Friday, February 14, 2014

How Fast Do Runners Lose Fitness?

As I sat around all week unable to run I could feel my fitness slipping away like the grains of sand through an hour glass.

IMAG2670

I love being dramatic.

I do know that this cock-six injury will not last nearly as long as other injuries I’ve had (#1, #2, #3), but still – not being able to run makes me cranky, bitchy and generally just not as nice of a person.

I am holding on so tight to my fitness level and do not want to lose one stinking bit. I know that is irrational – I mean it’s only been 5 days sans running – but these are the things I think about. I had high hopes for the LA Marathon and my training had been going so well….wah, wah, wah. The good news is that I was able to do a short run today with some pain, but not too bad. My PT said that running if my pain is about a level “5” should not give me any problems or keep me from healing. The worst is still just sitting, sneezing and getting out of the car.

I decided to research just how quickly we runners lose our fitness if we sit on our asses. And, really, that is what I have been doing because cycling hurts and yoga hurts and I just didn’t feel like swimming and I hate the elliptical (there I said it).

Here is the reality regarding fitness loss:

  • Fact #1 –The biggest change in the body when one takes time off is in how the body consumes and process oxygen (VO2 Max)

1 week off = negligible decline
12 days –> 3 weeks off = 7% decline
3 weeks –> 12 weeks = 9% decline

  • Fact #2 (good news!)– If you’ve been training for a long time and have relatively high endurance, you can maintain your fitness longer than someone who has more recently started exercising.
  • Fact #3 (crappy news!) – It takes at least twice as long to gain fitness as it does to lose fitness.  That means if you detrain for 12 days, it could take you up to 36 days of retraining to get back to your original fitness level
  • Fact #4 (good news!): Cross training and shorter/high intensity workouts can reduce the amount of fitness lost. Even doing lower volume, higher intensity workouts 2 to 3 times per week can help maintain fitness.
  • Fact #5 (important news!): Even if you are not injured, it’s good to take time off from running every now and again, or significantly cut back just to give your body a break.

Moral of the story: It is important not to panic. Even if you are injured and need to stop running for many weeks, this doesn’t mean you will lose all fitness. Naturally, you will have to work your ass off to get back to your pre-injury fitness level, but see this is a challenge and a goal, not a reason to be completely devastated and destined to a life of self pity and cookie/cake bingeing.

If you are an IR (Injured Runner) and are in a really dark place – read “10 Ways to Survive Your Injury Without Being a Bitch” and “The Stages of Injury Grief,” written by yours truly.

For more info about losing fitness (and the source of the above info) check out these articles:

How Long Does It Take To Get Out Of Shape? – Competitor
Use It or Lose It - How fast do I lose fitness if I stop exercising?Sports Medicine
How Long Before You Lose Your Fitness Level?Runner Academy

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When was your last running injury that you had to take a lot of time off for?  I really haven’t taken time off due to a running injury since my hip stress fracture in 2010.

What cross training have you done during an injury? I’ve done tons of water running, cycling and swimming.

SUAR

34 comments:

  1. I tore up my knee Monday afternoon skiing. And I HATE skiing. I was chaperoning a school group. I have been training for a 40 miler on March 15 in honor of my 40th birthday, 3/16. I SO know how you feel. I haven't even had the GD MRI yet because Workman's Comp is fighting it. I am in for a LONG road. I hope you are not! Best wishes. I guess we can SUAX...? (Shut Up and Cross Train?)

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  2. Thank you! I have a hip injury and was just told today I have a solid 3 months of rehab ahead before I'll be doing any running. I've already been off all activity for 3 weeks, so I'm pretty much twitching like a junky and feel like my fitness is draining out of me like a slow bleeding wound with every minute. This post, though, gives me some hope! Hope your butt feels better soon :)

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  3. I had to take a lot of time off a couple of years ago...I had a stress fracture in my foot in March of 2012. About 6-8 weeksI started to run again. But while I was off my feet, I was biking in the forest preserve and contracted Lyme disease. Even though I caught it early and was treated, I had fatigue for about 8 weeks. Running was hard for me! So 2012 was pretty much a wash for me. I vividly recall my return to my full running pace in distance in November of that year--I was ecstatic.

    Have no fear...you'll be back!

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  4. I needed this! Been sidelined (more or less) for close to 3 weeks now. I feel like I am turning into a slug. Hope you Cock-Six gets better soon :)

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  5. I had a stress fracture in my hip and not only had to stop running for 6 weeks I had to stay completely off my leg for 6 weeks. Really hard to do but in the end I was able to heal and get back to running although my injury impacted my running for probably at least 6 months (3 months before I was diagnosed and 3 months after).

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  6. Needed this. Still unexplained Achilles injury sidelined me for several weeks and forced me to step it way back and essentially start my fledgling running life over. I’m slowly coming back, but it is definitely frustrating. Happy training to you. Thanks.

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  7. It's winter, I live in MT. I give myself a break. I have cut way back on the mileage and supplement with XC which really is waaay more of a workout although I don't go as often as I probably should. I am also doing Jillian whats her name workouts and looking into some online yoga classes.

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  8. No injuries yet but plenty of sick WEEKS, not days. Seems like when I get a cold, I can't shake it, and then I try to work out on top of that and it makes it worse. I'm with you, I don't mind one rest day but I hate sitting still for that long!

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  9. I stopped running for a month around Christmas. Not because I was injured or anything, just because I was lazy. It was about 2 weeks before I started to feel like my fitness was back to where it was before the break.

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  10. After 15+ years of marathons and triathlons, I had a stress fracture keep me in and out of a boot for one year - it was awful. However, I finally healed and have done 2 Ironmans and at least 7 marathons since, along with a bunch of shorter races. You will make it through your injury in way less time, I promise! :)
    Janine Fraser

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  11. All this is good motivation to...stay motivated. I've found when I hit a running slump I get so dejected from losing fitness that it's hard to get back into it.

    Here's to a quickly-healing butt bone!

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  12. I would estimate that it takes twice as long for an injured runner to lose her fitness as it does to lose her sanity. I'm not a doctor but I play a know-it-all in real life. I prescribe wine and whine and then one more wine. And chocalate for any lingering insanity. :)

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  13. I blew my knee out (for the 3rd time) in October 2011. Had surgery for it that December. The exact day I finished my PT, I found out I was pregnant. Kate Middleton-style sickness, followed up by some pretty scary complications, sidelined me for the rest of the pregnancy. Needless to say, I had to start from scratch once the babe was here. 16 months later, I still feel like I have a looooong way to go!

    Hope you get to feeling better soon!

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  14. Yes getting devastated is not going to help. Fitness is all about workout. Enjoyed reading all your blogs.

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  15. Looks like it's going to take me over a year to regain my fitness. Awesome.

    Saw this article and thought of you (how could I not? :)).
    http://www.outsideonline.com/fitness/bodywork/fitness-coach/Why-does-it-feel-good-to-poop.html

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  16. I sprained my ankle in November. Only now am I am back running. Cautiously. But really, within two two weeks my fitness level was restored. So yay!

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  17. Almost three weeks ago I was operated on skincancer and I had a reconstruction of my face. I was not allowed to do any sport except walking. As I run 5 times a week and do fitness I was very sas about it besides the operation etc. Someone wrote to me to console 'running will wait for you' and that made it easier for me. So I walked every day took pictures and wrote tweets about it. I walked over 100 km in two weeks and enjoyed it. Now my face is recovering and I am allowed to run a bit again. I did first 5 km and it was oké, but 10 km is too much yet. I was exhausted. I was dissapointed but this does not help so I decided to do what I can and not to despair. I will be back but it will cost time. After six weeks I am allowed to do all sports again and than I take care to be as fit als possible than. I decided to make no race planning to avoid stress. All energy goes now to become fit again and not to the stress. Being fit is now also less important as being there anyway. It is the way you look at it. I think I will need a half year to become fit again and a year to improve myself but I feel at ease about it now.
    I wish you can run a bit soon.

    Bye from the Netherlands

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  18. Several months ago, I was off for about 2 months for plantar fasciitus. Couldn't run, so I increased my swimming as much add my schedule would allow. First "hard" run (only 3 miles), and I only lost 10 sec off my pace. I attributed this to the swimming. Apparently, the swimming kept up my VO2 levels - and I just lost some small muscle "fitness". I was back to pre injury levels in 3 weeks. Get back into that pool! :-)

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  19. Hip stress facture 2 weeks before my first half marathon in 2012. I can relate with your 5 stages of grief over an injury because I felt all of them! I couldn't do anything for awhile and it was slow getting back into it. But I did get back... swearing that I would add strength training in... I haven't. I hope your ass heals soon and you can get back to training! At least you have Hiedi to console you!! :)

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  20. Good information for any age. I am 60 and try to listen to my body. I feel if I don't do some kind of exercise daily I'm short changing myself. Taking a day off is not a bad thing. Now I need to convince myself!

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  21. OMG. Me and everybody else. I have some weird hip IT,SI, troch bursitis, aka old lady hip. I was planning to break 1:50 in Moab on March 15. Now I will be lucky to run the 5 miler. Thanks for commiserating with me and all us debilitated grumpy people who want to run and can't. My new mantra after "shut up and run" will be "I run because I can (again)(right?)"

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  22. Just go swimming. I'm too annoyed at my injury to even discuss.

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  23. I had a stress fracture on my left leg - 2009 - which was more than 1/2 way through the bone - was off for 9 months. Up until then, I had never run a single marathon. During my "sabbatical", I became a member of the uber society of pool runners...harder than I thought at first and was a great workout (mostly psychologically). Yada, yada, yada, I recovered and through the advice of my sports doc, I have run 8 marathons and have a time from last October that qualifies for Boston 2015!!

    Mind over matter I guess !!


    Rick Boudreau

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  24. I have no clue what 9% actually means in terms of VO2 Max, but really it doesn't sound like a lot. I'm not saying I wouldn't be obsessing about it too, moody, insufferable, the whole thing.
    But, I've been injured before, and when I came back I was always able to get back to my previous fitness level pretty much right away. Besides the fact that I eased back into running gradually as to not hurt myself again, I didn't feel a difference with how I was pre-injury.
    I was able to cross train during my injuries, not sure if you can with coccyx pain, I did the elliptical trainer (learned to hate it after using it 4-5 times a week for a month) and as much swimming as I could take.

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  25. When I had my last bout of physical therapy with plantar fasciitis woes, I didn't run for a couple of months. It's so hard, but at least the PT helped keep me somewhat in shape. It's so easy to get lazy but you have to make the effort to maintain your fitness, so you can get back to doing what you love!

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  26. OH Man, I've been injured for 6.5 mos, I'm SCREWED:(:(:( lol

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  27. I had some type of pain in my hip last Spring that I never saw a doctor for. I took a week off, lamenting my perceived fitness loss all 7 days. Fortunately, I was able to jump back on the fitness train without much loss. My hip still hurt but it eventually went away. I still don't know what it was. Then at the end of last summer, I got some tendonitis in my foot. My doctor told me to continue running on it anyway, and it went away too. The body is amazing sometimes!

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  28. I took a much longer break than planned from running and lost almost every single bit of the fitness base I had built. It's a struggle to not lose patience with myself for not being able to do what I once could.

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  29. At 60 the most important things I do to keep running is what I do when I am NOT running...lift, swim, cycle, yoga. After 40 years of running I really have to be careful and look at my limitations. If you can do something else (and you gotta love something else!) then a break will not cause you to lose much fitness.

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