What Happens When We Stop Working Out

Picture this: You are going on vacation soon. You can’t really exercise and you’re afraid that you will lose everything you’ve worked for. I get it, I’ve thought the same thing. This is a normal thought process even though I bet the desire to have a small break from the gym is also there in the background. That sounds like quite the predicament.

Your return to the gym may feel challenging after vacation but that doesn’t mean you lost everything that you’ve gained. Odds are you spent the week eating, drinking, traveling and being completely off your routine. Your perception of any decrease in gym performance is more likely due to these separate factors. I have good news. Your body is made to adapt to stress (exercise) and it doesn’t usually give those qualities up too easily.

 Let’s talk about training residuals.

Training residuals are a representation of how long our body will hold on to a given adaptation after we stop training for a length of time. I’ll give a few examples:

Aerobic (Cardiovascular) Endurance - 30 days +/- 5 days

Max Strength - 30 days +/- 5 days

Strength Endurance - 15 days +/- 5 days

Let’s explain what this means. Here’s an easy example for max strength: If you can use 100 pounds and complete 3 reps on a given exercise it will likely take you 25-35 days (30 + or - 5) to really see substantial decreases in performance on that exact exercise with that exact weight. The same holds true for aerobic/cardiovascular endurance. These could be qualities such as:

Completing your training session at the gym





If you’re used to running 3 miles, biking for 10 miles or hiking your favorite trail, you should be able to complete those activities until around 25-30 days after your last time. Those distances are not necessary, they're just examples. They may present as more challenging but still doable. Strength endurance performance will decrease faster than the two other qualities on our list. Think of this as maintaining power and strength on your medicine ball slams or kettlebell swings during a given training session.

            Aerobic endurance and max strength take the longest to start declining. These are your foundational qualities. We mention steady state cardio, ways to structure conditioning and how to train to get stronger in our videos and blogs not because we feel like it, but because it’s what is most important to your fitness levels and overall health.

Now, if you are only 7 days removed from training, you may not experience much change. You would see more of a performance decrease being 14,21,28 days removed and so on. The farther away you are from your last exercise session the bigger the potential change in performance. If we go back to our max strength example, maybe you would still get 2 reps at 100 pounds after a week vacation but might struggle to get 1 rep if you miss 2-3 weeks. Time away from the gym happens. We all know that life can be unpredictable but getting right back to your training as soon as you can keeps you on the right path. If you don’t use it, at some point you will lose it.

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Michael Allen

Author Bio

Michael has been working with clients in the gym and countless adults in a physical therapy setting since 2013. He spent 3 semesters working at Towson University with student-athletes from nearly every sport at the school. He served as the Strength and Conditioning Coordinator for Kennard-Dale High School during the 2019-2020 school year. His goal is to always get better and give you the safest and most effective use of your time at First Capital Gym.