Detraining: Is Winter Bad for your Athlete?

Detraining: Is Winter Bad for your Athlete?

In general, the answer is yes. The physical gains in spring, summer, and fall activities can be lost by a great reduction in physical activity during the winter.

What happens when you stop training?
When you stop strength training, you slowly lose the gains you made in muscle fiber size and other neuromuscular training adaptations. Even two weeks of detraining can lead to a significant decline in cardio fitness, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. Not exercising for two to eight months leads to loss of virtually all fitness gains. In general, the loss of aerobic capacity occurs more rapidly than declines in muscle strength according to the American College of Sports Medicine. (Sept 2014)

Take a look at the attached training chart. It is remarkable how your body reacts to no physical exercise. It “crashes” when you become a couch potato. The chart shows all gains are lost within just a few months.

While there are several winter sports that require regular exercise in practice such as Basketball and Wrestling, many athletes get much less exercise during the cold months. This is both weather related, a function of the much less daylight, and many fewer opportunities for sporting exercise.

Exercise patterns are highly seasonal. Activity in the winter and autumn months falls to half of the summer high. Youths have difficulty shifting activity from one season to the next or perpetuating activities despite change of season. (National Children and Youth Fitness Study)

The segment of the youth population engaging in appropriate physical activity, and by any measure, fluctuates with the seasons, falling off sharply in the fall and winter months and climbing again in spring and summer. Another study concluded that there is less opportunity for sporting activity during the winter months which also contributed to less physical activity and more sedentary lifestyle. (Pediatric Research Magazine – March 2013) The study concluded “Enhancing sporting activity in children during winter might be important to maintaining their exercise capacity.”

There are many athletes in warm weather sports such as football, baseball, soccer, softball, and many others that need scheduled off season physical activity to maintain physical gains.

What can you do to avoid losing all your exercise gains:
1) Find a winter sport
2) Many schools have off season training programs
3) Visit your local gym on a scheduled basis and focus on both strength and cardio exercises
4) Take a class or program designed to maintain and improve your performance

The bottom line is that physical improvement is a year-round endeavor and you need to be committed in both in season and out of season to maintain peak performance.
By Mike Baker, MPower Sports Performance