Coping with detraining: five ways to enjoying relearning a skills

Tiina Golub
3 min readMay 30, 2020

The term detraining (not “leaving the train”) is commonly used in sport to describe a drop in performance after a long break. You will often hear runners use it when complaining they can no longer match their previous achievements, but anyone who faced the challenge of relearning a skill will find this relatable.

I know about the frustration of detraining firsthand! As an amateur runner, I often struggle to maintain my fitness level when an injury (or just life) takes me out of my training routine, but I also had to relearn how to draw, dance, and read Japanese after abandoning these hobbies for several years. These are very different skills, but there are some common principles that helped me overcome the initial frustration and, all going well, eventually return to my previous level (and beyond).

1. Enjoy the process

It’s interesting how learning a new skill can be so exciting, but relearning it is nothing but daunting, right? But if turning a hobby into a profession can drain the fun out of it, then being temporarily mediocre again is a great opportunity to reclaim some of the early enjoyment. With no pressure to achieve great results, this is your chance to reconnect with the reasons you wanted to learn the skill in the first place and just enjoy it.

2. Change your goals

Success comes in many shapes and forms and a change of focus can mean a difference between achieving and failing. You can’t run fast? Try going farther. Can’t draw as well as you used to? Focus on maintaining a streak of daily sketches. This is one of the rare occasions when focusing on quantity over quality can be beneficial.

Volunteering and using your skills to benefit others is another way to earn a sense of achievement that doesn’t depend on your proficiency. No matter how poor you think your skills currently are, there is someone they can benefit!

3. Take a new route

You’ve done it once before, so a natural instinct is to repeat the exact same process again. But retracing your steps can be incredibly demotivating and you run a risk of constantly competing with your old self.

If relearning frustrates you, try reframing it by choosing a new learning path or picking up a lateral skill. Any cardio, strength or mobility exercises that improve your overall fitness will make you better at your chosen sport and all creative skills will benefit your artistry, so try yoga to become a better runner or do a printmaking class to relearn drawing. There are multiple ways that will lead you to proficiency and going off the beaten track can lead to some unexpected discoveries.

You also need to embrace the fact that you may never repeat your past achievements. It might be comforting to think of relearning as a return to the past but, of course, it’s an illusion. The path might be familiar, but this really is a new journey.

4. Connect with likeminded people

Joining amateur clubs, online forums or in-person meetups can bring both fun and extra motivation to your learning. In addition, no matter how much your skills deteriorated, I can guarantee you that someone out there does the same things ten times worse than you but enjoys it ten times as much! This is an important reminder that you don’t have to master the skills to get pleasure out of practicing it.

5. Share your achievements with your biggest cheerleaders

While joining dedicated online communities is often beneficial, social media in general can feed into your anxiety. By their nature, social media platforms highlight success and don’t give enough prominence to the hard work and numerous failures that often precede it.

The Internet can be brutally honest (or unreasonably mean), so don’t rush to compete for online recognition before you regain confidence in your skills. While you are relearning, share your achievements with the people who will appreciate your effort instead of judging the final result. Share your work in progress with people who have been your cheerleaders through the good, the bad and the ugly (hi mum!).

Do you have any tips for coping with detraining that I’ve missed? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments!

Tiina Golub

Senior product designer at Avantra | Design mentor at ADPList. Passionate about inclusive design, behavioural psychology and minimalism.