It is widely understood that regular physical activity can reverse the unhealthy effects of inactivity. A well-designed fitness plan when practiced consistently can decrease one’s propensity for hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity as well as a host of other debilitating diseases. Over the past twenty-four years, we have seen individuals…

  • Lose weight
  • Reduce or in some cases eliminate their use of medications
  • Regain the health and vitality of their youth

Unfortunately, we have also seen some of these same individuals “roundtrip” and, for one bad reason or another, end up right back where they started.

The purpose of this article is to explore the concept of detraining.

  • How will the body respond when the dose of exercise is reduced?
  • How quickly will the body return to its pre-exercise state?
  • How quickly will the muscular system forget the weights it just lifted?
  • How quickly do bones forget the “pull” that stimulates them to maintain their mass?
  • How quickly will the cardio-respiratory systems forget the “overload” they just experienced forcing them to become more efficient?
  • How quickly will fat cells and the hormones that act on them forget that they need to be used?

Very little research has been conducted on the average Jane/Joe on detraining. Most research has been done on athletes in the area of strength training and motor performance. These studies have been used to develop “in-season/out-of-season” resistance training programs.

These are some things we do know:

Genetics. An individual’s baseline physicality is largely determined by their genetics. Genetics also plays a role in how quickly that individual responds to a change in the dose of exercise regardless of whether it is an increase or decrease.

Age. The jury is still out on the limits of human performance with regards to age. We are learning more and more about how to care for ourselves between bouts of formal exercise sessions, allowing us to push ourselves harder when exercising. However, the age-related decline in physical capacity will certainly be realized with each decade of life unless an intervention, such as exercise, is implemented.

Tenure. The number of days, months, years that an individual has participated in regular exercise will have an effect on how long the body will remember its last bout of exercise. For example, an individual who has been exercising regularly for six months is less likely to notice a detraining effect than one who has been exercising for two months. It is also important to note that the more experienced exerciser is most likely at a higher fitness level, capable of doing more work with each session. Therefore, it will take longer for the body to return to their previous de-conditioned state.

So, what is the answer? If you’ve acquired the health and fitness level you set out to achieve, what is the minimum volume of exercise required to maintain that fitness level? Obviously, a reduction in exercise volume (volume = frequency x intensity x time) will have a noticeable effect on the outcome.

The answer lies in manipulating the variables to maintain a volume of exercise that yields the desired result. For instance, a weight management client might get away with reducing their training frequency from four sessions per week to three sessions per week by increasing the intensity and/or time of each training session. We suggest working closely with your fitness professional to develop an intelligent exercise prescription and then, over time, observe the results. Changes will become appropriate as your fitness level, goals and lifestyle change.

Remaining vigilant and disciplined is key when considering a change in your exercise volume. You have attained your fitness goals and feel great. This is the new, real you. Do whatever it takes to stay there.

If you have any questions, please contact me at

Kym is the co-owner of One on One, Fitness Consultants Inc., in State College, PA.