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How fast do you decondition if you are injured and have to stay off the bike?? Should you taper your training program in the days before an event? There are plenty of personal stories and recommendations. What are the facts?

First, let's review why training improves your maximum performance as measured by VO2max, and your endurance which we will define as your ability to maintain that high level of performance over a number of hours.

When you cut back on training, these adptive changes reverse themselves at different rates.

As a result, when detraining does occur, it takes months to years to reach your original pretraining program state, and as the structural changes i.e the ratio of muscle cell types and the number of capillaries per muscle cell, remain for a significant time, you can retrain to your optimum potential in a much shorter time after a prolonged layoff. If you were able to exercise just one day a week at your VO2max, and took the other 6 days off, you could maintain your VO2max. And if you stopped training entirely, your VO2 max would decrease by only 7% in the first 3 weeks and 16% in 2 months. But your endurance capacity (ability to maintain your VO2max) drops off much more quickly and is not protected by the once a week exercise strategy.

So there are some risks with a rest - be it for an injury or to pursue other personal interests. And it doesn't appear that it makes any difference if one trains three days a week near their VO2max or 3 days at a slower pace as demonstrated in the following study. Two groups decreased their training volume by 50%. One trained at 68% VO2mx 3 x per week, and the other varied above and below lactate threshold for 10 minute intervals and averaged 83% VO2ax. Both maintained equal performance levels for 21 days. This offers hope that if there is an injury, a reduced training program can be undertaken with minimal risk for 3 weeks.

But there can be benefits from a brief rest as well. This is demonstrated nicely in a study which linked a 50%, single-step reduction in HIT to an approximately 6% improvement in simulated 100 km time-trial performances after 2 weeks. Thus a planned taper can be used to ones benefit.

If an injury requires you to slow down for two or three weeks, a 3 day a week, slow and steady program can do a lot to postion you for a comeback after your recovery. And even if you have to abandon the bike for a month or two (a fracture for example), you should be able to look forward to retraining more quickly than the first time around.

Bottom line: The benefits that occur in your muscles and cardiovascualr system from regular training decline with a half-time of approximately 12 days. This means that after two weeks of inactivity, you'll go halfway from your trained state to the level you'd be at if you hadn't trained at all. Take another two weeks off and you'll lose half of what's left, and so on. But just three (and perhaps even two) intense one-hour rides (on a trainer indoors, or out) each week will safeguard much of your aerobic fitness and muscle strength for a midwinter (or injury related) break.

Questions on content or suggestions to improve this page are appreciated.

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