read What Is Detraining And How To Get Back?

What Is Detraining And How To Get Back?

What Is Detraining And How To Get Back?

“We haven’t used that disc player in ages. It will surely not work anymore.”

“You better switch that blender on and put it to use or it won’t function anymore.”

“Ek baar bike chalu karke thoda rev maar do, warna dhakka maar maar k chalu karna padega.”

If you come from an Indian household, these are things we definitely hear. Don’t use an appliance or a machine and it will stop working. What if the same applies to the body of a runner, too?

We’ve just gotten out of the festive period and we might have barely trained or not trained at all. The moment you hit the road, the track, or the treadmill for the first time this year, you may wonder…what has happened to your body? Why is it so difficult to do the things that you used to do with ease just a fortnight ago?


Detraining is the partial or even the complete loss of the changes and adaptations your body has achieved, as a consequence of reduction of training or no training at all. 

When you train, your ingenious human body undergoes certain changes to adapt to the training conditions and basically gets used to working out. Detraining could be thought of as the inverse ` of this process.

And as training has a positive effect on your endurance and markers of endurance, detraining will have an opposite, deteriorating effect.

So let’s look at a few core factors that are affected due to detraining.

The Heart:

The process: The inhaled oxygen enters the lungs and is then absorbed by the blood. The heart pumps this oxygenated blood to the muscles and the muscles use the oxygen to produce energy to move the body. Your movement essentially depends on the amount of oxygen your blood can hold and the amount of blood your heart can pump.

This process directly relates to VO2max , one of the main markers of fitness, which is the maximal rate at which your lungs, heart, and muscles can utilise oxygen during an intense exercise.

Your VO2max depends on:

  • The stroke volume of your heart- The amount of blood your heart pumps with each stroke or each beat.
  • Your Heart Rate- The number of times your heart beats in a minute.
  • Cardiac output- The amount of blood pumped by the heart every minute, usually measured in litres/minute.

When you train, each of these aspects improves. The stroke volume increases, which means there is an increase in the amount of blood your heart pumps per beat. Consequently, your heart rate drops as it doesn’t have to beat as much to sustain your day-to-day activities. Lastly, your cardiac output increases as you are pumping more blood per minute.

In simple terms, your heart gets efficient at doing its job.

The moment you begin detraining, the effect is almost instantaneous and it hits the ability of the heart first.

According to a study, within the first 10 days of detraining, your VO2max drops by 7%, the stroke volume drops by a staggering 9% and the cardiac output falls off by 6%. Your heart loses its efficiency and has to beat a bit more to compensate. This means your heart rate rises by about 4%.

At 56 days or 8 weeks, your VO2max drops to 12%, your stroke volume falls to 13%, and your heart rate spikes by about 6% from the baseline.

84 days or 12 weeks of detraining means your VO2max drops by 15%. In other words, your fitness takes a 15% hit after 84 days. The longer you detrain, the closer you reach to your baseline or pre-training fitness levels.

Effects on other muscles:

Your muscles too, take a hit as you detrain. Your muscles begin to lose the strength they gained during the training phase and also undergo atrophy or loss of muscle mass.

Short phases of detraining lasting about 3 weeks show a minimal change in muscle mass and strength. However, studies have shown that 24 weeks of prolonged detraining can reduce muscle strength by nearly 17%.

Another aspect of the muscle that gets affected is the arteriovenous oxygen difference. It is the amount of oxygen the muscle can extract from the blood passing through the muscle. As you train, the arteriovenous difference increases and the capacity of your muscle to rope in oxygen increases too. But this capacity decreases by 4% after 8 weeks of detraining.

However, it is important to note that the effects of detraining will vary from person to person. A highly trained individual will still be able to retain some benefits of training despite being inactive for 12 weeks. The same will not be true for moderately trained individuals where a complete reversal of training-induced changes may be observed.

But that’s enough about detraining. Let’s get to the important bit. How do you get back? How do you start training and running once more? How long does it take before you “get there once more”?

The answer is quite subjective and will vary from person to person. Bouncing back will depend on your age, the extent to which you have trained before, and various other factors. That doesn’t mean we don’t begin somewhere, right?

Here are a few tips to start off well and “get there” once more.

Slow down:

We know! We know! You were running at breakneck speeds before the break. A pace of 4 mins/km was too easy for you! But right now, you should treat your body like a beginner. The reason behind this is to avoid overstressing your body and risking any injuries which will further extend your rest period.

The idea is to gradually build up to your paces. Ironically, the slower you go, the faster you will get there.

Pull back on those extra runs:

Run less. It’s as simple as that. If you used to run 6 times a week, now run 5 times a week. An added rest day would mean that you allow your body enough time to recover and prevent unwanted muscle soreness.

Distance ❌ Time ✔️:

If you get a message on your running group and your running buddies ask you to join them for a 10k run, you can safely decline. Don’t let the distance guide your runs, let time do that for you. Go for a 30-40 min run instead of a 7-9k run.

Cross train too:

It’ll help you reduce the overall load of coming back into the running game. Rather than taxing a few selected muscles by just running regularly, split the effort among all your joints and muscles.

Maybe taking up a sport other than running could be a way to get back at it once more. For instance, we have seen professional cricketers enjoying a game of football before they hit the nets. This is an example of cross-training where you activate all the muscles of the body.