Haven’t hit the gym since sometime? Here’s what you need to do

Within a week, your muscles lose some of their fat-burning potential and your metabolism slows down. Strength lingers longer than endurance once you stop training. But depending on just how slothful you’ve become, your quads and biceps may start to shrink soon after you leave the weight room

Haven’t hit the gym since sometime? Here’s what you need to do

Think your body won’t notice that week off? Think again. Here’s what happens when you swap your regular sweat sessions for never-ending Netflix nights – and how long it takes to re-flip the fitness switch

Just as a good training program builds you up, falling off the workout wagon can have the opposite effect – sometimes almost immediately.

Experts call this phenomenon “detraining,” and its consequences can weigh even heavier than the gut you see in the mirror. Fortunately, the condition is fully reversible – as long as you get yourself back to the gym.

Your blood pressure soars

  • This effect is near-instant. Your blood pressure is already higher on the days you don’t exercise than the days you do but your blood vessels adapt to the slower flow of a sedentary lifestyle after just a fortnight, which clicks your readings up another couple of notches, according to a recent study in the journal PLoS.
  • Within a month, stiffening arteries and veins send your BP back to where it would be if you’d never even left the couch, says study author Linda Pescatello, of the University of Connecticut.

How to reverse it

  • The whole scenario unfolds backward when you start sweating again. Your blood pressure drops a bit that day and your blood vessels begin to function more efficiently within a week.
  • After a month or two, the stress from heart-pumping workouts makes your vasculature more flexible, causing lasting pressure-lowering effects, Pescatello says

Your blood sugar spikes

  • Normally, your blood glucose rises after you eat, then drops as your muscles and other tissues suck up the sugar they need for energy.
  • After a working week of slothfulness, your post-meal blood sugar levels remain elevated instead, according to a recent study in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.
  • If you stay sedentary, continuously creeping glucose readings can raise your risk of heart disease and diabetes, says study co-author James Thyfault, from the University of Missouri.

How to reverse it

Just a week of regular exercise dramatically drops post-meal blood sugar, even in people who already have type-2 diabetes, Thyfault says. Sweet news.

You lose stamina

  • Gasping for breath after just a few stairs? Within two weeks of avoiding the gym, your VO2 max, a measure of fitness that assesses how much oxygen your working muscles can use, decreases by as much as 20 per cent, says exercise physiologist Stacy Sims.
  • It’s because you lose mitochondria, the mini factories within your muscle cells that convert oxygen into energy; as little as a fortnight off can undo six weeks of endurance training. Best get those trainers back on.

How to reverse it

  • You can rebuild those mitochondria, but it’ll take you longer than it did to lose them. That’s probably because even active people only exercise for a portion of the day.
  • Staying sedentary, on the other hand, is a 24-hour pursuit, says study author Martin Gram, from the University of Copenhagen. The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll see results.

Your muscles wither

  • Strength lingers longer than endurance once you stop training. But depending on just how slothful you’ve become, your quads and biceps may start to shrink soon after you leave the weight room, Gram’s study found two weeks of complete rest meant significant declines in muscle strength.
  • What’s more, some muscle fibres actually convert from fastest-twitch type IIa to more explosive (but faster-fatiguing) type IIx, which can hamper your ability to sustain high-intensity efforts, Sims says.

How to reverse it

  • You’ll need longer to rebuild your muscle mass than it took you to lose it, but less time than it would take someone who has never picked up a dumbbell in his life. As for those fast-twitch fibres?
  • About 10 weeks of thrice-weekly strength training sessions increased the total volume of fast-twitch fibres by 22%, as well as the ratio of type IIa to type IIx, found a recent paper in the journal Human Movement Science. Use that for motivation during your next squat session.

You plump up

  • Within a week, your muscles lose some of their fat-burning potential and your metabolism slows down, says Paul Arciero, an exercise science professor at Skidmore College.
  • According to a study he published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, a five-week exercise break boosted collegiate swimmers’ fat mass by 12 per cent. In another study, Koundourakis found super-fit, already-ripped professional footballers players gained a percentage point of body fat after taking six weeks off.

How to reverse it

  • Double the length of your break – you may need at least that long to reach the same level of lean.
  • If you can manage to squeeze in just one workout a week instead of completely laying off, you’ll maintain some fitness and fast-forward the process of getting your old body back, Arciero says.
  • Just two weeks on the sidelines turned regular exercisers tired and grumpy, found a recent study in the journal Brain, Behaviour, and Immunity.
  • Although human evidence is limited, rat studies presented at a recent Society for Neuroscience conference suggest animals that stop moving for just a week grow fewer new brain cells and do worse on maze tests than those who stick to a steady wheel-running routine.
  • Emulate the Brain, not Pinky, by getting back on the treadmill.

How to reverse it

  • Hitting the gym produces a near-instant mood lift, even for people whose depression is clinical, not just a case of the weepies, according to recent research in the journal Abnormal Psychology.
  • Even, regular, moderate movement helped older adults grow a larger hippocampus, a key brain area for memory; within a year, says Kirk Erickson, from the University of Pittsburgh. Forget the Sudoku – that’s true brain training.