How quickly should you come back from injury/sickness?

Running-InjuryThis current stint on the shelf (now entering its third week) got me to thinking about the time it might take to get back to my original fitness level.  I’ve typically been the type to go with a reduced workload for about a week, and get slowly build back to where I was.  Recognizing that this isn’t the most scientific approach, I wanted to see what experts say on the subject.

Based on some of the articles I’ve been reading, I’m wrong.  Here are some of the guidelines I’ve found:

1)  Don’t try to make up for missed workouts

If you’ve missed workouts, no amount of added mileage or crowded workouts will make up for that.  In fact, you’ll put yourself on the fast lane toward injury and overworking.

2)  You don’t lose nearly as much cardio fitness as you think you do

I came across this article, which lays out the numbers.  While I won’t get down into the VO2Max numbers, the example used was a 20-minute 5K runner.  According to the piece, “After 2 weeks of no running, the 5k runner…would now be in 21:05 shape, according to most estimates.

After 9 weeks of no running, the same 20-minute 5k runner would now be in 24:00 minute 5k shape. After 11 weeks of no running, our poor running friend would be in 25:30 shape.”

So, if you only have missed about a week or so, you’re not really losing much, in terms of your fitness level.  As long as you’re not within a week or so of a major goal event, you’ll be fine.

3)  Get over the fact that you’ve missed time

Missing time doesn’t make you a bad person, so don’t feel like you’ve fallen off the horse.  Accept that sickness, injury, or just life happen.  You know your level of discipline, and you know how likely you are to stick to a training schedule.  Instead of looking at it as lost time, look at it as time for your body to recover or refresh.

So what do I do now?

Well, a lot of that has to do with how long you’ve been out.

If you’ve missed less than a week, just scale back the first few workouts.  Ease the pace a little.  The goal is to make sure you’re completely healthy.  After 2-3 workouts at a slightly lower than normal intensity, jump back into your normal routine.

If you’ve missed a week or two, make sure you limit the intensity for the first 2-3 runs.  Drop down to about 3/4 of your planned distance, and increase it day-by-day.  After a few days, consider some shorter runs that sprinkle in light speed work, to get your “fast” legs under you again.