Detraining in endurance runners

2014-01-04 11.43.04If you’ve been following my blog long enough, you probably know that I usually run 50 to 60 miles per week. Unfortunately, the recent snowstorm that hit much of the eastern U.S has made it difficult to maintain this routine. My usual routes are covered in several inches of snow or ice, and it is going to take a while for most of it to melt. And more snow is expected next week.

It’s no big secret that I’m not a big fan of treadmills or indoor exercise in general. And treadmills don’t like me much either, so the feeling is mutual. I’ll use it when I absolutely must, but going beyond an hour is difficult for me since it feels tedious and dull.

I can still run outside, but it takes longer and it is more tiring to cover my usual routes. If you’ve been following my crazy blog long enough, you know I can run long distances in snowstorms, but mostly in the early stages when there is little snow on the ground. Unfortunately, due to all the snow outside yesterday, instead of running to Valhalla like I usually do, I ended up running to Mount Olympus, which is closer. For those new to the blog, Valhalla is a town 12 miles north from me, and Mount Olympus is a diner in Yonkers. What did you think I was talking about? I have traction enhancers on my sneakers, but they merely prevent slipping, they don’t necessarily make running in snow less tiring.

With my routine temporarily reduced, this leaves me wondering how much of my endurance capacity will be lost due to “detraining”. Fortunately, it doesn’t look like much. Overall, it is much easier to maintain fitness than to become fit.

According to Sports Medicine, in “Impact of reduced training on performance in endurance athletes“:


Many endurance athletes and coaches fear a decrement in physical conditioning and performance if training is reduced for several days or longer. This is largely unfounded. Maximal exercise measures (VO2max, maximal heart rate, maximal speed or workload) are maintained for 10 to 28 days with reductions in weekly training volume of up to 70 to 80%. Blood measures (creatine kinase, haemoglobin, haematocrit, blood volume) change positively or are maintained with 5 to 21 days of reduced training, as are glycogen storage and muscle oxidative capacities. Submaximal or improved with a 70 to 90% reduction in weekly volume over 6 to 21 days, provided that or improved with a 70 to 90% reduction in weekly volume over 6 to 21 days, provided that exercise frequency is reduced by no more than 20%. Athletic performance is improved or maintained with a 60 to 90% reduction in weekly training volume during a 6 to 21 day reduced training period, primarily due to an enhanced ability to exert muscular power. These findings suggest that endurance athletes should not refrain from reduced training prior to competition in an effort to improve performance, or for recovery from periods of intense training, injury, or staleness.

There doesn’t appear to be much to worry about, even though I usually feel cranky if I don’t run on a day I was scheduled to run on. Based on my readings, it appears that endurance capacity can be maintained for up to 2 weeks, even if exercise is greatly reduced. It’s after 2 weeks that reductions in fitness start becoming apparent.

So if Old Man Winter is interfering with your outdoor fitness routine, don’t worry too much about it. Adapt if you can to the outside conditions, but if the situation is too extreme, try exercising indoors whenever possible.

4 responses to “Detraining in endurance runners

  1. Great article! I’ve worried about detraining before as well, especially when I went on vacation to Disney for a week. I read pretty much what you did, that it takes about 2 weeks to start noticing a reduction in fitness.

  2. I hope you had a lot of fun at Disney. I think it usually takes about 4 weeks to lose most of your fitness, and then several weeks to get it back. Elite athletes may have permanent adaptations that may enable them to get their fitness back a lot faster after long breaks, like large hearts, bigger arteries, more capillaries, etc. I wish you well with your next race.

  3. I empathise with your frustration, fingers crossed the snow hurries away quickly. Over in the UK we are being bombarded with wind and rain but skin is waterproof and as long as it stays mild (so no ice/snow) the running shall continue!

    • I never thought I’d say this, but you’re lucky living in the U.K. It doesn’t get too cold, and it seems you get little snow and it melts fast since you’re on an island that receives warm moist air from the Gulf Stream. Take care and happy running!

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