Below, I’ll provide insight into how much fitness you may have lost during the quarantine and how you can build your strategy to return to running.
This guide isn’t just useful during this crisis though. This information can be interesting for other times, such as when you have the flu, when you decide to go on holiday or when you simply need a break from running. By using the information in this article you can understand and estimate how much aerobic capacity you will lose during your time off and how long it may take you to build it back.
How quickly do you lose running fitness?
So, how long does it take before you lose everything you worked so hard to build up? To answer this, we need to know what we’re measuring! In running, VO2max values are quite important and most studies determine a runner’s condition by assessing their VO2max values. VO2max is, basically, your ability to use oxygen during exercise.
Scientists continually study this subject and the research is very interesting! Here’s what the research essentially boils down to...
First, most studies use “well-trained athletes” as subjects. A well-trained athlete is basically a decently trained runner that has trained consistently for 4 to 6 months.
If you’ve been training for a shorter amount of time then you probably haven’t built a sustainable increase in VO2max (this is your ability to use oxygen during exercise) and any kind of a prolonged break will result in a decrease of performance. You should plan your return to running starting with a base-building block (easy runs, plenty of rest and recovery). That being said, the information below is still interesting and may come in handy in the future.
If you’ve been consistently training for 4 to 6 months (or more) then you are considered a “well-trained” athlete and the following information applies to you.
Moving on, here’s what the studies show:
2 weeks: VO2max decreases by 6%
9 weeks: VO2max decreases by 19%
11 weeks: VO2max decreases by 25.7%
(I want to keep the results above simple, but if you’d like to know more information or read the research paper, simply click on the links above.)
What do these percentages mean in terms of actual running pace? Well, let’s say you’re a 20-minute 5K runner…
After a two-week break, you’d be looking at a finish time of 21:05 for the 5K.
After a nine-week break, you’d cross the finish line in around 24:00.
After eleven weeks, you’d be fit to run a 5K in 25:30.
Any conditioning lost within a two-week period can be considered negligible. You would be able to regain any capacity lost within the same amount of time.
I’d imagine most of us have been quarantined for at least four weeks so we’re looking at a VO2max drop of somewhere around 10-13%. Although this loss isn’t negligible, it’s also not a huge loss. I would except to be able to build back the same conditioning in around three to four weeks without any major changes to your usual training routine – just make sure you don’t increase your miles right off the bat.
If you’ve been quarantined for nine weeks (or more), I would approach training carefully. In one of the research papers mentioned above, the same individual that had de-trained for 11 weeks managed to improve his conditioning by around 10% after just 4 weeks. Taking that into account, you may want to consider taking some time to build a solid aerobic base before starting any aerobic/threshold or anaerobic work. Let’s dive further into this subject…
During the period of time that you haven’t been training, you have been gradually losing aerobic conditioning and muscular endurance, as well as strength. Therefore, it’s imperative that you gradually start building up your conditioning once again.
The following statement applies to all runners. When you put your running shoes back on and head out to the streets you must focus on gradual re-adaptation. If you’ve been at home for the past weeks then you will need to build a solid base once again.
It’s tough to give exact guidelines on what distance you should run. There’s a large audience reading our articles and each runner has different capacities. I cannot give you exact numbers or suggestions on what distance to race though, you’ll have to figure that out for yourself (or shoot me an email if you’re looking for personal coaching).
How do you build a solid aerobic base?
If you’ve been totally inactive for 9 to 11 weeks, you have to start from the bottom. Take 40/50% of your old weekly running volume and split that up between five days of the week. This means that if you were running 60km per week before the quarantine you will now attempt to run 25km per week. This could be split up like this…
Monday - 5km
Tuesday - rest
Wednesday - 7km
Thursday - rest
Friday – 3km
Saturday - 10km
Sunday - rest
Remember to keep the speed work OUT for now. When choosing your percentages, it’s better to be conservative. It’s always better to start with a lower volume than you could handle instead of starting with high volume, facing injury and having to reduce volume or stop running altogether.
I know you’re ready to get back on the road, but you’ll have to be conservative. Focus on gradual re-adaptation and remember that it’s better to start out with less miles/km, to avoid injury.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Did you know that most experienced/elite runners take at least one month off from running every year?
Most novice runners seem to think that running is a year-round sport, however, they couldn’t be more wrong! When you look at running from a professional perspective, you’ll find that most (if not all) athletes train for about 10/11 months.
This means that you can literally look back at the time you’ve been “stuck” at home as “rest” and you can start planning your next running season! In a way, you could even call yourself a ‘pro-runner’ ;)
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