What Happens When You Stop Training?

Coach's Corner

Coach Caleb’s Corner

What Happens When You Stop Exercising?

It’s here! Holiday time is upon us. This is one of my favorite times of the year; Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hanukah, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day… there’s a lot of fun to be had. There is also a noticeable spike in the consumption of treats and a noticeable increase in the challenge associated with keeping up a regular training regimen. That’s why our fantastic Breakthrough members are avidly taking part in our Break Even Challenge right now!

As I write this, I’m flying home from a wonderful visit to my home town of Calgary, where we were able to spend some much needed time to recharge our batteries with family and friends. This little stretch of time away from the gym got me thinking about what happens when our training gets suspended for a time. Getting a break from training for about a week or so is actually recommended every once in awhile, but the repercussions of being away from exercise for longer can be quite surprising.


A recent study published by sports physician, Farah Hameed, MD, shed some light on the effects of ceasing exercise for periods of 10 days and beyond. After reading it, I was glad that I had planned some “on the road” training for us! Fortunately for Kati and I, my energetic parents have a few kettlebells for us to train with, and a dear friend treated us to one of her amazing yoga classes (with a beautiful rocky mountain view!) so we didn’t actually miss a beat on our program this week. While the research seems to indicate that occasional (maybe twice a year) downtime from exercise of up to 10 days shouldn’t derail all our efforts in the gym, what happens after those 10 days can be scary!

The first victim of a 10 day hiatus in training is not actually the body, but the brain! A noticeable reduction in blood flow to the hippocampus has been observed after the cessation of exercise, and this part of the brain is associated with memory and emotion. More studies are needed, but the suspicion is that all our squats, dead lifts, push ups and kettlebell swings, are actually helping us offset age related memory loss!

When we stretch the time off to 14 days, our VO2 Max takes a hit. This means the maximum capacity of oxygen our bodies can use is reduced by up to 10%. You know that uncomfortable “out of breath” feeling? Probably not, because you train all the time, but if you didn’t for a month, this percentage of lost wind becomes 15%, and after three months the drop in our available huff and puff can reach 20%! At this point, a walk around the block might become challenging.

The positive of effects of strength training and conditioning on our blood pressure readings and blood glucose levels also start to fade after 14 days of neglect. How bad could that be? How about losing up to 50% of your hard earned gains!

Speaking of strength training (my favorite aspect of what we do!), there’s some good news. We don’t typically see much of a decline in strength gains until about four weeks off. Phew! That means that by keeping up our activity levels with walking, running, hiking, biking, swimming, and other such fun activities, we can stave off many of the negative consequences described above and still not lose our kettlebell and barbell gains for quite awhile. That’s one of the joys of training periodization.

If we aren’t able to train seriously for eight weeks, however, we can expect not only a loss in strength, but an increase in body fat. Even while performing light exercise sessions a few times per week, one group of guinea pig athletes experienced a 12% increase in their body fat percentage and waist circumference while taking a break from their more dedicated training efforts for a couple months. Ugh!

With the holidays in full swing, it’s likely you may have a few more days than normal without exercise. Enjoy the downtime, stay active with more leisurely activities, and make sure you get back on track after a week or so. You may even find that the barbell feels even better in your hands after a little time away. Something else to look forward to this season!

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