How long does it take to get OUT of shape?

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I’m on vacation this week so I’ll take the week off from the gym. I have a project deadline coming up at work, so I’ll take the next couple of weeks off from working out. I’m feeling a little worn down, so I’m going to skip the gym for a few days.

Do any of these statements sound familiar? We’ve all been there. After putting in months of work at the gym, you decide to take a tiny break from exercise only to feel weaker and more tired when you return.

How long does it take before a break from the gym leads to losing progress? How much progress will you lose? Is there a way to prevent losing progress? (Spoiler alert: There is, so stick around until the end.)


How Fast Does Fitness Fade

Researchers in the High Altitude Exercise Physiology Program at Western State Colorado University conducted a study to determine how much progress we lose when taking a break from the gym and how quickly we lose it. (Don’t worry. I’ve done all the math for you. Just sit back and enjoy the post.)

The Study

The researchers recruited 35 men and women between the ages of 22 and 77 years old. All participants went through a 13 week workout program and made no dietary changes. The program consisted of 3-5 cardio sessions per week for all 13 weeks and 2-3 weight lifting sessions per week from weeks 4 through 13.

how fast does fitness fade - workout structure.PNG

At the end of the 13 week program, the participants were randomly placed into two groups. One group continued the workout program for an additional 4 weeks, while the other group discontinued regular exercise for 4 weeks. We’ll be focusing on the group that stopped exercising.


Several measures of health and fitness progress were taken upon completion of the program. Follow-up measurements were taken 1 week after, 2 weeks after, 3 weeks after, and 4 weeks after program completion. (Body fat percentage, VO2max, bench press 5 rep max (RM), leg press 5 RM, and the sit-and-reach were measured at 2 weeks after and 4 weeks after.)

how fast does fitness fade - detraining results.PNG

At the week 2 measurement, the participants, on average, had only gained 0.18 lbs of fat and lost 1.56 lbs of lean body mass but by week 4, the participants had gained 3.61 lbs of body fat and lost 4.13 pounds of lean body mass.

The loss of progress at the two week mark isn’t that bad. That means it should be okay to take a week or two off, right? Not quite. By the end of week 1, blood pressure increased, HDL cholesterol (the good kind) decreased, and triglycerides increased.

Strength progress took the biggest hit. By the end of week 2, participants’ bench press 5 RM decreased by 8.5 lbs on average. By the end of week 4, it had decreased by 16.6 lbs. Showing even greater decreases, the average leg press 5 RM had decreased 19.7 lbs by the end of week 2 and a whopping 57.2 lbs by the end of week 4.

What To Do When You Need a Break

So, if bad things start happening to our bodies within only one week of taking a break from training, what do we do if our schedule demands we take a break? Simple! One of my clients and I actually just discussed this yesterday.

Leah is going on a 3 week road trip. Sounds like a situation where most people would take a break from working out. Is she though? Nope! Instead, we came up with a program that she could easily work around.

She’ll have 3 short workout sessions per week and she has two options built into the program. On days when it’s convenient to visit a gym, she’ll do that. If she won’t be able to make it into a gym, she’ll do a dumbbell only workout with a pair of dumbbells that will be in her vehicle.

Will she make progress with this program? Probably not. But that’s not the point of the program. The point is to maintain progress while having fun on her trip. If she doesn’t lose progress, we’ve achieved the purpose of the workout.

There are many different ways you can implement this strategy for your own situation. Maybe you simply need to do one less workout session per week for a couple of weeks. You could workout from home using dumbbells and body weight. You could only do your compound exercises and leave off the isolation exercises to save some time during your sessions.

Your imagination is the limit. It doesn’t have to be the greatest workout in the world. It just has to keep you from regressing and keep the habit of working out in place.

Thank you so much for reading! If you found this information helpful and want to help the Treadaway Training blogcast grow, simply share this post with a friend. If you like what I have to say, sign up below to become a Treadaway Training insider or check out my YouTube channel. I will be back here Saturday with another fat loss topic. As always, God bless you AND your family and I'll see you Saturday.