What Happens When You Stop Training- Dealing With Injury
Since injuries are often the cause of you having to take time away from the gym, an article on detraining would be incomplete without some discussion of what happens when a well trained individual becomes bedridden. In the olden days bed rest was cited as the best treatment for just about everything[2,3] but time has shown quite the contrary and that laying down for prolonged periods can do more harm than good.  In fact prolonged bed rest brings about severe cardiovascular deconditioning, reductions in muscle size, strength and maximal oxygen consumption as well as reduced bone mass. [4,5] It used to be that when you had a procedure done at a hospital you would spend a lot of time laying down, but today many remark at how aggressive hospital staff tend to be in terms of getting you back on your feet. You see both our cardiovascular and muscular systems operate best while counteracting gravity in an upright position . A coordinated interaction between the cardiovascular and nervous systems ensures that your brain and other organs have a steady supply of blood. However fluid shifts and changes in blood pressure brought on by extended periods in a reclined position can bring about severe cardiovascular deconditioning in as little as 2-3 weeks.[6, 7]. We know for a fact that it is the position itself and not inactivity per se that is a causative factor of heart dysfunction as studies have been able to replicate deterioration in heart function in volunteers to the degree observed over 2-3 weeks of bed rest after as little as 20 hours of in a reclined position with the head tilted downwards. Like detraining, blood volume is also reduced during periods of inactivity, but unlike detraining normal heart function is not restored when blood volume returns to normal [6,7]
Thanks to these bed rest induced changes, studies have found that maximal oxygen consumption decreases at a rate of just under 1% per day over 30 days of bed rest. That is a significant loss of function over time and it happens regardless of age and gender. [8,9,10] The bad news is that being in good shape doesn’t make it any better, in fact the more physically fit you are, the greater your absolute VO2max decreases daily when compared to less fit individuals. [8,9,10,11] Most hospitals and rehabilitation facilities are pretty good at getting you up and moving and special pressure sleeves are often used with individuals forced to stay in bed as a way of minimizing dangerous fluid shifts over time.
What To Do When You Stop Training: Best Practices to Not Gain Weight
Now that we understand the dynamics behind weight gain when regular training is stopped, the most important thing you can do during a layoff is to gradually reduce your calorie intake. It isn’t always an easy thing to do as millions can attest to the fact that eating less can be frustratingly difficult, however it is the only way to compensate for decreased activity levels and possible loss of metabolically active lean fat free muscle tissue over time. The more muscular you are and those who engage in high volumes of intense exercise need to pay particular attention to this recommendation as the more muscle you have the less you’ll need to eat, and it goes without saying that stopping extreme amounts of exercise will mean reducing calories to suit. Those who are injured are also at risk as your activity level may be far less than it would be if you weren’t injured in terms of everyday activity, so concessions must be made to keep your food intake on par with your needs and not what you were used to eating while actively training.
If at all possible, try to always do something. It might not be the same as an intense workout nor might it yield that satisfying feeling that comes after true exertion, but a walk here and there can do you some good and keep you from becoming too depressed when by your situation. Depression can be a common problem among those forced to stop training against their will, and movement will do you some good psychologically, and keep you from spending too much time laying in bed. Another good strategy is to fidget as much as you can. It might not seem like much but some studies have found some increased calorie expenditures among individuals who move around and fidget regularly when compared to more stationary individuals. You won’t burn a ton of calories, but if you stand when you can sit and make a point to get up and move around every couple of minutes instead of always staying in one place, it will help some. Stay strong!
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1. Chi MM-Y, et al. Effects of detraining on enzymes of energy metabolism in individual human muscle fibers. Am J Physiol 1983
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