This is the number one thing you don’t want me to tell you. And that’s take a break from running. You may be thinking, it’s going to be terrible, I’m going to feel out of shape, all these bad things are going to happen. But do you actually know what happens to your body when you take a break from running?
I’m Jesse Funk and this is a show I call a Runner’s High. If you haven’t been with me here before, before we get going, hit that subscribe button, stick around with me on the channel to learn everything about running on Tuesdays and Thursdays, new episodes come out. As well as my other show, the Smart Athlete Podcast, where you can meet incredible athletes working in all kinds of different fields. Anything from astronomy to exercise physiology and beyond.
Now, when we’re talking about taking a break from running, what do you think is going to happen? You’re going to lose fitness, right? Ugh, I’m going to lose fitness. It’s going to be terrible, I’m going to be out of shape, nothing good is going to happen. But it really depends on how long you’re actually going to take a break for. What we know for sure is that within the first week, basically, your VO2 Max doesn’t really degrade much.
So, if you need to take time off, you pulled something, you have a little twinge of pain, you’re sick, whatever it is, take a couple days off. It’s better to take that time off now instead of pushing yourself into overtraining and having to take even more time off. Because the longer you go, the worse that VO2 Max becomes.
From that seven to 10-day range, we had like a 6% decrease, and then 10 to 21 days, 10% decrease. What that means, in practical terms, is that if you take off more than a week, say you’re a 20 minute 5K person, your 20 minute 5K goes to like 21 minutes in that seven to 10 range. And they can go all the way to like 25 minutes if you take three to four weeks off. So, it’s going to degrade pretty quickly. If you take a longer period of time off from overtraining. However, there are some positive benefits coming up in taking more time off.
Taking some downtime is one of the things that is important in tapering. So, I want to talk about tapering, I’ve done videos on this. It’s when you get ready for peak performance. Now, it isn’t really taking time off entirely. Generally speaking, every once in a while there’s a taper that for a certain individual will mean taking a day off. But it does mean really reducing the amount of volume you’re doing in your training. That actually gives your body the ability to recover, your muscles to recover and hit peak performance.
So, there is some positive benefit of taking time off, taking time away. That goes into again, tapering. And you can see all those videos about tapering on the channel. Search for them on the channel here looking for tapering. But as always hit the subscribe button. I don’t know how many times I gotta say it, just hit. Hit the button, all right. Along with your VO2 Max, diminishing over that three-week period, blood stroke volume also decreases. And that’s basically the amount of blood that your heart can move decreases in that time.
Now those two things are going to be related, right? VO2 Max has to do with your capacity to utilize oxygen. But if you can’t deliver as much oxygen to your muscles, then you can’t utilize it. So, those things go together. But here is the biggest benefit that I find actually taking off that two to three-week period, and that is that your mental capacity recovers. We as -- me and my coach have a planned training period where I take time off after my peak race every year.
We build up to whatever it is, that A race. For me, typically, I try to have it in August so we can take a vacation if that’s feasible for us that year. But I take two to three weeks off, I lose a bunch of fitness, but my mental capacity gains come back, and I’m more able to train when I come back.
We started doing this again, I think now five-six years ago. It’s been quite a time that we’ve been working together. And my ability to sustain throughout the year is much better because there was a period of basically 10 years where I didn’t take more than a week or two off, total, for the entire year, not even consecutively.
And I think I persisted in part because I was young and very motivated. But I probably could have gotten more out of myself if I was able to take that time off. So, you do lose fitness, but your mind kind of degrades a little bit as you’re pushing and pushing and pushing. So, even though you lose the physicality of it, you’re going to recover your mental capacity and your brain is going to is going to push everything forward throughout the majority of your season.
So, I would encourage you, if this is what you’re thinking about, you’re thinking, “Hey, should I take time off? Should I take a little downtime?” If you’ve been training all year, you train 11 months out of the year, yeah, take some time off. Take some time off. Don’t do any running. None, none, none, none, none. Zero. Zero running. It doesn’t mean a little running. It means zero. Go do other things. Go spend time with your family.
Go do something else that you’ve been meaning to do. For me, that was getting into writing music. You could take up another hobby. Go pick up basketball for a week or whatever -- if you used to love to play pickup games. Go do that. You’re being physical, but you’re not going out for a run, and it’s moving your body a little bit different. That’s okay. But take the time off. It’s really important to take the time off to get that mental capacity back.
So, yes, there are negative benefits, negative benefits, negative consequences of taking that time off. But there are benefits like increasing your mental capacity, that resilience over time. So, what do you think is the worst and best part about taking time off? Leave them in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you. As always, I’ll see you next time on the next episode of Runner’s High.