Detraining is when you start losing the fitness that took so long to build up. It sounds like a nightmare to many experienced cyclists. There’s one piece of good news. If you’ve been riding for a really long time, your detraining won’t be as quick and dramatic. Let’s take a closer look.
Years of training matter more than genetics
It has been observed in many different sports, not just cycling, that the total amount of years spent training is key in how well people maintain their training benefits. It doesn’t matter what discipline you choose, whether speed or endurance, or how genetically gifted you are. If you have been training consistently for years prior, you will be more resistant to fitness losses during an extended break from training.
Mitochondrial volume stays higher
It has been shown that an experienced athlete after 8-12 weeks of minimal exercise will retain 50 % greater mitochondrial volume and higher power at lactate threshold compared to sedentary people and novice endurance athletes. Mitochondrial volume has a big effect on how much energy an athlete can produce for muscles to use.
Capillary density stays elevated
It has also been shown that experienced athletes maintain elevated capillary density after a long break from training compared to sedentary people. Capillary density is essential for increased delivery of oxygen to muscles.
New VO2max gains are lost
Overall, endurance-training adaptations last longer than speed adaptations. That’s because the volume of endurance training accumulated over the years is huge compared to the amount of speed training. It has been shown that experienced athletes retain their base VO2max for a long time even without training but recently acquired gains in VO2max are lost within 4 weeks of no training no matter the experience level.
Experienced athletes have a better ability to retain training gains but that doesn’t mean they are fully immune to detraining. The next article will be all about how to minimize endurance losses during a longer break from training.