What Happens To Your Body During A Break From Exercise?

Exercise Break

Lots of our members continued to workout during Lockdown 2020 through our online classes and workouts which was just fantastic! However, there were lots of ladies that needed to take a break for various reasons, and lockdown wasn’t the only cause, sometimes you just need to take a break from working out due to personal circumstances, illness, holidays, or just laziness (we all have this feeling sometimes!)

Of course, having rest days are very important for your body as they help your muscles to rest and recover – this is particularly important when doing weight or resistance training as you need to allow the muscles to repair themselves.

However, extended breaks from exercise, be this 3 months or longer, can have an impact on your body and mean your workout won’t feel the same to begin with.

What happens to my body during a break from exercise?

If you’re fit, healthy and exercise regularly then taking a week or two off from exercising is unlikely to have too much of an impact.

You will still experience the amazing benefits from regularly working out, such as: stronger muscles and bones (reducing the risk of osteoperosis); improved energy levels, better sleep, reduced risk of chronic diseases (such as diabetes Type 2 and heart disease); improved mental health; improved cardiovascular system; and weight control. Once you’ve been working out for more than a few weeks, whether you notice it or not, your body will be experiencing these fantastic benefits.

However, when you take a longer break from exercise, perhaps for an injury, what happens to all those benefits?

Of course, a break from exercise will impact everyone differently depending on how long you’d been working out before the break, what your fitness levels were like, how long a break you take, and if you do any form of exercise during your break (such as walks).

But, if you had a fairly good level of fitness before your break, were working out consistently at least twice per week, and had a break of around 3 -4 months (the same time as Lockdown 2020), this is what you could expect to see:

A decline in aerobic conditioning

Exercise helps your heart muscle to become more efficient and better able to pump blood throughout your body. This means that the heart can pump more blood with each beat, allowing it to beat slower and therefore, keep your blood pressure under control. Without exercise,  your heart could gradually start to weaken overtime, which could lead to a rise in blood pressure, and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Mucle Loss

It can take around 12 weeks to see any real difference in your muscle loss, however, gradual muscle tissue loss does happen from around 2 weeks after stopping exercise (known as atrophy). A study found that you can lose around 30% of your muscle strength in this short space of time, with the more muscle you have, leading to greater muscle loss from inactivity. Losing mucle can lead to decreased strength, increased risk of injury, and poor balance.

Weight Gain

Exercise is a great way to manage your weight as it helps to burn calories and fat. If you stop exercising and don’t adjust your diet accordingly, you may notice your weight increasing. It’s also important to remember that relatively (in terms of size) muscle weighs more than fat, therefore, if you are losing muscle due to inactivity but your weight is increasing, this could be casued by an unhealthy excess of fat.

Endurance Loss

One of the quickest things you’ll notice is your loss of performance ability (caused by a decline in aerobic conditioning and lowered VO2 Max). This can mean everyday tasks become slightly more difficult, such as, the shopping feeling heavier, climbing the stairs making you feel a little out of breath, or simply feeling more tired at the end of the day.

Shortness of Breath

Exercise boosts the body’s ability to use oxygen effectively (your VO2 Max) and makes your muscles more efficient. This means you’ll need less oxygen for any given exercise, and therefore you’ll be less likely to feel out of breath (for example, if you do Zumba classes, you may have felt very out of breath after one or two routines in your first week, but after completing more classes, you’ll have been able to get half way through before feeling the same level of breathlessness). When you take a break from exercise, after just two months, you’ll have lost about 15 percent of your VO2 Max, according to a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology. This means that when you return to exercise you’ll feel more out of breath completing exercises or classes that you felt fine to complete before the break. But don’t worry, if you had a good level of fitness before the break, you’ll still be better off than somebody who’s never trained! However, this doesn’t apply to brand-new gains, for example, if you did a couch-to-5k program and then went straight back to the sofa, you’ll have to start over.

An Emotional Dip

Exercise is known to have many mental health benefits, as well as physcial ones. This is due to the endorphines being released during a workout boosting your mood. Plus, setting and reaching goals (no matter how small) is a great way to improve your confidence and motivation – leading to improved mental wellbeing. Exercise can also lead to better sleep and reduced stress levels, which keeps your mind healthy. In fact, many people who stop exercising notice these emotional side effects before the physical ones, with many reporting a noticable decline in their ‘get up and go’.

What happens when you return to the gym after a break?

Getting started again after a break is going to offer a ew set of challenges. Of course, everybody is different, but here are some of the challenges you may face after a prolonged break from the gym:

Drop in Performance

It’s likely that when you head for your first workout you’ll experience a decline in your ability. It could be a decrease in strength or endurance. You might find that you feel more out of breath, experience muscle shakes (or ‘Jelly Legs’) much sooner, and generally feel more tired at the end of your workout.

Dcreased Confidence

A drop in performance and extended break might affect your confidence, particularly if you were an unconfident gym-goer before your period of inactivity. It’s important to remember, you can build your ftness levels back up, and at W Fitness we’re always on hand to remind you how everything works and create your programme for you again based on your new fitness level.

Severe DOMS

DOMS stands for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, aka, it’s the sore mucles you feel the next morning or few days after your workout. And after an extended break from exercise, you’re going to feel it for your first few sessions back!

Chance of injury

When you return to the gym, it’s important to remember your msucles and bones are not going to be as strong as they were before your break, this means you could be more prone to losing your balance or causing yourself an injury. Try to take it slow, and reduce your weights. Your first few sessions back are not designed for reaching any personal bests – it’s about getting your body physically fit to train again.

BUT You’ll also get all those health benefits back too! 

What should your first few sessions look like?

It’s important to ease yourself back into your workout routine. Don’t push yourself too hard as you could cause yourself an injury, which would lead to you having to take even longer away from your work outs.

Make sure to plan your sessions with gradual improvements to help you build your way back up to your previous fitness level. It may take a few weeks, but then you can begin to push yourself again.

If you need help returning to the gym after an extended break, make sure to speak us as we can help adapt your workout programme!

You can read more about ‘Returning To W Fitness After Lockdown‘.



Hannah & Caroline xx