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How Long Can I Take a Break From Exercise Without Losing Fitness?

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Updated April 22, 2009

Question: How Long Can I Take a Break From Exercise Without Losing Fitness?
Answer: While exercising consistently is important for building endurance, conditioning your body and losing weight, you may reach a point where you're tired, bored and desperately need a break. Taking a break may be just what you need to rest, recover and rejuvenate, but how long before you start losing your fitness?

You may be surprised to learn that taking a few days or a full week off from training won't necessarily hurt the gains you've made. In fact, many serious exercisers and athletes regularly schedule a week off every 8-12.

It takes more than a week to undo all your hard work, so don't be afraid to take a break if you're feeling tired and sore. A few facts to consider:

  • Aerobic power can decline about 5-10% in three weeks
  • It takes about 2 months of inactivity to completely lose the gains you've made
  • Extremely fit exercisers will experience a rapid drop in fitness during the first three weeks of inactivity before it tapers off
  • Muscular strength and endurance lasts longer than aerobic fitness. Muscles retain a memory of exercises for weeks or even months

There's no hard and fast rule about how many rest days to take or when to take them. The key is to listen to your body for signs of overtraining and to your mind for signs of boredom or exhaustion.

Signs You May Need a Break

  • Fatigue or physical exhaustion
  • Soreness that won't go away
  • Dreading your workouts
  • Poor performance
  • You're not able to progress in your workouts
  • You feel unmotivated or bored
  • An injury or illness
  • You can't stand the thought of exercising

Taking a few days or a week off may be just what you need to get back to your workouts with more energy and enthusiasm. Remember, you don't have to be completely inactive and, in fact, this may be the perfect time to try activities you usually don't have time for. Leave the routine and the heart rate monitor at home and try:

  • Taking a long walk
  • Trying a yoga or Pilates class
  • Stretching
  • A long, easy bike ride
  • Tossing a football or frisbee
  • Leisurely working in the yard

Sources:

American College of Sports Medicine. ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription - "Maintenance of the Training Effect." 7th ed. Baltimore, Md: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2006.

American Council on Exercise. "If You Don't Use It, Will You Lose It?" American Council on Exercise. Retrieved April 22, 1009.

Readers Respond: How do you get back to exercise after taking a break?

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