Whether it was a relaxing holiday, an illness, or a cold winter that led to you taking a break from training – the best way to get back into it is by preparing well. In this blog we show you how your body changes during a break, and support you as you get back into training with critical tips.
Taking a break from training and the off-season: the differences
While professionals generally only reduce their training in the periods between competitions, even the most ambitious amateur athletes can sometimes find they end up taking a break from training for several weeks. This creates a quite different basis when it comes to getting back into active training again.
This blog post is aimed at all passionate recreational athletes who need to take a longer break from sport and are now starting to train again. If you’re a professional athlete starting the next season, we recommend you read our post end the offseason, start the season.
How does the body change during a break from training?
Suspending training has both negative and positive effects. On the one hand, training breaks are sensible and important to allow the body to recover; on the other hand, they can counteract our hard-won training success if they last too long. So, let’s talk about what happens to your body during your break!
Positive changes during the break from training
First, let’s look at the positive changes:
Our musculoskeletal system has two parts. The active musculoskeletal system is made up of
- tendon sheaths,
- bursae, and the
- skeletal muscles.
The passive musculoskeletal system is made up of
- spinal disks,
- joints, and
All these different components are used to different degrees when you exercise. When you take a break from training, they finally have time to recover. The same is also true for what are known as microtraumas. These are minor injuries that initially have no noticeable effects on our body, but without a recovery period could lead to inflammation or scarring in the long run.
Reduction in stress hormones
Professional athletes can be subjected to a great deal of stress, particularly during the competition period. But even enthusiastic amateur athletes can feel under immense pressure to increase or maintain their own performance.
A break from training is therefore very important for mental recovery. It also frees up valuable time for family or counterbalancing hobbies. This recharges the mental energy store again, increasing motivation for getting back into training, and ensuring that sport once again decreases rather than increases stress.
So, during your break, give yourself enough time for the good things – other than sport, of course!
Negative changes during the break from training
One thing’s for sure: when you stop training, your body loses performance after a time. The extent of these changes depends on how long the break is, and whether you stay active and continue to have a balanced diet. Let’s look at what the negative effects of a break from training can be and how you can counteract them.
Reduction of stamina
During a break from training, the body starts to adapt itself to less strain after just a couple of days. The capacity to absorb oxygen decreases and the performance potential drops. The longer the break lasts, the more significantly performance drops.
Amateur athletes only notice the drop in performance after a couple of weeks, while professional athletes see the change after just a couple of days.
Muscle loss during the break from training
A couple of weeks into the break from training, there is a noticeable visual decline in muscle tissue. This is because glycogen breakdown means less water is stored in the muscles. But don’t worry: this is only a visual change. Muscle tissue and built-up muscle strength only starts to reduce after around four weeks.
Increase in fatty tissue
The body requires less energy, so it stores more fat. If you completely stop exercising during your break from training, and consequently take on more calories than you need, your proportion of body fat will naturally increase.
The myth that the body converts muscle tissue into fat without training is actually complete nonsense. Biologically it’s just not possible, because fat is made up of fat cells and muscles out of muscle cells.
Your body is equally unable to convert fat cells into muscle. However, your body fat will be more visible the more the muscles shrink as a result of the breakdown of glycogen.
Reduction in agility
If in addition to reducing daily exercise during the break from training we also avoid stretching exercises, our muscles and tendons shorten over time and our musculoskeletal system loses flexibility. With the decrease in agility, the risk of injury also increases.
How can you counteract negative effects during your break from training?
The following tips will help you preserve the built-up performance as much as possible in the next training phase, and effectively reduce the negative changes.
Slow down muscle wasting
During the break from training our need for calories drops too. If we significantly reduce our food intake however, our body will take the missing energy out of the muscle tissue. So, during the break from training, you need to make sure that your body receives enough calories. You can also slow down muscle tissue wastage with a protein-rich diet.
Protein is very important for our muscles, but also for the brain, heart, hair, and skin. It is made up of different amino acids that the body can only produce on its own to a limited extent. To find out how much protein you need, it’s best to talk to your doctor or nutritionist. As a rule of thumb, you can work it out based on one and a half gram per kilogram (1.5g/kg) of body weight.
However, this need increases with physical strain. If you do intense strength training, you therefore need more protein. An energy bar can be a sensible supplement here.
And: if you’re wondering about the difference between protein bars and energy bars, they’re the same thing!
If you are less active during the break from training, logically your agility also decreases. Spending a long time sitting down working and the resulting one-sided strain restrict your flexibility even more. This can make it difficult for you to get back into your training program, and in the worst case even lead to muscle strain.
Simple yoga exercises or relaxing walks will ensure that your muscles and ligaments do not shorten too much during the break from training, and that you stay agile.
Stretching is also very important for agility – and not just immediately before and after sport, but also during a break. It also reduces the risk of injury when you restart training.
You can also use fascia training to mobilize the musculoskeletal system. It will help your body tension and prevent joint and back pain at the same time.
Your condition weakens less the more active you are during your breaks from training. You can do something with this simple insight during your break.
For example, during your next holiday discover your holiday destination on foot or by bike rather than by car. This isn’t just about staying fit – it’s fun and gives you an urge to explore!
Not yet planned your holiday? No problem! You can also use your free time to discover hiking trails near your home. Hiking is ideal for breaks from training: it provides mental balance, a chance to discover new places, and still means you’re working on your condition.
Getting back into training after a break – how to do it!
Absolutely THE most important tip for getting back into training after a break is: take your time and listen to your body. Naturally you’re highly motivated and want to regain your previous performance level as quickly as possible. But for many reasons, it’s best not to immediately jump into training under the same conditions:
Get back into training slowly
Your body needs to get used to the strain again. Take your time and work back to your old condition step by step – particularly if your sport puts a lot of strain on your joints.
For example, if you start running again after a long break from training, you should start with shorter distances with soft surfaces to protect your joints.
One of many tips to stay motivated when running is choosing a really lovely route, for example through a forest. That way you can enjoy nature while running and run on comfortably soft ground.
Draw up a training plan
During your break from training, you can start to decide your goals for the upcoming season. Are there particular challenges that you want to conquer this year? Or did you maybe make mistakes over the last year that you want to avoid? You can take all these insights into account when drawing up your training plan.
If an illness or an injury is the reason for your break, you should discuss your plan with your doctor. They are the best person to judge whether your body is ready for the strain.
If your doctor advises you against returning to training right now, it’s not the end of the world: these tips will help you stay fit despite your injury and prepare you in the best possible way for when you can return.
Make sensible changes to your diet
Now is the perfect time to change your diet in terms of nutrients and calories ready for your increasing requirements. When putting together your meals, make sure you look beyond the edge of your plate. Superfoods that will help you increase your performance can be a sensible addition to your meal plan and are available in almost all supermarkets.
Using your training plan, you can estimate roughly how many calories you will need. Use this knowledge to optimally balance your diet for your calorie requirements according to your plan.
Also remember that the body needs plenty of fluids. This is not just about the quantity, but also choosing the right drink.
After a longer break from training it is important to stay motivated. It’s therefore better to set yourself easier goals and be happy when you gradually regain your old performance ability. This will keep you motivated for longer, and reduce your risk of injury.
Do you find it hard to motivate yourself? Why not get yourself a training partner or join a sports club? This way you will meet new people who share your enthusiasm for the sport and who you can talk to.
Stretching and warming up is of course always important, but after a longer break from training the right warmup is even more critical. Now you need to pay even more attention to stretching yourself enough and warming up properly. This protects you from injuries and keeps sore muscles in check.
These aches can be considerably worse when getting back into active training than they were during the last season – and unnecessarily inhibit your motivation. But our tips to relieve sore muscles will help you to effectively counteract them.
The 2023 training season starts here
We hope this blog helps you with the upcoming season and look forward to finally getting back into the saddle with you. Pay attention to your rhythm and listen to your body. It’s the best way to reduce the risk of injury and keep yourself motivated.
Then nothing will stand in the way of you achieving your sporting goals this year!
Do you have your own secret tips for the best way to get back into training after a break that you want to share with us? Tell us in the comments – we’d love to hear your feedback!
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