I have just read a very interesting article by Andrew Hamilton published in Cycling Weekly (27 December 2013): Detraining: the truth about losing fitness.
In this article Andrew explains in almost forensic detail what happens to your body if you completely quit training, over periods of 3 days, then 7 days, two to three weeks, one month, two to three months and finally six months. This made sobering reading for me, since I am only just coming out of a three-month period of forced sporting inactivity, caused by quite severe sciatic pain.
According to Andrew, after three months my “heart is noticeably less muscular, the thickness of the muscle walls that comprise the pumping chambers reduced by as much as 25 per cent”. Also, the muscle mitochondria have become less efficient: “this efficiency can decline by 25 to 45 per cent up to 12 weeks after training cessation”.
This is not the end of the bad news. If I leave it any longer, I’m going to enter a phase of ‘hormonal detraining‘, meaning that more stress hormones will be released during exercise, resulting in increased recovery times.
Andrew notes, however, that there is some good news, for me and for anyone else that may suffer an enforced break of more than a month or so. We are likely to maintain a higher baseline fitness than someone who’s never trained. Thank heavens for small mercies!
In my own case, the sciatic pain has now gone, leaving only a slight numbness in the toes of my right foot. It is time to start out on the road back to full fitness. Over the next three to four months I’ll post regular updates on progress.
At present I am re-building core strength, essentially doing floor exercises. I plan to get on the bike again in the next two weeks, starting with the home trainer. I don’t want to take the risk of re-awakening the inflammation, so will take things slowly.
One surprising piece of good news is that I actually lost weight through Novermber and December, so at least I don’t have to go on a diet as well! Happy cycling to all, and do pitch in with comments below if you have either experienced or are experiencing something similar.