Limiting The Effects Of Detraining

After my positive PB session the other day I’ve bad news.

Man flu has struck.

I’m in absolute ribbons.

I’ve decided to cover a wee topic in relation to something very topical for me and a lot of you guys with the flu epidemic on the loose.

The effects of detraining and what you can do to minimise the loss of your hard earned fitness.

Unfortunately there is a lot of bad news from a physiological point of view but from my experience there are things you can do to limit the decline.

Sounds counter intuitive but don’t bloody stress for a start!

Yeah you’ve got sick – everybody does and no it’s not the end of the world – take it on the chin and let it run its course.

 ‘Oh my ftp is going to suffer’

‘My CTL is ruined’ 

Don’t dare mention Strava!

Harden up – this anxious and stressed mentality will exacerbate the illness trust me- accept it and do what you can to help yourself.


So what happens when you start to take time off?

It’s not time off its forced time off!

Ok forced or unforced here’s the deal.

After only a few days of sitting on your arse, your world is already ending – you believe you’ve lost all the gains from training, right?

Truth is while some biochemical markers and blood volume will be affected – depending on what you were doing up until the off – the rest may help.

Even if you’re ill the losses here are not worth noting but if you’re laid off because of factors unrelated to illness, you’ve essentially done a mini taper – you’ll be motoring when you get back.


Trained folk v’s the newbies

Ok we have some good news for people in the game a long time or at least being aerobically trained a long time.

You don’t lose your gains as fast it seems and you’ll obviously plateau at a higher base level – in theory anyway!

Sorry newbies – if you’re new to training i.e. if you’re a sofa to running a 5k kind of job you will return to baseline pretty fast with a prolonged break.

After a week of being sedentary – i.e. little or no exercise, changes begin to occur in the body that do unfortunately result in noticeable fitness declines.


One week off

A week in, your blood volume has taken a sufficient nose dive – say 15- 20 % to give a figure.

This results in a lesser stroke volume (the blood expelled per beat).

The lesser amount pumped out per beat reduces your cardiac output (the amount pumped out per minute).

So in essence less oxygenated blood is being pumped out by your heart per beat and per minute.

The Cardiac output number is one side of the Vo2 max equation – so hey presto!

 Vo2 max is reduced and by about 15%..

This means that at your various power zones your heart will have to work harder to maintain cardiac output and supply oxygen to your working muscles.

Don’t worry though – this won’t take a very long time reverse.

There is also some evidence to suggest that after a week your ability to produce force is slightly reduced – but the drop off here is much less severe than aerobic fitness variables.


2 – 3 weeks off?

Good news first – strength won’t be affected too much if at all really.

Strength really starts to decline after about the 4 week mark.

The enzymatic activity of mitochondria – (where our energy is produced) is an adaptation we train all winter to increase and it begins to decrease at a fast rate

Thus less energy is produced, capillary density (blood/oxygen carrying vessels) is also reduced – thus oxygen supply to your muscles is lower.

Vo2 max can now be reduced by up to 20 %.

Unfortunately FTP isn’t really used in the research so it’s hard to state how much of it you will lose but rest assured after two weeks of absolutely no training it will be reduced.


Ok stop bloody telling me how unfit I am how do I limit the drop off?

If you’re around the block a while, don’t be stressing about a 2 week layoff in training forced or not – yes it will be crap when you start back training, yes you feel fee rubbish, but you’ll be back quick enough if you put your head down and get on with things.

It all depends on why you are taking the time off really.

If you are busy or travelling with work or going on holiday there are loads of things you can do!

Literally a couple of 10 min zone 3 efforts within a week can be enough to maintain fitness.

Run, skip climb stairs, do some burpees, swim whatever it is if you have no bike access – it without doubt lessens the effects of detraining.


I’m sick and I don’t want to raise my heart- rate

Ok there’s a lot of scare mongering going on here.

My rule of thumb if its above your head you’re ok to train but take every precaution possible – diet and lifestyle wise to stop it getting any worse.

If you’re chesty and you’re coughing up phlegm – ordinary training must cease.

Go to your Doctor and my general rule of thumb is give it 3 days – loads of sleep, plenty of fluids hot ones too and if you really need them take your antibiotics and any other potions that you help – but give yourself three days.

After that there are a few bits and pieces I add to each day once I feel I’m starting to feel a little better (typically after 3 days) to try offset the detraining.

I get the resistance bands out – yep I leave them in the kitchen and knock out upper body and lower body exercises every time I boil the kettle – primarily glute exercises.

Not a tonne of them or anything intense just enough to activate the muscles.

Next I have my bike set up on the turbo and depending how sick I am I might hop onto it for 5 or 10 minutes at each end of the day even in a pair of runners – just turning the legs over.

Splitting your first few rides up into short rides such as 10 minutes at each end of the day easy is easier on your immune system over smashing down the road for an hour and relapsing.

At this point you don’t want to mess with intensity so cool the jets.

But you can play with cadence a little while keeping pulse super low.

Another thing I like to do is foam roll and stretch-you might as well use the time to some benefit!

Have you had any niggles that need a bit of work – stretching can be great to unwind and chill out asides from everything else so work on something that normally wouldn’t get a look in.

Otherwise use the time wisely at home and gain some brownie points.

Last but not least you can slowly add in some neural type sprints once your illness is over its worst.

For example, once I know the dose isn’t getting any worse and I’m doing all I can I’ll get to the stage where I’ll add in some very short sprints for approximately 3 seconds (certainly less than 5 seconds).

It’s just enough to switch on that neural system and keep certain biochemicals and hormones flowing.

If done in the right amount at the right stage this could actually help boost your immune system- just don’t push things and always listen to your body and above all chill the beans!


About the Author