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What is Detraining?

By Simone Lawson
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Detraining refers to the bodily effect experienced when one takes an extended break from regular, vigorous fitness training. Fitness levels and muscle mass can decline during a break that lasts between two and four weeks. While this sort of long-term break may reduce current fitness levels, it may also offer long-term benefits if the person starts retraining, allowing them to achieve higher levels of fitness than before detraining.

If an individual spends several months undergoing extensive, regular training, the body typically adapts and improves in terms of muscle strength and cardiovascular endurance. More than two weeks of abstinence from physical training can often cause a reduction in the peak fitness level. Attempting to retrain after a detraining period may prove to be challenging and frustrating, as the body struggles to reach its past level of fitness.

Detraining may occur due to unforeseen circumstances, such as injury or illness. Physical activity may need to be postponed for several weeks or months, and the affects on the body may be noticed fairly quickly. Resuming training after injury or illness may be difficult at first, but ultimately an extended break may prove to be beneficial.

Many athletes take an extended period of rest to purposefully allow their bodies to detrain. While they may initially lose their current fitness level, the period of rest will allow the muscles time to heal and regenerate. This period of time spent detraining will actually increase the strength of muscle fibers and allow the heart rate to return to normal.

Detraining is often viewed as a successful method of combating fitness or training plateaus. After the break period is over, individuals may be able to achieve even higher levels of fitness after retraining. It is important to resume retraining properly in order to full reap the full benefits of detraining.

Retraining should begin slowly, allowing the body to acclimate to regular physical exercise. Activity may begin with walking everyday and lifting light weights. To gradually increase intensity one may alternate days of walking with more intense cardio activity and longer intervals of weight training. Over the course of several months, training regimens may be increased to eventually exceed the past levels.

It is possible to experience some effects of detraining with out completely stopping exercise. Some may detrain by simply cutting back their current exercise routine for several weeks. For example, if one spent four or five days per week running and doing resistance training, they may attempt to detrain by cutting back to two or three times per week. Others may attempt to detrain by taking a week or two to only include walking or light activity in their training program.

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Discussion Comments

By Slitherine — On Mar 29, 2014

@Glasis - The plus side of being in good shape is that you can probably come back faster from an injury. A marathon runner is going to bounce back better because of their over all health,

By Glasis — On Mar 28, 2014

An injury would definitely force a person to detrain for a time. Especially if the injury interferes directly with whatever a person trains for.

If a marathon runner gets a major leg injury, the time taken to heal is only the beginning. You also have to account for the physical therapy that may be needed. You can also have pain that a person gets while retraining muscles that may have been torn.

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