At some point in your fitness journey, you will likely experience either a planned or unintentional break from your exercise routine. Even the most dedicated athletes can find themselves in a situation where they must take a break from their regular workouts. It is unrealistic and often unhealthy to be at “peak fitness” every day, as this requires stressing our bodies beyond what is necessary or healthy.
For example, many professional athletes have an “off-season” where they take intentional time off from their workouts and let their bodies recover from the stress of high-level training and competition. However, most of us are not professional athletes, and time away from our fitness routines is often due to illness, injury, work commitments, or simply life getting in the way. In these circumstances, many people wonder how long it takes to regain their fitness after inactivity.
The answer depends on several factors, including your previous fitness level, the duration of your break, and the effort you're willing to invest to regain your fitness. In this article, we want to emphasize that it's vital not to put excessive pressure on ourselves to bounce back immediately. Instead, let's explore how to rediscover wellness at your own pace, recognizing that the path to fitness is a personal journey with no one-size-fits-all timeline.
First of Things First: What Does It Mean to Be Fit?
Being “fit” has a different definition for everyone. For some, it means having a chiseled physique or being able to run long distances. For others, it means being able to easily perform daily tasks while engaging in the physical activities you enjoy. More generally, “being fit” refers to a state of physical health and well-being that supports physical activity outside of daily movement while reducing the chances of chronic disease.1
Fitness encompasses various aspects of our overall health, including cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, body composition, and mental and emotional well-being. While there are general guidelines for fitness (i.e., running a mile, doing a push-up, etc.), what it means to be fit ultimately depends on your fitness goals and aspirations, making it a highly individualized journey.
What Does It Mean to Lose Fitness?
When we talk about losing fitness, we're referring to reversing the positive physiological adaptations that occur in response to regular exercise. Muscles may atrophy, cardiovascular endurance decreases, and strength declines. The rate and extent of these changes vary among individuals and depend on factors like genetics, age, general health, and the length of the break away from exercise.
Some research studies find a loss in cardiovascular fitness (i.e., VO2 max) can happen within two to four weeks of reduced training and loss of muscular strength within four to eight weeks of detraining.1,2,8 Understanding this process requires a closer look at the intricate ways in which exercise benefits the human body as a whole. Both aerobic and anaerobic training in the form of cardio and strength exercises provide a variety of adaptations to our fitness, well-being, and mental health.
- Cardiovascular Endurance: Regular aerobic exercise, like running or cycling, improves cardiovascular fitness and the function of our heart and lungs. During exercise, the heart pumps more blood, which means it needs to beat less often to supply oxygen to the body. Over time, this reduces resting heart rate and lowers blood pressure, enhancing overall heart health. Losing fitness in this context means a reversal of these adaptations, potentially leading to higher resting heart rates, increased blood pressure, and reduced activity tolerance to longer-duration activities.
- Muscular Strength: Strength training builds muscle mass and increases the ability to exert force. When you stop strength training, muscle fibers can atrophy, decreasing strength and endurance. This can result in a reduced ability to perform everyday tasks and an increased risk of injury.
- Flexibility and Mobility: Flexibility is closely linked to the range of motion in your joints. Regular stretching exercises can enhance this movement in your joints and maintain a healthy length of your muscle tissue. When you lose fitness in terms of flexibility, your joints and muscles may become less supple, making movement less comfortable and potentially leading to stiffness and discomfort.
- Power: Muscular power is the ability of your muscles to generate force quickly, which is crucial for activities requiring explosive movements, such as jumping, sprinting, or lifting heavy objects. As we age, muscular power also becomes very important for tasks like getting up from the couch or the floor. When you stop exercising, particularly if you neglect resistance or strength training, the muscles lose the neuromuscular adaptations contributing to power production. This decline in muscular power can cause reduced athletic performance and everyday functionality.
- Metabolism and Weight Management: Exercise is crucial in regulating metabolism and managing body weight. Muscle tissue burns more calories at rest than fat tissue. When you lose muscle mass due to inactivity, your metabolism may slow down, making it easier to gain weight or harder to achieve weight loss.4
- Bone Health: Weight-bearing exercises like walking, running, and resistance training stimulate bone growth and bone density. Losing fitness in this context can decrease bone density, increasing the risk of osteoporosis.
Losing fitness is not just a subjective feeling but a physiological process characterized by reversing the positive adaptations that exercise imparts on our bodies. Luckily, the process of losing fitness is 100% reversible. You can get back in shape quickly with a structured workout routine and consistency. The amount of time that takes you to regain fitness depends on various factors, including your initial fitness level, the duration of inactivity, and the intensity of your exercise program.
So, How Long Does It Take to Get Fit Again, and How Can You Do It?
The time needed to make a successful comeback after losing fitness can vary widely for everyone, and it is essential to remember that individual circumstances and goals play a significant role. Most research shows two of the biggest variables affecting the rate and amount of fitness loss include the length of time you spend away from structured training and your fitness level before stopping exercise.2,3
Generally, it takes anywhere from two to 12 weeks to regain cardiovascular endurance and muscle strength and feel like you’re back at your previous level of fitness.3,5 Regardless of why you took a break from training, let's focus on how you can start regaining your fitness today, keeping in mind that it will take some time to feel strong and fit again.
How Long Does It Take to Rebuild Muscle and Get Strength Back?
Building significant muscle mass and strength gradually requires patience, dedication, and a well-structured workout plan. Additionally, factors such as nutrition, sleep, and recovery play crucial roles in the rate of muscle rebuilding. With a return to consistent weight training two to three days a week, you can expect to see modest improvements in strength within the first three to four weeks due to neuromuscular adaptations.
More substantial progress in muscle mass and tone can be achieved within two to three months if you follow a progressive training plan. Reaching and potentially surpassing your previous levels of strength often takes several months, typically around three to six months or even longer. Working with a fitness professional or certified personal trainer can help you tailor your program for optimal results, ensuring a safe and effective comeback.
How Long Does It Take to Regain Mobility and Flexibility?
Regaining mobility and flexibility after weeks of inactivity varies from person to person. In the initial two to three weeks of consistent stretching and mobility exercises, you can expect to experience some improvements in range of motion and reduced stiffness.
After four to six weeks, more significant gains can be achieved, and you should start to feel noticeably more flexible.6 It may take several months of dedicated stretching and mobility work to fully regain and enhance your flexibility, especially if you were quite flexible before your break.7 Consistency is key in this process, and it's important not to rush or push your body too hard, as that can lead to injuries. Gradual, gentle, and consistent stretching efforts, combined with proper warm-up and cool-down routines, can help you regain and improve your flexibility.
How Long Does It Take to Get Your Cardio Endurance On Point Again?
The time required to regain cardiovascular endurance (i.e., VO2 max) may be shorter than regaining muscle strength or flexibility despite losing it at a faster rate.8 In the initial three to four weeks of returning to regular aerobic fitness workouts, you can expect significant improvements in your cardiovascular fitness as your heart is asked to pump more blood, increasing your stroke volume and cardiac output.9,10
To fully regain and potentially surpass your previous levels, it may take several months of regular training, typically around three to four months.10 The rate of improvement can vary based on factors like your initial fitness level and the intensity of your workouts. It's important to start gradually, increase the intensity over time, and maintain consistency to rebuild your cardiovascular endurance effectively. Remember, the key is steady progress rather than rushing the process, as overexertion or pushing too hard can lead to setbacks or injuries.
11 Tips to Get Back Into Fitness
Getting back in shape after a period of time can be a rewarding and empowering journey. Here are some tips to help you make a successful comeback:
- Take it slow and steady. Don't start too hard. Begin with low-intensity workouts and gradually increase the duration and intensity over time. This approach reduces the risk of injury and helps your body adapt safely.
- Track what you're doing. Keep a workout journal or use fitness apps to monitor your progress. Tracking can help you see how far you've come and stay motivated.
- Work with a trainer. Consider working with a fitness coach or personal trainer or joining a fitness class for guidance, motivation, and accountability.
- Recovery is key. Allow your body time to recover with rest days between workouts. Quality sleep is also crucial for muscle repair and overall well-being and can decrease soreness after an intense workout.
- Move in a way you enjoy. Find activities you genuinely like, making it easier to stay committed and consistent. Whether it's dancing, swimming, hiking, or team sports, make exercise as much fun as possible!
- Have a plan. Consistency is key. Create a workout schedule and stick to it. Consistent effort over time yields the best results.
- Start with small goals. Define achievable short-term goals that align with your current fitness level. Celebrate small victories along the way to stay motivated.
- Change your workouts. Incorporate exercises to work different muscle groups and keep workouts interesting. Combine cardiovascular workouts, strength training, flexibility exercises, and balance work.
- Be patient and kind. The road to fitness is never linear, so understand that regaining fitness takes time and setbacks are normal. Avoid comparing yourself to others, and focus on your journey.
- Stretch, stretch, stretch. Maintaining flexibility and range of motion in your joints can help reduce the risk of injury and enhance your recovery between workouts.
- Listen to your body. Pay attention to your body's signals. If you experience pain or discomfort, it's essential to rest and recover rather than push through it.
Remember that your fitness comeback is a personal and unique experience. Embrace the process, stay committed, and enjoy the physical and mental benefits of a healthy and active lifestyle.
Learn More About How to Achieve Better Health Through Exercise with Signos’ Expert Advice.
If you have more questions on improving your health, fitness, and nutrition, seek the expert advice of the Signos continuous glucose monitor and Signos team. A continuous glucose monitor (CGM) can give you the insights to make smarter nutrition and exercise choices. The Signos app provides a unique, personalized program to help you lose weight and reach your health goals. Take this quiz to see if Signos is a good fit for you and reach your goals faster than ever before.
Frequently Asked Questions:
How long does it realistically take to get fit?
For most individuals, you can expect to get back in shape within six to eight weeks of following a consistent and progressive exercise program.
How long does it take to get out of shape again?
The rate of losing fitness depends on many factors, mostly the extent of your fitness before stopping exercise and the time you take away from training. Generally, it takes about three to four weeks away from exercise to start noticing a significant loss in cardiovascular and muscular fitness.
How long does it take to get back in shape after six months off?
A 6-month break from exercise is a long time away; however, it is possible to get back in shape and even surpass your previous fitness level. With a consistent and progressive training plan (three to five days a week), you can expect to feel improvements in about eight to 12 weeks, with even more progress within three to six months.
How do I start getting in shape again?
The best way to get back in shape is to start with low-intensity or low-impact activity and slowly increase the duration and intensity of your workouts over time. Working with a fitness professional like a personal trainer can help give you a plan that will encourage consistency, progressive overload, and ensure a safe and effective comeback to feeling fit.
Topics discussed in this article:
- Pate, Russell R. (1988). The evolving definition of physical fitness. Quest, 40(3), 174-179. https://doi.org/10.1080/00336297.1988.10483898
- Lovell, D. I., Cuneo, R., & Gass, G. C. (2010). The effect of strength training and short-term detraining on maximum force and the rate of force development of older men. European journal of applied physiology, 109, 429-435.
- Gamelin, F. X., Berthoin, S., Sayah, H., Libersa, C., & Bosquet, L. (2007). Effect of training and detraining on heart rate variability in healthy young men. International journal of sports medicine, 564-570.
- Ormsbee, M. J., & Arciero, P. J. (2012). Detraining increases body fat and weight and decreases V [combining dot above] O2peak and metabolic rate. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 26(8), 2087-2095.
- Blocquiaux, S., Gorski, T., Van Roie, E., Ramaekers, M., Van Thienen, R., Nielens, H., ... & Thomis, M. (2020). The effect of resistance training, detraining and retraining on muscle strength and power, myofibre size, satellite cells and myonuclei in older men. Experimental gerontology, 133, 110860.
- Cipriani, D. J., Terry, M. E., Haines, M. A., Tabibnia, A. P., & Lyssanova, O. (2012). Effect of stretch frequency and sex on the rate of gain and rate of loss in muscle flexibility during a hamstring-stretching program: a randomized single-blind longitudinal study. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 26(8), 2119-2129.
- Chan, S. P., Hong, Y., & Robinson, P. D. (2001). Flexibility and passive resistance of the hamstrings of young adults using two different static stretching protocols. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 11(2), 81-86.
- Coyle, E. F., Martin, W. H., 3rd, Sinacore, D. R., Joyner, M. J., Hagberg, J. M., & Holloszy, J. O. (1984). Time course of loss of adaptations after stopping prolonged intense endurance training. Journal of applied physiology: respiratory, environmental and exercise physiology, 57(6), 1857–1864. https://doi.org/10.1152/jappl.1922.214.171.1247
- Neufer P. D. (1989). The effect of detraining and reduced training on the physiological adaptations to aerobic exercise training. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 8(5), 302–320. https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-198908050-00004
- Murias, J. M., Kowalchuk, J. M., & Paterson, D. H. (2010). Time course and mechanisms of adaptations in cardiorespiratory fitness with endurance training in older and young men. Journal of applied physiology, 108(3), 621-627.