The Effect of Detraining and Reduced Training on the Physiological Adaptations to Aerobic Exercise Training

Summary

In previously sedentary individuals, regularly performed aerobic exercise results in significant improvements in exercise capacity. The development of peak exercise performance, as typified by competitive endurance athletes, is dependent upon several months to years of aerobic training. The physiological adaptations associated with these improvements in both maximal exercise performance, as reflected by increases in maximal oxygen uptake (V̇O2max), and submaximal exercise endurance include increases in both cardiovascular function and skeletal muscle oxidative capacity.

Despite prolonged periods of aerobic training, reductions in maximal and submaximal exercise performance occur within weeks after the cessation of training. These losses in exercise performance coincide with declines in cardiovascular function and muscle metabolic potential. Significant reductions in V̇O2max have been reported to occur within 2 to 4 weeks of detraining. This initial rapid decline in V̇O2max is likely related to a corresponding fall in maximal cardiac output which, in turn, appears to be mediated by a reduced stroke volume with little or no change in maximal heart rate. A loss in blood volume appears to, at least partially, account for the decline in stroke volume and V̇O2max during the initial weeks of detraining, although changes in cardiac hypertrophy, total haemoglobin content, skeletal muscle capillarisation and temperature regulation have been suggested as possible mediating factors. When detraining continues beyond 2 to 4 weeks, further declines in V̇O2max appear to be a function of corresponding reductions in maximal arterial-venous (mixed) oxygen difference. Whether reductions in oxygen delivery to and/or extraction by working muscle regulates this progressive decline is not readily apparent. Changes in maximal oxygen delivery may result from decreases in total haemoglobin content and/or maximal muscle blood flow and vascular conductance. The declines in skeletal muscle oxidative enzyme activity observed with detraining are not causally linked to changes in V̇O2max but appear to be functionally related to the accelerated carbohydrate oxidation and lactate production observed during exercise at a given intensity. Alternatively, reductions in submaximal exercise performance may be related to changes in the mean transit time of blood flow through the active muscle and/or the thermore-gulatory response (i.e. degree of thermal strain) to exercise.

In contrast to the responses observed with detraining, currently available research indicates that the adaptations to aerobic training may be retained for at least several months when training is maintained at a reduced level. Reductions of one- to two-thirds in training frequency and/or duration do not significantly alter V̇O2max or submaximal endurance time provided the intensity of each exercise session is maintained. Conversely, a decrease of one- to two-thirds in exercise training intensity, despite a maintenance of training frequency and duration, reduces both V̇O2max and submaximal endurance time. Thus, it appears that exercise intensity is the principal component necessary to maintain a training-induced increase in V̇O2max and submaximal exercise endurance during periods of reduced training. It is suggested that the maintenance of V̇O2max with reduced training frequency and/or duration may be related to a retention of blood volume. When exercise training intensity is reduced, however, it is possible that the stimulus mediating the relative hypervolaemia observed with aerobic training may be attenuated, thereby accounting for the corresponding decrease in V̇O2max. However, the interactions of possible changes in cardiac hypertrophy and contractility, thermoregulatory strain, total haemoglobin content, capillary density, mean transit time, and skeletal muscle oxidative capacity in relation to changes in V̇O2max and submaximal endurance time with reduced training and detraining warrant further study.

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Neufer, P.D. The Effect of Detraining and Reduced Training on the Physiological Adaptations to Aerobic Exercise Training. Sports Med 8, 302–320 (1989). https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-198908050-00004

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Keywords

  • Stroke Volume
  • Aerobic Training
  • Maximal Oxygen Uptake
  • Apply Physiology
  • Endurance Athlete