How quickly is fitness lost?

So I've been sidelined by a back injury, and won't be able to work out for a while (need to have a consultation with a specialist first, and until I get that I'm not doing any exercise at all).

One of my many fears related to my health and weight is that when I stop exercising, I'll lose all the fitness I've attained. I've been working hard at losing weight for the last 2 years and have lost 130 pounds, with another 35 to go. In that time I have gradually been adding and tweaking workouts--until the injury, I was running 5ks twice a week, alternating arms/legs strength training, attending yoga classes twice a week, riding the stationary bike, and swimming on the weekends, with a Friday rest day. I'm terrified that if I let up on my pace, I'll lose the muscle I've accumulated, and my fitness will backslide to my old 290-pound self.

Last week I took the entire week "off", no exercise, until I could hear back from my doc. Now he wants to refer me to a specialist, and I'm thinking no exercise until I talk to them, but don't know when I'll be able to get an appointment.

I guess what I'm asking is: How quickly do your muscles deteriorate once you cease exercising? When I'm finally able to start up again, will I be back at square one? I've worked so hard to get this fit, and this injury frightens me. I'm very worried I'll just revert back to my fat, out-of-breath self. Depending on the specialist's advice, I may be out of exercising for a month or more.


  • LazSommer
    LazSommer Posts: 1,855 Member
    A couple months for performance, a bit longer for a decent bit of mass assuming no effort for upkeep. A few weeks will probably set you back about the same amount of progress, the longer the more drastic it can be.
  • CincyNeid
    CincyNeid Posts: 1,250 Member
    Depends on who you ask. Strava measures Fitness & Freshness daily....

  • STEVE142142
    STEVE142142 Posts: 867 Member
    Sorry to hear about your injury. The main thing you should concentrate is getting well and healing your injury. Yes you will lose some of your results but in the long-term vision it really doesn't matter the main thing is to get well so you don't hurt yourself again.

    To give you my perspective I'm 56 years old last year I had a double hip replacement I have an arthritic knee that needs to eventually be replaced and I have an arthritic shoulder that needs to be eventually replaced.

    There are days where I can't exercise sometimes it's a week. Granted it's not as long as you're going to be out of commission but where I am now verses where I was 4 years ago I am two totally different people. Remember this is a long-term
  • sgt1372
    sgt1372 Posts: 3,969 Member
    edited August 2016
    You lose your "fitness" very quickly as a result of an injury and/or failure to continue to exercise.

    I just happened to look at some old hydrostatic test results which confirm this. I got injured doing squats in Dec 2012. Took a test on 12/1/12 just before I got hurt and I weighed 169 with 145lb LBM and 24 lb fat (14.2%). Took another test on 3/23/13 (4 months/16 weeks later) and I had 139 LBM and 29 lb fat (17.2%).

    Did not exercise at all (no lifting and no cardio) during the interim. As a result, I gained 5 lbs of fat and lost 6 lbs of LBM for a net gain of 3% BF in just 4 months. Not good.

    Just recently starting lifting and doing cardio again after a 2.5 year hiatus and took a DEXA scan today, which shows me weighing 172.1 (down from 196.1 three months ago) with 130.2 lbs LBM and 34.9 lbs fat (20.3%). That's 15 lbs less LBM and 11 lbs more fat than I had at almost the same weight back in Dec 2012.

    I just hit my goal of 175 a month ago and wanted to recomp at that weight but, after getting the DEXA results, I think I'll drop the goal back down to 169 and shoot to recomp so that I get back to 145 LBM and 24 fat at 14.2% where I was before.

    More work to do. Oh well . . .

  • lorrpb
    lorrpb Posts: 11,465 Member
    Congrats on your weight loss! Be sure to adjust your calorie intake for the decreased activity. I was out with gall bladder surgery for about 4 weeks and didn't lose too much progress. It's very individual and you'll be able to rebuild more quickly than you did originally.
  • SueInAz
    SueInAz Posts: 6,585 Member
    edited August 2016
    You'll definitely lose some but you'll also be able to regain your fitness once you've recovered from your injury. A doctor once told my sister that it takes about 11 days to start losing fitness. He was specifically speaking, on that occasion, of her cardio fitness for a running race. She'd been sidelined about a week before a race and was going to be able to actually run the race, but not at that point, and then she'd have started tapering for the race anyway a few days later. He told her not to worry and he was right, she PR'd that day.

    Unless you have some sort of competition or something you're worried about, I'd say you really shouldn't stress about it too much. Once you're healed you just pick up where you are and get back into it. You'll regain what you lost faster than it took you to get there in the first place especially if we're only talking weeks or a few months. Just remember to adjust your calories for the lower activity level if you need to and focus on eating properly to continue to lose weight at a reasonable level.
  • Aaron_K123
    Aaron_K123 Posts: 7,121 Member
    In my personal experience it doesn't take all that long at all to lose muscle training (ie the strength you get from having your muscles regularly exercises). If I stop doing pushups for a few months and try again I won't be able to do nearly as many.

    That said ACTUAL muscle loss, ie loss of muscle mass I think takes a long time, on the order of years, assuming you are eating at maintenance at least and getting a decent amount of protein.

    If you aren't exercising at all and you are at caloric deficit you can lose muscle mass fairly quickly though.
  • Return2Fit
    Return2Fit Posts: 226 Member
    When it comes to physical fitness, what takes me 4 weeks to achieve can be lost in a single week.
    The margins are razor thin.

  • Alatariel75
    Alatariel75 Posts: 17,773 Member
    Back to C25k today after 3 months off. I was at week 7.I'll let you know how i go :/
  • troytroy11
    troytroy11 Posts: 180 Member
    Congratulations on your weight loss! And I am sorry about your back. As I have had my share of injuries, what I have learned is it usually ends up being cardio they suffers the most and is lost more quickly than strength.
    Usually a week of not doing cardio I can tell the difference but a week for strength training there is very little to no loss.
  • mygrl4meee
    mygrl4meee Posts: 943 Member
    I just wrote about my struggle with running after a short illness and break from running. Get well soon.
  • Inc1961
    Inc1961 Posts: 34 Member
    Back to C25k today after 3 months off. I was at week 7.I'll let you know how i go :/

    Just starting back myself. Completed the program twice before, then injured myself in non-running activities. Have fun with it!
  • Alatariel75
    Alatariel75 Posts: 17,773 Member
    Inc1961 wrote: »
    Back to C25k today after 3 months off. I was at week 7.I'll let you know how i go :/

    Just starting back myself. Completed the program twice before, then injured myself in non-running activities. Have fun with it!

    Thanks!! First day back I didn't actually C25k, the app kept crashing so I thought I'd just see how far I could go without stopping. I managed 3km in 25 minutes with only one short break, so I didn't backslide as badly as I thought. I'll download a new app this weekend and start fresh on Monday, but I reckon I'll be able to start from week 5 without a worry.
  • teetertatertango
    teetertatertango Posts: 229 Member
    You will lose fitness, but it will come back faster than it did when you were at 290 and just starting out. You may be out of breath, but you won't be fat and out of breath, so that part will be easier.

    Focus on the things you can control right now...i.e. doing what you need to get better, and keeping your calories in line with your current activity level.

    Try to get in to physical therapy if you can, they are great at helping you create a modified workout and allowing you to push yourself within your limits while in a safe/controlled environment. Best wishes for a speedy recovery.
  • nossmf
    nossmf Posts: 3,707 Member
    I had to take the entire month of July off from working out due to working massive amounts of overtime at my job, I was just too tired to exercise safely. So I kept track of my calories, kept the protein up, and parked further away from my office each day to force a little walking time.

    August saw me back in the gym. I had gained a single pound, arguably nothing at all, could have just been water weight that morning. My breathing while jogging was a little more ragged than before, and I intentionally cut the weights used during lifting by 50%. The next week jogging was easier again, and I added 10% back to my weights.

    Now here I am in September, and I'm back to doing what I did before my break. Even better, my shoulder feels terrific, where it was a tad gimpy before.

    Moral of the story is unless you're competing, you'll probably barely notice the lapse. Watch the calories, go easy the first few days/weeks back, and you'll be right as rain.
  • MrsBenTarr
    MrsBenTarr Posts: 42 Member
    After my hip surgery in July, I lost fitness pretty quickly, but it only took me about 2 weeks to get my stamina back once I was cleared to use the elliptical.