How long does it really take to get "out of shape"?

Image via iStock.

Having recently started full-time work, my usual workout routine has taken a bit of a hit.

I say “workout routine” – what I really mean is running for public transport and twice weekly attempts at power walking. Add to that the decadence of a long weekend and copious amounts of chocolate over Easter and it’s no surprise I’m feeling a little out of shape.

RELATED: 8 proven ways to become an ‘exercise person’.

But how quickly can one “lose their fitness”? How do you know if you’re technically out of shape? And how do you get back onto the wagon (without getting out of breath!)?

I consulted personal trainers Blake Worrall-Thompson and Rachel Guy to find out.

 How long does it really take to get out of shape?

According to the experts, it usually depends on how often you exercise.

“If you’re used to training five times a week, it could take just two weeks off until you feel out of shape, as fitter people respond quicker to changes in exercise,” Worrall-Thompson says.

“For regular weight lifters, if you leave exercising for 10 to 14 days you may find a decrease in strength,” Guy says.

RELATED: Working up a sweat could be the secret to living longer

“If you are a regular cardio bunny you my find that after about seven to 10 days your fitness levels start to decline.”

For those that aren’t such frequenters of the gym (ahem, me) it could take up to three weeks before you really notice significant changes.

What are the signs of being out of shape?

While it's a loose term, Worrall-Thompson believes there a few warning signs that signal it's time to hit the gym. It may seem obvious, but how you feel after tackling some stairs is a good starting point.

"The one that comes up a lot is finding you're out of breath after walking up stairs," he says.

"Otherwise it could be how you fit in your jeans, or how you look in the mirror or even photographs." (Post continues after gallery.)

What's the best way to get back into shape?

Both experts recommend being practical, persistent and above all, realistic about things. A three hour run is not going to get your fitness levels up immediately, so don't feel like you have to go hard or go home.

"Don't be excessive! One of the biggest mistakes we make is doing excessive cardio and eating a low calorie diet seven day a week. Obviously this is unobtainable and leads to bingeing or falling off the wagon," Guy says.


"Baby steps. Commit to train four times a week and eat four nourishing meals a day."

RELATED: Which is better: three main meals or lots of small meals?

Worrall-Thompson recommends starting with someone else.

"You're essentially trying to break a habit, so team up with a personal trainer or friend and keep yourself accountable to someone else until you've broken the habit," he says.

"Know what's coming too - the first few weeks are going to be hard! Being in a good psychological place will also improve effectiveness."

Missing a session - how bad is it really?

"It's not detrimental," Guy says.

"Exercise must become part of your lifestyle for overall health and long term fat loss. If you miss a session or two each week just make sure your nutrition is prioritised. Make sure you are exercising at least four times a week for general health and fat loss."

"Missing a session here and there  isn't going to make a big difference long term, unless you become complacent with that justification and it starts happening all the time," Worrall-Thompson says.

And if you feel a little guilty that could even be a good thing.

"A little guilt that keeps you accountable isn't necessarily a bad thing, but certainly don't be crippled by it. Just put more into the next session," he says.

Will having a "cheat meal" really set you back?

"Just one scoop of ice cream? It's not bad, just don’t make a habit of it. One tub? Yep that can certainly affect your week of hard work," says Guy.

"I never want my clients to become obsessive," Worrall-Thompson says. "In fact, I encourage them to go out and enjoy a Friday or Saturday night."

"It's all about balance - if you're doing the right thing 80 per cent of the time, you'll see results."

Don't make this common fitness mistake

Both Guy and Worrall-Thompson warn against going too hard, too fast.

"Most people get a burst of motivation and go straight to do a 10km run or 1.5 hour gym session but flog themselves so hard they can't move for the next two to three days - it's counterproductive," Worrall-Thompson says.


"The first four weeks have to be consistency over intensity."

RELATED: How I tricked myself into becoming a “running person”.

"Lots of us make the mistake of cutting out entire food groups such as carbs or fat," Guy says. "It's unobtainable and just leads to giving into cravings."

"Base your meals around a lean protein like meat, eggs or fish, lots of fresh salad and veggies, a serve of fat (like butter, olive or avocado) and try to place your carbs (rice, potato or legumes) around your training times," she says.

Get your head in the zone first and foremost

Yes, it's possible to look this happy about exercise. Image via iStock.

"You can justify why you can't start this month, how next month will be better, but you're just delaying what should be the inevitable," Worrall-Thompson says.

"It purely comes down to your head space. There's no magic pill or formula - it's just about getting started."

Duly noted. Fitness, I'm coming for you.

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