Detraining (is) for Dummies

October 15, 2015

Detraining (is) for Dummies

Derek Touchette

Sports Performance Director, Total Athletic Performance –Naples


We at Total Athletics’ love it when our athletes tell us that they’ve started their season in the best shape of their lives, and athletes who train consistently and intensely with us during their off-season typically do. As you probably know, training at Total Athletic Performance isn’t easy, but as a result, your body adapts rapidly to the progressive stresses that are placed on it while you’re here. The training that we do here enhances your muscular system as well as your neurological system, making you powerful. Our conditioning program makes your heart stronger, enabling you to more rapidly recover from brief periods of intense exercise. That’s the good news. The bad news is that taking too long a break from the TAP workouts can lead to big steps backward in performance. This is what exercise physiologists call “detraining.”

So, how fast will this happen? Well, that answer depends pretty heavily on both genetics and the length of time you’ve been training with TAP before you stopped. Studies have shown that a week of inactivity probably won’t be detrimental, so don’t go canceling your trip to Hawaii just yet. The crankiness and restlessness that you feel when you are inactive for short amounts of time are largely psychological – you body is missing the endorphins and adrenalin that it enjoys when you work out at a high intensity. It’s when that TAP-vacation stretches to 2 and 3 weeks that real detraining effects begin to take hold. The initial losses are primarily aerobic – your blood volume decreases, so your heart has to pump extra hard to get oxygen to your working muscles. When the brain sees that the heart is working overtime, it sends a message to the lungs to kick it into overdrive. In short, you start getting winded more easily.

What about strength?   The good news is that the strength and power that you’ve acquired (through months of hard work on our platforms) is a bit more resilient to the effects of detraining. The neurological adaptations are the first to go. After 1-2 weeks you’ll start to lose muscular coordination. Your muscle fibers will have a tougher time working together to accomplish tasks, and the speed of your contractions will begin to suffer. This will hurt conventional weight lifting, but can severely hamper Olympic-style lifts that depend heavily on coordinated movements. After 3-4 weeks, actual muscle fiber size will decrease – causing not only a loss of strength, but acceleration and max speed as well. Speed also suffers from a decrease in flexibility, which also occurs after 3-4 weeks. The combination of tight hips and weak core muscles can lead to restricted and unnecessary movement in your stride mechanics.

So, how do you combat detraining? The answer is simple – by not letting a long lapse in training occur. Studies have shown that working out as little as once per week is enough to maintain strength, power and endurance gains – provided you work out at a high intensity. Just jogging around the block once a week isn’t going to cut it. Most TAP athletes choose to train at least once a week during their season in order to maintain their strength and speed gains. This enables them to not only stay powerful, but gives our coaches a chance to make sure they haven’t picked up any bad habits while practicing their sport. And, if you’re an athlete who has already taken some time off (and likely noticed that your legs feel a bit heavier these days), the good news is that rebuilding your power and endurance is almost always easier the second time around. The key is to simply call us, get back on the schedule, and let our coaches show you the way back to your optimal athletic form.

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