One question I get all the time is ‘will I lose my fitness’ when an athlete faces down-time due to a niggle. Coaches only get this question when the runner can still ‘run through the pain’ so you know the injury has not yet reached critical stages.
How we answer the question depends on our definition of fitness. Many endurance coaches and athletes chose a narrow interpretation simply relating to our energy systems and cardiovascular abilities – our ‘metabolic conditioning’ or ‘bioenergetics’ as it has been known since Renato Canova took the stage in athletics.
The definition is really stupidity – you cannot drive a car with a big engine but no wheels nor do you have any use for a fantastic cardiovascular system with two broken legs.
Fitness is your ability to respond to the demands placed upon you in any given moment whether that be running a marathon or lifting a crate. An injured runner has low fitness because they cannot cope with the demands of a marathon.
So I tell athletes: ‘if you get injured, you .lose ALL your fitness’ to help them shift their minds away from obsessing about losing cardiovascular abilities. Cardiovascular and musculoskeletal adaptations do build and regress rather quickly but this concern can be easily remedied by doing whichever alternative activity is possible eliciting a similar physiological reaction (such as hiking, doing a MovNat training session, or running-specific strength and conditioning). The only mistake is risking losing ALL your abilities simply to hold onto some of them: imagine going ‘all in’ during a poker game just to protect a few chips. Nonsense. Of course it is.