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How Long Does It Take to Fall Out of Shape?

We are pumped to share one of our fave stories from Self here on FitSugar!

As we move into the dog days of August, that going-to-get-my-best-body-ever summer motivation starts to wane, and we're more likely to skip a few days or weeks worth of workouts.

This often leaves us wondering just how much damage we've done. I mean, if we take two weeks off, are we (gulp) back where we started?

For a little morale boost and a dose of reality, we called on Craig Rasmussen, a fitness coach in Newhall, Calif.


Obviously, just how quickly you lose fitness depends on your starting fitness level, as well as other factors such as age and genetics. But Rasmussen's general take is this:

After two weeks off . . .
"We will probably start to see a decline in general fitness levels," says Rasmussen. "These can occur at different rates in the muscular and cardiovascular systems." At this point, it's probably safe to jump back in at the same intensity you were cranking at before the hiatus.

Secret shortcut: Cardio levels decrease faster than strength — the magic of muscle memory. To take advantage of this phenomenon, during hellish work weeks, do just one set of five strength exercises — studies show that 50 to 90 percent of your strength gains come from your first set (though when your schedule eases up — to build muscle and ward off bone loss — go back to 2 to 3 sets of 8 to 12 exercises 2 or 3 days a week).

Learn what happens after 14 days of skipping workouts when you read more.

After more than two weeks off . . .
"The longer that is taken off, the more you need to scale back," says Rasmussen. "I would recommend scaling volume and intensity back a bit, but you do not have to start back at square one." The good news: Assuming you had a solid foundation already in place, "you will regain fitness levels back at a faster rate than someone who has never had them in the first place." Phew.

Secret shortcut: No time for recommended dose of 5 to 7 days of 20 to 60 minutes of cardio this week? To preserve heart and lung strength and prevent waistline creep, cut that amount in half and seriously ramp up the intensity. We love this simple interval workout.

Could a break actually be good for me?
Totally. If you've been going all-out, working out HARD for months, you probably deserve and need a training vacay. "For many people who are stuck in the more is always better mentality, they have accumulated so much fatigue that a week off is just what they need," says Rasmussen. This allows your muscles to recover fully so you can continue making strides whether you're training for a race or trying to lose those last five (stubborn!) pounds.

Hungry for more information on working out and eating right? Read these stories at

Image Source: Thinkstock
Join The Conversation
Spectra Spectra 6 years
I've never taken more than two weeks off from working out at a time. I did take a two-week overseas vacation where I really couldn't exercise the way I was used to. In order to keep my cardiovascular fitness level up, I ran up and down the staircases in the flat where I was staying every day and jumped rope whenever I could. I was still a little slow when I started running again, but I regained my fitness level pretty quickly.
nancita nancita 6 years
Such a great tip about doing just one set. I am never sure the best way to cut back when I'm too busy for a long workout. I'll do that from now on.
ckeller825 ckeller825 6 years
I went HARD from October 2009 - April 2010 to get ready for a trip to Miami. My body looked great, but it definitely wore me out because I have not been back to the gym since late April. Even though I've maintained my weight, I think it's safe to say I might be back to where I started, fitness-level wise.
Merlin713 Merlin713 6 years
Whenever I get a flare with my ulcerative colitis, I don't do cardio. I'll pass out. I do, however, keep up with as much lighter weight lifting and random squats here and there. It helps. Especially when I have to take a couple weeks off from the cardio.
GirlOverboard GirlOverboard 6 years
While it always sucks to have to "take a break" because of injury, there are sometimes alternatives! Some injuries or illnesses can't be worked around, but in most cases there are other ways to keep yourself active and ready to go back to your routine, even if they aren't quite as much fun. If you can't do high impact, there is swimming or the elliptical or lifting weights. If you can't do anything that requires you to be on your feet, check out one of those arm cycles - they may seem silly, but even just working one of those things can still burn quite a few calories and keep your upper body active. Brittneylb has the right idea, trying to do what she can, when she can. I can personally say I've fallen victim to taking too much time off, then using injury as an excuse after falling out of the routine. Don't let it happen to you, too!
Brittneylb Brittneylb 6 years
Aw, this is depressing when an injury or surgery forces you to take time off. I'm undergoing bunionemtomies on both my feet right now. I've had to be on crutches for two weeks for both feet (the doctor did them seperately though so 4 weeks total.) Before I worked out every day, running, weights, yoga ect. I'm just doing what I can now by stretching, leg lifts and arm weights and being patient with my body. Sometimes stressing about not being able to exercise does more harm than good.
Soniabonya Soniabonya 6 years
Lol. Well I'm screwed. I haven't been able to workout since June 30. Gained weight and lost a lot of my tone :( Hopefully I can start up again next week when life quiets down just a bit.
guavajelly guavajelly 6 years
I agree with this. I was once able to run 3 miles in 30 minutes and was losing weight. I stopped working out for almost a year and now can barely run 3 minutes without my legs killing. I'm dissapointed that it's so quick to lose your fitness. But now that I am aware when I get back my fitness I will not let it go again!
fatburn247 fatburn247 6 years
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amber512 amber512 6 years
I'm injured right now and totally bummed that I have had to take so much time off. I wish I could just jump right back into everything!! So funny that it can feel like a burden sometimes, but when the option is taken away it is all I want to do!
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