How Long Does it Take to Lose Running Fitness?

If you’re like me, and you spend most of your days running to some degree, you know that it takes a long time to gain really good running fitness. And you’re worried, because a lot of people say take time off and you don’t want to lose that fitness.

If you’re like me, and you spend most of your days running to some degree, you know that it takes a long time to gain really good running fitness. And you’re worried, because a lot of people say take time off and you don’t want to lose that fitness. It’s hard earned, and you don’t want to go away. So, today we’re going to talk about how long does it take to actually lose fitness from running.

The good news is, if you don’t want to lose fitness, you want all the tips and tricks about running to make your running life easier, you can subscribe. Stick around with me on this channel. I’m Jesse Funk, and this is a show I call Runner’s High where we talk about everything running. Well, I often say in other videos again on the channel, so subscribe and all that good stuff that it is good to take time off. And when I suggest this, some people balk and say, well, like I said in the intro, it took so long to get this good, I don’t want to let it go.

So, you want to know, how long does it take to actually lose that fitness if you take time off. Is it a couple of days, is it a couple of weeks, is it a couple months. If you’ve taken any time off it can be somewhat quick, and that pans out in studies that have been done. You don’t really start to lose aerobic fitness until roughly seven days off without doing anything. And then by 14 to 20 days, that seems to be a kind of peak, so to speak, for how much aerobic fitness you lose. So, in that time, from seven to 14 days, you typically lose 10 to 20% of your aerobic fitness. And then the losses seem to tail off where some studies have even shown that after 12 weeks, athletes are still relatively in that same zone. They didn’t continue to lose more and more and more and more to where you just can’t breathe because you have no aerobic fitness anymore.

So, the good news is, the longer you’ve been at this, the longer you have been consistent over time, the better place you’re going to start back in. The bad news is that it’s not just about aerobic fitness. Because if you’ve ever been injured, you might know that there are other things that are affected by your running like your skeletal system and your tendons. And there aren’t a lot of studies that have looked at this relationship. But what we do know is that the adaptations that your skeleton does, and your tendons do take much longer than your aerobic system or even your muscles.

So, taking time off does allow those systems to, I’ll say, relax or degrade. Their performance or their ability to withstand loads, which is what we’re putting on them. When we run, we run hard, we pound on them, that’s called a load for thinking in physics. So, when we do that, taking that time off, our musculoskeletal system becomes weaker. So, then we also need to take it slow when we come back to allow those adaptations to occur. Your aerobic fitness comes back pretty quick. But comparatively, your tendons and your muscles and your skeleton is going to take longer. So, even though you may feel like, man, I’m crushing it, like I’m doing great, you come off that rest almost like a taper, you still have to be cautious, because there’s other types of injuries you can sustain when you come back from rest.

All that being said, I still recommend that you take time off and lose that fitness and I’m going to tell you why. And the big reason is there are a lot of gains to be had by taking time off. Now you’re probably saying to me, what do you mean there’s gains to be had? You just told me that I’m going to be losing fitness. Absolutely. You definitely are. But this is something that it’s taken me a long time to learn. When I was younger, I started running when I was 12. I ran through college and then post-college and on to triathlon trying to become professional. I spent a lot of time training. I missed holidays, I didn’t care about my birthday, I lived to run. And nowadays I run to live. I’m in the stage of my life where that performance is not quite as important.

I’m not fast enough to be a professional so it’s a little bit taken off the table for me. But you have to decide where you are in your stage of the game. If you’re watching this, likely, I can see from the analytics, you’re probably with me in a similar age range, where you should probably run to live. And that means taking time off, and just divorcing yourself from running for a while. Personally, after my A race for the year, I take off three weeks. And this is actually something we started even when I was in the height of my training trying to earn that pro card. And the reason we do that is a few things. Number one, your body needs rest to deal with all the little micro tears and small issues you’ve created throughout the year.

Taking that time off allows your body to heal all the way back up, so that you’re ready to go again. But more importantly, is your brain and your mind and your spirit, it needs time off away. You’ll notice the right amount of time off when you come back hungry. And I don’t mean anxious, I mean hungry because there’s usually a certain amount of anxiety when you take time off. I find for me, often historically, seven to 10 days, it starts to set in.

Maybe I feel a little depressed, a little anxious, I want to get back out there. It’s not time yet. You got to get past that point and then be hungry again, where you are ready to compete and you want to go work hard. It’s not anxiety that’s motivating you. It’s an excitement, and a thrill to do it again.

So, taking time off allows your brain to be ready to put in the effort. And why that matters is because all of your gains are incremental, especially if you’ve been at this for a while. And when incremental gains matter, it matters that your brain is in the right place, that you’re motivated. If you’re aren’t motivated, and you’re just phoning it in on all your workouts, you’re not going to get nearly as much out of them as if you are motivated and ready to go. So, that is definitely why you should take time off despite the fitness loss because you’re going to be more apt to gain even more fitness when you come back for your next season.

So, do you have any questions for me you’d like to know about running, training plans, anything like that, leave them down in the comments below. I’d love to do a video just for you. Hopefully, I’ll see you on the next episode of Runner’s High.


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