The road to scoring your ultimate body can be cruel at times. You’ve been sticking to a strict diet all year, regularly hitting the weights, staying active and keeping that body in peak condition for its summer debut.
And then, tragedy. You do an ACL, tear a muscle, sprain your wrist or catch a virus that confines you to bed for weeks or evens months.
Upon your return to the fitness game you notice that you’re weaker in every sense. The strength seems to be there but you’re slower and your stamina has taken a big hit. It feels like you’re starting from the square one all over.
The question is: Why? And more importantly how do you get it back to its peak condition as quickly as possible.
Why Your Fitness Drops So Quickly
In the past, scientists have confirmed that this deconditioning effect can occur in every type of exercise practitioner.
In an ABC report Sports scientist Tony Boutagy explained that, “You’re only as good as your last training session”.
“In other words, you only get health benefits from a session for up to about 48 hours afterwards.”
That’s not exactly a lot of time to recover from something serious, but Shaun Button who is a recovery expert and retired personal trainer says that it can also come down to your own routine.
“Your body’s so used to doing the same thing everyday,” explained the founder of KOA Recovery.
“The routine of gym, eating well. As soon as you stop that, that’s when things start to go backwards.”
This routine dependency falls in line with past research which has found that long term exercisers with a high fitness level tend to retain their peak fitness longer than those who have just started exercising.
Time It Takes For Your Fitness To Go Backwards
Before we jump into the statistics, it’s important to understand the different forms of fitness that your body can lose.
- Aerobic power or cardiovascular fitness (i.e. cardio fitness – endurance)
- Muscular strength or musculoskeletal fitness (i.e. muscle fitness – strength)
- Flexibility and balance (i.e. range of motion, co-ordination, reflexes)
The statistics from Verywellfit stipulates that:
- Aerobic power or cardio fitness can decline about 5-10 percent in three weeks
- It takes about 2 months of inactivity to completely lose the gains you’ve made
- Extremely fit exercisers will experience a rapid drop in fitness during the first three weeks of inactivity before it tapers off
- Muscular strength and endurance last longer than aerobic fitness. Muscles retain a memory of exercises for weeks or even months
Although you won’t need the stats to confirm this news. You’ll notice it for yourself, according to Button.
“In fact, you’ll usually notice it after a week of not doing anything at all.”
Dieting Can Help Speed Up Your Recovery Time
Button who works with bodybuilders on a daily basis says that a healthy diet can help accelerate your recovery time – there is however no silver bullet to getting you back into peak form.
- Staying away from processed foods and sugars
- Trying intermittent fasting where you fast for 16 hours and eat clean for 8 hours
- Don’t be afraid of carbs in the right portions and good fats like avocados
- Following these diet tips should see a massive change in physical performance
“Good nutrition is definitely key along with sleep, and then there’s extra stuff like cryotherapy and flotation which can shave recovery time by 50 percent.”
Don’t Skip Stretching
This aspect should be self explanatory. As you push your body back into the fold after a break, the odds are that you could do some real damage in pursuit of “lost time”.
“Stretching helps you prevent injuries. Small range of motion will occur after time off from training and this is where you can get hurt.”
Protein, Supplements & Drugs
Button says that protein is something you’ll want to get as much as possible of during your return to former glory. A simple protein shake after a workout should suffice, but he does discourage the use of drugs.
“Drugs is up to the individual…but if you’re doing all the right things in recovery, you shouldn’t really need it anyway.”
“You can get good supplements too, but just talk to a professional who knows what they’re on about. There’s stuff out there that has a lot of junk in it.”
Active Recovery Is A Must
Active recovery is a form of easing your body back into the usual workout program.
“It’s doing a little less than what you would, but doing something,” says Button.
This can include:
- Jogging, swimming or cycling to improve cardiovascular fitness
- Using lighter weights and lighter intensity to improver strength and musculoskeletal fitness
The benefits of active recovery is that you’re pushing your body in the right direction without pushing it to breaking point.
Rest Is A Must
The body needs to rest and recover in order to perform. For this reason people like Button who used to go all out until he sustained a serious back injury advocates taking a few days off here and there.
“I don’t believe in no days off. I find that the body benefits from recovery and relaxation. Grinding it out and doing the work is fine, but your body does need to recover.”
These planned rest days will ensure your body can heal and grow stronger when you’re sore.
Rest Vs Active Recovery
Given that both rest and active recovery are imperative post-break, the obvious question is: When do you rest and when do you do active recovery?
“Give the body time and listen to it. And have your routine set out as normal,” says Button.
“If you’re feeling sorer and know you’re not going to make it to the gym, then rest – but make sure it’s not an excuse.”
“Don’t talk yourself out of going but listen to your body. Generally if you’re really sore and know you can’t put the effort in today, then do your recovery session.”
Australian models the Stenmark Twins were born with abs. In an interview with us they revealed that on their exhausted days, they’d get dressed and go to the gym regardless.
The sight of others exercising would motivate them to do the same even if it was just a short and light stint. If they couldn’t muster the energy, they’d call it and go home.
How Hard You Should Push Yourself
Whilst your body will eventually get back to its peak form if you ease into it rather than signing up to the cross fit finals, there are some final pointers.
- The body may take up to three weeks to reach its former fitness levels depending on how fit you were before and the length of your break
- Gradually increasing your workout load each week is a good rate of progression
Button adds that you want to be training at 75-80 percent otherwise you’ll burnout. Working out at this capacity will also allow you to put in multiple sessions a day as opposed to the guy going hard for one session every two days.
Less soreness means more effective training hours and bigger gains in the long run.