takes to become fit again. While every person’s starting point is expected to be very different and circumstances also change with age, lifestyle, gender, ethnicity, years of fitness experience etc, it is believed that previously achieved fitness levels can be completely realized in 16 weeks.

Muscular strength can begin to improve in four to six weeks and noticeable results will be clearly visible in 12 weeks. Cardio improvements also follows a similar linear pattern and small changes will accumulate slowly over time.

Of course, how long the break from exercise was in the first place also matters a lot here. If it’s only been a few weeks or a few months, that is a huge difference from a break of say, a few years.

“If it’s less than a year, you’re starting back at maybe 50 percent of where you left off and slowly building back from there,” says Heather Milton, who is a clinical exercise physiologist at NYU Langone’s Sports Performance Center.

In order to become fit again after a break, the most important step is to clear a realistic and achievable goal. ‘Regaining fitness’ is a very broad term and can lead to a haphazard approach to training which will eventually make it even longer to achieve the desired results.

It is also important to know how to pace oneself and start from a lower baseline, else one can risk injury. A steady progression in difficulty will ensure you stay on track while avoiding injury or burnout, says Milton.

“Progressing strength-based training can look like more reps using the same weight or grabbing a higher weight while doing the same reps,” she added.

In the end, it must be remembered that it is possible to get fit again but it will not happen overnight. One has to take small steps over time and do it consistently and patience is also very important in this exercise.

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