Travel plans can wreck or improve fitness – What an athlete needs to know

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As a coach, many of my athletes have contacted me to request I make changes to their training calendars because of unexpected travel or they forgot about a family vacation.

The next thing we talk about is what training they think they can accomplish when traveling. Quite often I hear that the athlete doesn’t think they can get in much of any training.

I think many of them are surprised when I politely disagree with this line of thought.

But before we dig into the details I have a few notes… I will make it quick…

Note: Before you get out pencil and paper for the show I want to let everyone know that this show will have extensive show notes and the notes will include the links mentioned in offers and potentially citations to sports science studies. To find the show notes simply go to or search for the show title at the aforementioned link.

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Ok, let’s get back to the topic at hand….

There are MANY things we can do to lessen the impact of travel on our training.

But before we jump into the tips and tricks of maintaining fitness when traveling let’s talk about the potential losses if you stop training while traveling. What I am sharing is based on multiple studies and I will provide links to articles in the show notes.

1 week of no training = No Change in Muscle Mass, Muscle Strength, or endurance capacity.

2 weeks of no training = Up to 7% Decrease in Vo2 Max but still no change in Muscle Mass or Muscle Strength.

3 weeks of no training = 9% Decrease in Vo2 Max, Muscle mass and muscle strength beginning to decrease slightly in some individuals but testosterone and growth hormone levels increase creating an environment conducive to greater gains if you resume training at this point. You may, however, look smaller because of the depletion of glycogen stores in your muscles.

4-8 weeks of no training = Decrease in strength and muscle mass in most individuals with beginners seeing less of a strength reduction compared to experienced lifters. Vo2 Max losses by 4 weeks can be reversed by beginners but highly trained athletes could see as much as a 20% reduction in Vo2 Max. It has also been shown that 4-weeks of detraining can lower the flexibility of hip, trunk, shoulder, and spine up to 30%.

The best thing an endurance athlete can do is to avoid breaks lasting longer than 2-3 weeks.

8-12 weeks of no training = Almost complete loss of increased VO2 Max from exercise among those training at lower intensities.

Strength maintenance can be maintained and strength even increased with the volume of training decreased to 1/3 or 1/9 of original training volume. Studies have even shown that 1 strength based workout per week will maintain strength gains for a period of 8-12 weeks.

As we have already learned that in beginner and trained endurance athletes that taking longer than a 3-week break, cardio based gains drop quickly. However, using alternative training methods, reducing training volume and even using completely different training methods can mitigate these losses. For example, several studies suggest that strength training can improve endurance and even Vo2 max.

Let’s think about the types of travel you the athlete may encounter.

Family Vacations, business, conference, emergencies…

Let’s talk about the various ways and means you can get the training in.

  • Hotel Gyms
  • Running
  • Swimming
  • Body Weighted Exercises
  • Resistance bands
  • Renting a Bike on location

Just remember you aren’t going to lose fitness in a day or two of downtime or even in a week but it will take twice as long to build yourself back up when taking long periods of time off.

I have spoken about how to manage the downtime in your training calendar but it bears repeating. If your training comes from a structured plan you only go backward on your calendar if you have taken 2-3 weeks off. If you have taken 4 to 6 weeks off then there will be a needed update to the calendar. If you are off for more than 60 days it will likely mean an overhaul of your training calendar.

Some other news from Coach Rob!

Other resources

What Happens When You Stop Training

The Science of Detraining

Effects of Physical Activity and Inactivity on Muscle Fatigue

How Long Does It Take To Get Out Of Shape?


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