Taking a break from exercise? Avoid the reversibility principle

For the time poor high achiever in business, days or even weeks of missed training sessions can become a regular occurrence. As a result of training in bouts rather than consistently throughout the year, those with a hectic schedule will have experienced what is known as the reversibility principle or detraining. Detraining can be described as the partial or complete loss of training adaptions in response to insufficient training. When a person stops training for an extended period of time (greater than 1 week), they can rapidly lose significant physiological and performance adaptions. Performance levels that were once easily achievable are now out of reach. Muscle soreness which used to be a distant memory, now returns with a vengeance. Very noticeable conditioning can be lost after about 2 weeks of inadequate training and even quicker if no physical activity is performed at all. Within a few months of inactivity, any fitness gains made previously can completely disappear.

When you train hard, your body adapts to meet this higher demand, but unfortunately when you don’t train your body will quickly adapt to a lower demand. Studies have shown a drop of between 4-20% of aerobic endurance after just 2 weeks of inactivity. Inactivity can lead to rapid losses of muscle mass which can have a negative impact on a person’s strength and power performance. Again, this can happen in as little as 2 weeks.

I recommend clients to start training 3 times per week in order to see quick results. The training philosophy ‘3×52’ should be adhered to, meaning you should train a minimum of 3 times per week for 52 weeks of the year to see progress. Obviously, this frequency can be increased once the client is a bit fitter and feels that he/she is able. When a prolonged break from the main sport/training is desired or needed, a maintenance program should be followed so as to help maintain general fitness. The minimum frequency of stimulus needed to maintain fitness levels for a short period of reduced activity is 1-2 times per week. It’s important to note that the intensity of these training sessions must remain high, in order to hold on to that high fitness level. This is especially relevant if you decide to taper or rest before an important competition. If you lose strength, power or endurance due to the reversibility principle, it can be achieved again through retraining. Initially improvements are rapid once training begins again, but this does slow, and it may take quite some time, which you are likely short on, to recapture previous fitness levels.

In conclusion, everyone can expect a large and rapid decline in fitness levels if training is stopped for an extended period of time. Although fitness levels can be regained, it can take almost twice the time (of the break) to recapture. You should try to avoid being inactive at any time of the year but where a break is unavoidable, some sort of maintenance program should be incorporated.

At CoachPACT.com we will work with you to design a training programme that won’t compromise your lifestyle. By using MyZone heart rate technology you will be accountable for your own efforts and we will be able to give you the extra push you need to ensure that you avoid the reversibility principle.