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How to Return to Exercise After Having COVID

by Matt Weik

There’s no denying the fact that despite the effort, people are getting COVID. Which variant? Well, at the end of the day, does it really matter? Sure, some of the variants aren’t as severe, but it seems like regardless of the variant, it’s taking people out of the gym and onto their couch or bed for at least a few days. So, once you’re feeling a little better, how should you exercise after having COVID? Are there guidelines? Restrictions? What should you know?

In this article, we will look at how to return to exercise after having COVID so that you can get back to working out and go back to your normal training routine (maybe with a few stipulations).

Note: Regardless of what information and research are presented in this article, you should still speak with your doctor before jumping back into a workout program to ensure you are healthy enough to start exercising again.

Caution: Exercise After Having COVID

Inflammation is one of the effects that people suffer from when they get COVID. That being said, the inflammation can take its toll on the heart, which is commonly referred to as myocarditis. Clearly, any inflammation or issue connected to the heart is not something you want to brush to the side, especially when it comes to exercise and the demand it puts on the heart muscle to pump blood out to the working muscles and the increased heart rate that comes along with training with any sort of intensity.

Additionally, many people who had COVID could have developed pneumonia due to the virus directly attacking the lungs and respiratory system. Add that to the inflammation in the heart, and you don’t have the best poker hand at the table and shouldn’t try to bluff.

It doesn’t matter how old you are, what your fitness level was before getting COVID, or how “good” you feel, exercise after having COVID needs to be with extreme caution.

Research published in the HSS Journal has stated the following guidelines:
• Exercise should not resume if a patient with COVID has a persistent fever, dyspnea (breathlessness) at rest, cough, chest pain, or palpitations.
• Any COVID patient with an underlying cardiovascular or pulmonary condition should consult a physician before starting to exercise again, even if asymptomatic.
• An otherwise healthy patient with a self-limited course of COVID who has been asymptomatic for seven days may begin resuming physical activity at 50 percent of normal intensity and volume.
• Consultation with a physician is recommended if patients who have had COVID develop chest pain, fever, palpitations, or dyspnea on the resumption of exercise.

How Long Should You Wait Before Getting Back in the Gym?

Depending on the severity of your COVID experience, it can shift your timeline in terms of when you can exercise after having COVID. As you would imagine, the fact that the virus attacks the heart and lungs can cause some adverse effects if you go back to the gym too soon, as well as push yourself harder than you should.

But how long should you actually wait until you’re able to exercise after having COVID?

Note: The recommendation below is what has been presented through research. What is mentioned is not set in stone, and it may take you longer than the recommendation below until you can safely exercise after having COVID.

According to the BMJ, the current research recommends the following:
• Rest for at least 10 days after the first day you began showing COVID symptoms.
• Before going back to the gym to exercise after having COVID, you should be symptom-free for a minimum of 7 days.
• As a minimum, from the time you are experiencing symptoms until you can finally go back to working out is around 17 days (10 days from the start of symptoms and then an additional 7 days after you are showing no signs of symptoms).
• Rest for 7 days if you’re asymptomatic.

Recommendations on How to Return to Exercise After Having COVID

One of the worst things you can do when heading back to the gym to exercise after having COVID would be to load up the bar or grab the same dumbbells you were using before you got sick. In addition, don’t think that you’ll jump on the treadmill or other piece of cardio equipment and start exercising as if you didn’t skip a beat.

Just because you’re feeling better doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. As mentioned above, the inflammation that took place in the heart and lungs could humble you once you get going again. In fact, it’s not uncommon for many people who are starting back in the gym, following their illness, to only be able to use half of the weight they were before getting sick.

Something to note is that there’s a lot of information out on the internet regarding how to return to exercise after having COVID. What’s presented and explained below is what the research says and shows, and not someone’s opinion. Be sure you’re following the correct information and not taking the advice of someone who is making recommendations that aren’t based on the current research and science.

Research published in the BMJ has laid out some guidelines to be followed by those looking to exercise after having COVID:

Below you will find five phases. Each phase should be focused on for a minimum of seven days. If the phase is too challenging to complete, it is recommended that you back off and ease up. You should only move to the next phase when you meet all the criteria mentioned in each individual phase. View the study to see precisely (in more detail) what each of the phases below encompasses.

Phase 1
In the first phase of exercise after having COVID, you will focus on breathing exercises, balance, light walking, stretching, and rest. The purpose of the first phase is to get you ready to return to the gym for actual exercise with more intensity (both cardio and weight training).

Phase 2
The goal of the second phase is to progress to some low-intensity activity. The recommendation for Phase 2 is where you’ll increase your walk duration little by little until you reach 30 minutes. Start with 10 minutes per day and work your way up to 15, 20, 25, and then 30 minutes. When you can walk for 30 minutes without any issues, then move on to Phase 3.

Phase 3
Phase 3 is where things move to a moderate intensity — both from a weight training aspect as well as cardiovascular. In this phase, you will engage in moderate-intensity training for two intervals of five minutes with one block of rest. Continue to add one interval per day, so long as you’re able to complete the workout. Once you’ve done this for seven days and are able to work through the intervals for a total of 30 minutes, move on to the next phase.

Phase 4
This phase is very similar to Phase 3, only it’s adding skills that also focus on functioning and coordination. Phase 4 will allow you to continue your moderate-intensity weight training and cardio, where you will have two days of training followed by one day of rest. After seven days, if your body is recovering from the workouts, move onto Phase 5.

Phase 5
In the final phase, you are able to return to your normal workout routine (assuming you feel well enough to progress into it).

If you experience any of the following symptoms when returning to exercise after having COVID, stop your workout immediately and contact your doctor:
• Significantly increase heart rate
• Shortness of breath
• Chest pain
• Fever
• Excessive fatigue
• Headache

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