How Long Does It Really Take to Lose Your Fitness?

Before you decide to step away from the gym/yoga studio/Pilates mat over the holidays, it’s handy to know exactly how much time you have up your sleeve before your fitness, strength, and flexibility will start heading down hill. Because there’s nothing fun about returning to exercise in 2016 only to realize you’ve lost everything you sweated for the year before.

To plan out exactly how many guilt-free days you (and we!) can take to skip exercise over the holidays, we chatted with experts in five types of fitness. So whether you’re a Pilates regular or prefer to clock up miles on a treadmill, this is how long it will take to really lose your fitness.

Pilates: two to four weeks.

“If you are very consistent and take three or more classes per week, that work stays. Pilates is all strength training, deep muscle toning, and stretching. Once you have built that muscle, it takes a long time to deteriorate. Muscle keeps your metabolism at a higher resting rate, so even if you Netflix binge the whole holiday, you are still burning more calories than if you hadn’t built all that muscle. I start to see the butt change after two weeks; however, it takes a full month (as long as you are not overeating) to see your waistline really lose its shape. That being said, I feel it right away. If I go longer than five days without the studio, my hamstrings, back, and neck all crave some Pilates! Sitting around makes me so tight.” –Heather Andersen, New York Pilates founder and teacher

High-intensity interval training: five days.

“It varies from person to person and depends on where you are in terms of fitness level. For me, I notice a difference within five days, and that can be accelerated or controlled depending on what you are eating. For example, if you are not incorporating a balanced diet into your lifestyle and are eating poorly, you will see that you are starting to lose your results faster. If you maintain a good diet, your body will respond better to time off, and it won’t be such a drastic difference visually. I try to make it a part of my lifestyle so that even if I take a week off, I always go back into it, even if the first day back is a bit more challenging to get my body back into shape.

“One thing that is true for everyone is that consistency is key. No matter what, you must commit to making fitness a part of your lifestyle and stick to it. The great thing about high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts, especially when your body is warmed up and cooled down correctly, is that your body begins to develop muscle, and in turn, muscle memory. You also continue to burn calories long after your workout ends. With the proper diet, you can actually help to increase your metabolism even more, which, in turn, will help if you have to take a couple days off, especially during the holidays. If you take a day or two off, you will not be set back, starting from scratch; the most important thing is to listen to your body. Sometimes your body needs a break, and listening to it will get you long-term results.” –Jessica Bolbach, Kore HIIT cofounder

Running: two to three weeks.

“Unfortunately, the cliché ‘use it or lose it’ is true when it comes to exercising. Typically for those individuals who run on a regular basis (four to six days a week), we recommend one or two days of rest and recovery per week. Breaks from running are recommended and quite necessary because muscles are broken down during workouts and only get the chance to rebuild during periods of rest.

“However, the amount of time the individual can take off before losing strength and energy is based on the type of workouts performed and a number of other variables. Height, weight, BMI, age, sex, and diet all contribute to how fast or slow the body regains muscle memory. The more lean muscle a person has, the more calories they will burn even if they are not working out every day; this means a person with more lean muscle can take longer breaks from working out and recover more quickly than an individual who has less muscle mass and works out only once or twice per week.

“Taking all of these variables into consideration (nutrition and sleep being the most important), an individual should take no more than two to three weeks off if they want to maintain what they have worked for, unless they suffer from injury or a health-related issue.” –Garry Matthews, celebrity personal trainer and founder of G Train Fitness

Yoga: one to two weeks.

“The short response is that one to two weeks is a safe sabbatical from yoga without being set back too much with your strength, flexibility, and balance. However, there are several factors that influence how fast you lose and/or gain skill levels in yoga.

“The first factor is your starting point. Most people are at a beginner to intermediate level in yoga, which means they have limited strength, balance, and flexibility. The more advanced you become, the longer you can go without practice before you begin to see considerable setbacks in skill level. It also becomes easier to make gains when you become more advanced.

“The same is true for those who have to take time off due to illness or injury, which both can play a large role in how quickly you lose your yoga fitness and conditioning. If you are taking time off to do other activities, such as to swim, play sports, or go skiing, this may also play a role in how long it takes to lose or regain your level. Being very active in sports can tighten your muscles considerably, but strengthen them, so you will notice gains and losses if this is the route you take during your time off.

“The third factor has to do with your stress levels and eating habits. If you’re staying up late, drinking alcohol, and eating acidic foods, you will tighten up quickly and lose your practice more rapidly. Those who are relaxing at the beach, sipping green juice, mediating, and eating clean will maintain their yoga practice much more easily.” –Dashama Gordon, certified yoga teacher at FitFusion, founder Pranashama Yoga Institute

Strength training: two weeks

“One of the scariest things for people is that they think they will lose it all just by taking a few days off. Depending on your level of fitness (and, to be honest, genetics has a little to do with it too), you can take about two weeks of rest before you start to lose some of your strength and endurance. Some small losses may be seen in flexibility, energy, and most importantly, motivation. Staying in shape is a habit—the longer you let it go, the harder it is to get back on track.” –Ray Wallace, trainer at YG Studios
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