Maintaining the same level of running year after year can be daunting, even for the most seasoned athletes.
We progress from training for marathons to fighting through windy winters, and later gear down as other interests top our priority lists.
Your hiatus may be a result of an injury, having a baby or running less because you just got bored. However, when you do return to running a race, you may face some issues.
For every week that you lose, it takes up to two weeks of practice to revive your original fitness level.
According to a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, one major cause of fitness decline after a period of not training, also called detraining, is loss of blood volume.
Within the first 12-21 days of not training, individuals can lose about 500 millimeters of blood.
This is contrary to previous belief, where researchers thought that detraining resulted from the deterioration of the heart.
Newer researches show that the heart actually has less blood to pump to your muscles.
When you return to your training regime, your blood volume rises back, allowing your heart to pump more blood and deliver more oxygen to working muscles.
Furthermore, a higher blood volume means there is more fluid available in the body for sweating – the natural cooling mechanism of the body.
However, not all systems return to normal at the same rate.
For example, your skeletal system may not be able to withstand the same level of activity as it used to – especially as you age.
Luckily, retraining does not have to be tough. In fact, it’s much easier than running for the first time.
Whether you’re running again after a couple of weeks, or several months, the following tips will help you return to your earlier fitness levels, in a safe and effective manner.
Consider How Long You Haven’t Been Running
When you stop running, your body experiences a decline in blood volume and mitochondria – the powerhouses in our cells.
In addition, your lactate threshold plummets.
The longer you’ve been training, the faster you’ll be able to return to it after a break.
Therefore, generally people, who have been running regularly for 10 years and take a break for one year, will have a much easier time returning to their previous running routine, compared to someone who has been running for one year and has taken a break for another year.
This is mainly because the longer you run, the greater your foundation will be for your aerobic strength.
You’ll have more red blood cells to deliver oxygen to muscles, more mitochondria to produce energy and higher levels of metabolic enzymes, compared to someone who is new to working out.
Therefore, even if your fitness level drops following a break, it will not drop as low if you had just started running.
The following is a general breakdown of how high your maximum aerobic capacity will be according to your break period:
- 2 week break: Loss of 5-7% of VO2Max
- 2 month break: Loss of 20% of VO2Max
- 3 month break: Loss of 25-30% of VO2Max
You’ll also lose conditioning in your tendons, ligaments, muscles and connective tissues.
While it is difficult to determine how much of it you will lose, a weakness in the musculoskeletal system is what puts many people at risk of injury after they return to running.
This is why it is critical that you start slow, reduce your speed and mileage and include plenty of rest between running days.
Cross Train to Boost Fitness
Cross training during days you’re not running is a great way to elevate your strength and endurance, without risking injury.
Some cross training activities that will help runners massively include swimming, cycling, yoga, aqua jogging, Pilates and strength training.
It helps to choose workouts that you love so that your training routine is more sustainable.
According to a recent study published in the Journal of Sports Sciences, resistance training between running days can increase your running economy, increase muscular strength of muscle groups involved in running and have a direct impact on distance covered.
Don’t Shy Away from Walking
We believe that the most effective way to return to running is slowing down your pace – even if it means taking regular walks.
But you don’t have to make it boring.
Be sure to include plenty of other challenging workouts such as strength training and mix it up with walking a few miles multiple times a week.
This will help you get some miles under your belt.
The reality is that if you don’t have a long running history, you may have to start from scratch with your training.
However, don’t let this demotivate you.
Being realistic with your goals and starting slow will help you get back into action faster than you did the first time, thanks to your muscle memory.
Train fora Short Race
After running for a few weeks following your break, try picking a race that you can train for.
It helps to start with something small like a 5K, before going for something more rigorous.
Signing up for a race will give you the motivation you’ll need to continue training.
Having a family member or friend tag along is a bonus, as it increases your motivation and the fun!
When workouts get tough, avoid giving yourself a hard time for taking a break.
Just be patient and listen to your body to understand when it is okay to amp your speed or mileage.
When you finish your runs, your goal should be feel like it was easy and that you can do more.
However, if you feel exhausted and don’t feel like doing it anymore, understand that you may have pushed too hard.
Increase your speed or mileage by 10 percent every week to slowly return to your original running routine without putting yourself at risk of an injury.