We have been Quarantined out of the gym for almost one full month now, what has that meant for your strength and fitness level??
Whether you’ve kept up with home workouts and our Virtual Workouts or if you haven’t lifted a finger since your last gym-visit, I’m going to enlighten you on the process of “deconditioning” that occurs within your body.
(hint: you’re probably fine.)
Also known as our engine or aerobic fitness, building this type of fitness comes from endurance-style training like running, biking, rowing or workouts that we perform at a lower intensity (specifically, our muscles are keeping up with taking in the oxygen that we’re bringing into our bodies).
When we train our cardiovascular fitness, improvements within our body include:
- More alveoli in our lungs (little pockets that exchange the O2 with the CO2)
- More capillaries in our lunges (passing O2 into our blood stream)
- More blood volume
- More Red Blood Cells (these carry O2 to your muscles)
- A stronger heart
- Higher efficiency of gas and energy exchanges
- Increased mitochondria within muscle cells
So, if you’ve been training consistently and have built up these adaptations, you are a step ahead already and have built your body to be more resilient for the long run!
Now, if you stopped completely, doing zero exercise at all, it takes about 3 to 4 weeks for, first, your endurance and “VO2Max” to decline. This is due to your body producing fewer Red Blood Cells, because there just isn’t a need for as many! Along with that, your capillary density will decrease as well, also because your body no longer has the need for so many.
Mind you, this is if you do not get out-of-breath for 3-4 weeks straight!
Adaptations like building a stronger heart and increasing mitochondria are changes that are harder to undo and will take many months of zero training to change, those adaptations will stay with you and you are healthier overall because of the training you’ve put in so far!
If you have stayed relatively active and performed a minimum of 10 minutes of exercise, twice a week, your body maintains most of these adaptations! Plus, this minimum has shown to help prevent chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancers.
Working out more than 10 minutes, more than twice per week, means you are likely maintaining even more of your fitness level and VO2Max. If you haven’t done anything at all, these adaptations might be quick to go, but they are also quick to build back up when you do get back to training again!
Muscular strength can be broken into a few different parts; central nervous system (CNS) communication, strength, and size.
Your central nervous system is the first to adapt when you begin weight training. Your first-ever PRs that you hit when you started lifting weren’t due to actually being stronger, it was what most know as “muscle memory”. Your body figures out how to tell your muscle fibers to contract better and faster and how to move with better technique too.
The good news is your body never really loses these CNS gains, the cliche “like riding a bike” is the perfect example that even though things may feel out of practice after a while, it would take a very long time for you to lose what you have trained!
Muscular strength and size will also sustain for a long time, depending on your personal genetics and how much muscle mass you had to begin with.
If you feel like you’re noticing your muscles getting smaller and less defined, it is not because you are actually losing muscle mass. Most of what creates the look of full, strong muscles is actually due to water and glycogen within the muscle. If you stop weight training, your muscle no longer needs to fill up with water and glycogen…after 1 week, research has shown that muscle glycogen can drop by 20%, therefore taking away some of your “look” as well but not actually impacting how much muscle you have.
Now, if you were to do absolutely no resistance training, it will still take a considerable amount of time (up to seven months) for your muscle mass to actually start atrophying (shrinking in size/fibers), especially if you have been building muscle mass for at least 1 year.
What does it take to maintain the strength you have now? One study showed that lifting weights just once per week over 8-months was enough to maintain muscle strength and size!
So, are you losing your gains??
Research shows that your muscle strength gains are pretty set…and the more you had to begin with the better off you are! Plus, maintaining what you have right now only requires training once a week…easy enough to keep up with!
Your cardiovascular fitness will be a little faster to go…taking just 3-4 weeks for adaptations to start reversing, however a minimum of 10 minutes, twice per week, might be enough to maintain a lot of the physical adaptations. Your VO2Max will decrease without consistent, high effort training but to rebuild this type of fitness will happen relatively quickly (compared to building strength which has probably taken you years!).