What happens when you stop exercising?
THE SITUATION: You had a crazy month at work and stopped your usual four-day-a-week gym habit cold turkey.
THE EFFECT: Doing a mix of strength training and cardio is optimal for weight loss or control, muscle building, and aerobic health. Stop for a month, and you may notice that some areas get softer, that you’re not able to lug as many heavy groceries, and that you get winded a little faster from taking the stairs. In a study of beginners who exercised for two months, their strength increased by 46 percent, and when they stopped training for two months, they lost 23 percent half the gains they’d made. Further, the more fit you were to start, the slower the loss; a triathlete on a break may only drop five to 10 percent of her fitness level in a month or two. Still, when getting back into it, go easy. For strength training, start with about 75 percent of the resistance you’d been using and increase as you feel you can. You’ll be back to where you were in probably half the length of time that you took off.
THE SITUATION: You used to weight train like crazy, but for the past several months, all you’ve fit in is a few sessions a week on the treadmill.
THE EFFECT: In this case, your aerobic health should be in good shape, though you may notice that your strength and muscle tone have diminished some. Without weight training, you’ve likely lost muscle mass and gained some fat, even if the number on the scale stays the same. Surprisingly, research shows that long time endurance runners lose muscle mass at the same rate five pounds per decade as everyone else, including the sedentary. Running and other cardio activities don’t build or maintain muscle mass. Add some strength back to your bod, and into your routine, to remedy that in short order by following that 75 percent guideline mentioned above.
THE SITUATION: You ran a half-marathon, which you trained for like a fiend, then gave yourself a few weeks to recover.
THE EFFECT: A break like this isn’t a major problem aerobically for someone who was in really good cardio shape. You’ll be down from your competitive edge, but it won’t take long to come back. Just don’t expect to come back at full-speed right away. Ease back in using your heart rate (the zones may have changed from when you were at your peak) and perceived exertion a seven on a scale of one to 10, strength training as a muscle building complement to your cardio workouts.
THE SITUATION: You got injured and haven’t been able (or wanted) to work out at all for six months.
THE EFFECT: You’ve definitely lost muscle and gained fat especially if your everyday activity level was affected in addition to the lack of workouts. Once you’re cleared to exercise, you need to return very slowly, very light. Half or less of what you once lifted may be too much; go way down and find a resistance you can do with good form and without pain for 10 to 15 reps. If you know you’re going to be sidelined (or currently are), upping your protein intake in your diet to help reduce loss of muscle mass during your time off.