Keeping Your Fitness Gains
What if you don’t want to exercise all the time, but you don’t want to go back to the deconditioned state you were in before?
Or what if you need to take a break, for any of the many reasons that we might need to?
What can we reasonably hope for if we stop training, and what do we need to do to keep the level of fitness we have?
Let’s look at usable strategies for not losing everything we’ve gained when we take a break.
Realistically, we need to understand that atrophy happens fast, particularly in the muscles that we use for standing up.
Training sessions are (or were) a time when you’re doing the hardest (physical) thing that you do all week. That means that when you stop you’re no longer pushing your body to create adaptations, and your chronic workload* goes down. Your body is continuously adapting and it will adapt to this decrease in load as well – not in the way that you want.
But meanwhile, during your training you weren’t just spending time moving heavy objects and doing hard movements. You were changing your abilities.
Training allows you to engage more with all the potentially joyful and rewarding activities around you.
This was why you were training in the first place. Maybe you think it was to lose weight or be healthier in a general way, but really…it’s all about having more fun. Now you can do things you couldn’t do before and you can do things with less effort. Maybe not perfect ease quite yet, but movements have become easier.
That means that during the break, when you’re doing all the life things that you want to do, you’ll actually be capable of doing more.
If you use the abilities you gained, that is to say, roll them into your daily life, you won’t lose nearly as much strength and muscle mass as you would if you went back to your previous habits. In other words, squat when you need to get something out of the low cupboard, get up and down from the floor a few times, kneel down cleanly when you tie your shoe, pick something up with a double or single leg deadlift.
Your performance won’t be quite as good as it would be after a thorough warm up, but that’s okay. You can even warm up on the spot by doing a couple light squats or whatever it is to practice the motion.
Partly it will just happen naturally that you’ll start using some of your new movement options. But partly it will take some deliberate intention to adjust how and how often you move.
Training helps us regain or attain a physical ability.
Our physical lifestyle reinforces and supports our abilities.
This is why we’re in better shape at the end of hiking season than we were at the beginning of it. Physical activity alone often doesn’t give us a sufficient stimulus to change our abilities and is usually not in the right dose to allow us to adapt without injury. But once we have adapted to, for instance, kneeling down, or squatting to lift heavy objects, so long as we keep doing these things in our weekly activities, we will retain the ability to do them**.
*In this case “workload” means the volume of work that a part of your body does. This “workload” could be the demand on your cardiovascular and respiratory system or it could be the amount of tensile stress that you put through the ligaments of your shoulder or knee. It could also be the amount of pounds you lift and the velocity at which you lift them multiplied by the total number of minutes per week that you spend lifting those pounds.
The point being, that your physical workload can be any domain of function or any amount of stress in any plane of motion, and there are a lot of possibilities.
The “chronic” workload is the amount of that particular kind of work that you’ve done over the past 4 weeks. The “acute” workload is the amount of that particular kind of work that you are doing this week.
The length of time we are calling chronic and acute can vary, but the proportions should remain constant, i.e. the last 4 months versus this month.
**For more reading check out my article on creating physical reserves.