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How quickly do you lose running fitness?

Here's how to come back from a running break

Did the holidays lead to some patchy training or even a full-blown running break? When life gets busy, running can sometimes take a back seat and training plans can temporarily go out the window.

The good news is, runners don’t lose fitness that quickly. If life happened and training didn’t for a few weeks, here’s how to come back from your brief running break and what actually had happened to your body during that time. 

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Paula Schnurr is a two-time Canadian Olympian over 1,500m and a coach at McMaster University. She says that runners take roughly 7 to 10 days to start to lose their fitness. “From my experience as an athlete and coach, if you lose a few days of training you can feel less sharp and your rhythm may be slightly off.” She continues, “You haven’t lost a lot of fitness if you have only been off for a week or two, you just may feel a little sluggish and not as sharp.”

But Schnurr reminds that a break can actually be a really good thing for a runner. “When you are training and running all year round, it can be tough to compete at your best and accomplish your goals if you don’t take a break at some point.  You need to recharge your batteries in the body and the mind. It help keeps the fire going and keep motivation levels high.” The former 1,500m runner also says that it’s much better to take a break on your own terms, as opposed to a forced to rest because of an injury. 

Photo: Brian Erickson

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If you’ve taken a break and are looking to start running again, Schnurr recommends starting slowly. “I give my athletes a week, and in some cases two weeks off, with no running. Then they can take a week of easy running or cross-training as they come back.” When you’re returning to training it’s important to slowly increase your mileage, adding about 10 percent each week. 

Remember, returning to workouts should be gradual. If you’re used to doing three workouts a week, consider only doing two when you’re starting back.