Detraining and the Body

Detraining is the physiological changes that occur in response to a reduction or cessation of regular physical training. It is what happens to our body when we miss a few weeks of training or when we stop altogether. There are many components of fitness and for the purpose of this article we will look at how two of them are affected by detraining – Muscular Strength and Power, and Cardiorespiratory Endurance.

Muscular Strength and Power

The loss of muscular strength and power are relatively small during the first few months of ceasing training. In one study, no strength losses were noted four weeks after completion of a 3-week resistance training program. Research indicates that once training has ceased, muscular strength and power can be retained for up to 6 weeks. By adding in a training session once every 10 to 14 days, strength can last much longer than this.

These figures are only relevant the healthy individuals that have ceased training. Sick or immobilised individuals will experience a much quicker deterioration in strength and power.

Cardiorespiratory Endurance

The news for cardiorespiratory endurance is not as good. Fitness in this area is lost rapidly after the cessation of formal endurance training. In a study conducted on endurance trained athletes, 2 to 4 weeks of reduced activity resulted in a 9% decrease in blood volume, a 12% decrease in stroke volume and a 12% decrease in plasma volume. As cardiorespiratory fitness is largely affected by the heart and blood, these figures caused the athletes VO2 max (maximal oxygen uptake) to reduce by a significant 5.9%.

The loss in cardiorespiratory endurance is much greater than the reductions of strength and power for the same period of time. Even training once or twice a week is not sufficient to prevent the loss of cardiovascular conditioning.

What does this tell us about our training?

If you are performing balanced weekly sessions of both muscular power and cardiovascular endurance, and find yourself having to miss sessions, you are best of making them up with cardio based exercises. You will only need to train your muscles every 10 – 14 days to maintain what you have, whereas you need to be training at least 3 times a week to maintain your cardiovascular health.

For those people that are trying to get a cardio benefit by training only once or twice a week in this area, keep dreaming! Once or twice a week is not enough to maintain, let alone develop cardiovascular health.


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