What Happens to Your Body When You Stop Working Out?

Runner

Even when you have the best of intentions, life sometimes gets in the way of a fitness routine. And whatever the reason behind it, the absence of workouts will cause your body to lose some of the progress it had made. Here's how an exercise hiatus impacts your body—and what to do to get back on the plus side—for five common scenarios.

THE SITUATION: You had a crazy month at work and stopped your usual four-day-a-week gym habit cold turkey.

THE EFFECT ON YOUR BOD: Doing a mix of strength training and cardio is optimal for weight loss or control, muscle building, and aerobic health. Stop for a month, and you may notice that some areas get softer, that you're not able to lug as many heavy groceries, and that you get winded a little faster from taking the stairs.

"In a study of beginners who exercised for two months, their strength increased by 46 percent, and when they stopped training for two months, they lost 23 percent—half the gains they'd made," says exercise scientist Wayne Westcott, Ph.D., who points out that they were still ahead of where they'd be had they never trained at all. Further, the more fit you were to start, the slower the loss; a triathlete on a break may only drop five to 10 percent of her fitness level in a month or two.

Still, when getting back into it, go easy. For strength training, start with about 75 percent of the resistance you'd been using—and increase as you feel you can. You'll be back to where you were in probably half the length of time that you took off.

THE SITUATION: You used to weight train like crazy, but for the past several months, all you've fit in is a few sessions a week on the treadmill.

THE EFFECT ON YOUR BOD: In this case, your aerobic health should be in good shape, though you may notice that your strength and muscle tone have diminished some. Without weight training, you've likely lost muscle mass and gained some fat, even if the number on the scale stays the same.

"Surprisingly, research shows that longtime endurance runners lose muscle mass at the same rate—five pounds per decade—as everyone else, including the sedentary," says Westcott. "Running and other cardio activities don't build or maintain muscle mass." Add some strength back to your bod, and into your routine, to remedy that in short order by following that 75 percent guideline mentioned above.

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Lively, fun and provocative, the Women's Health brand addresses 360 degrees of life for the new generation of contemporary, confident, ambitious women. By connecting with our readers in the frank, irreverent voice of a trusted girlfriend, the clever, service-driven content transcends the title, making the brand a true one-stop lifestyle resource for millions of women who are making their mark.

Lively, fun and provocative, the Women's Health brand addresses 360 degrees of life for the new generation of contemporary, confident, ambitious women. By connecting with our readers in the frank, irreverent voice of a trusted girlfriend, the clever, service-driven content transcends the title, making the brand a true one-stop lifestyle resource for millions of women who are making their mark.

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