The Groundhog's Revenge
6 hr. winter rogaine
Tar Hollow State Park & Forest
training & fitness
Use it or lose it...
There is probably not a single racer reading this that hasn't heard that statement. Detraining occurs when the athlete reduces the training duration or intensity or stops altogether due to a break in the training program, illness, injury or adverse weather. In the absence of appropriate training stimulus, the athlete experiences a loss of the physiological adaptations brought about by training. Aerobic endurance adaptations are most sensitive to periods of inactivity because of their enzymatic basis.
Right about this time of year you may notice that the little break you intended to take at the end of the adventure racing season has somehow morphed into 6 weeks of relative inactivity and may be wondering, "Just exactly how long does it take to lose it?"
The answer depends upon two things:
How long you've been training
How long you stop.
One study had well-conditioned athletes who had trained for years stop exercising all together. After a three month hiatus researchers found that the athletes lost about half of their aerobic conditioning. New exercisers, however, didn't fare as well. Another study followed new exercisers through the conditioning and deconditioning process. Sedentary individuals started a bicycling program for two months. During that time they made dramatic cardiovascular improvements and boosted their aerobic capacity substantially. Then they quit exercising altogether for the next two months. When re-tested, the researchers found that these new exercisers lost all their aerobic gains and returned to their pretraining fitness levels.
So the good news is that if you've been at it for a while, you've got a little more to work with, and chances are that you've already experienced some breaks in your training and know how to get back. If you're new to endurance training or don't already have a good base, it's going to be a little harder, so the best strategy would be to try not to lose too much in the first place.
It's not as hard as you may think. Studies have shown that simply decreasing exercise frequency from 6 days/week to 2 days/week of higher intensity exercise (70%-75% of maximum heart rate) can prevent declines in cardiovascular fitness for up to three weeks. Keep in mind that this is just a stop gap measure and if you continue at this reduced level you will begin to lose fitness (but even then, you won't lose it as fast as if you just sit on the couch and do nothing.) The key seems to be to keep the intensity up while decreasing the volume. If you can get the intensity up to around 85%, you will maintain your fitness for much longer
Something else to keep in mind is 'specificity'. You must train the same movements for which you plan to compete. Running on the treadmill won't do a thing for your biking fitness. It may keep your heart healthy and your weight down, but you'll feel it when you start riding again, so get an indoor trainer or take a spinning class to keep that hard-earned bike fitness.
That said, many athletes use the winter to spend time in the gym working with weights. Although most experts agree that lifting weights will not make one a faster runner, cyclist or paddler, they almost all agree that resistance training is beneficial to 'soft tissue health' and can improve tendon strength and bone density. It seems to be especially beneficial to masters athletes. If you have not paid much attention to strength conditioning, it may be a good time to give it a try. It will pay off on those long hike-a-bikes or canoe portages.
Finally, consider this - a great deal of success in adventure racing depends upon your ability to withstand discomfort. Run through a snowstorm or bike in 36° rain and when those first warm days in March roll around it will feel like a tropical paradise...and the feeling of being just a little better than all those drones inside pounding away on the treadmill is...well...is it so wrong to feel just a little superior?
12/14/2005 Brad is an expert on the effects of detraining and is currently engaged in a research project to see just how detrained a person can get.