Disclaimer: This article is not meant to replace medical advice. Seek medical care if you are experiencing an injury. If you have concerns about returning to activity following this pandemic, speak to your healthcare provider.
It’s no secrete that the Covid-19 pandemic affected many individuals in many different ways. Sports were cancelled, gyms were closed, working from home became habitual, and many of us paused on our hobbies. I’m a creature of habit. I have the same schedule each week. I go to the gym the same days each week, train in similar ways each time I go, meal prep on weekends, eat similarly during the weeks, and I get about the same amount of sleep everyday. For me, and I’m sure for most, when the pandemic hit things changed. Some of you very dedicated people may have been able to continue your programming or even progress in your performance. However, for many of us our physical capacity suffered. Now that gyms are opening and sports are returning, it’s important to avoid injury. I have broken down a few ways in which I believe can help promote performance gains without leading to injury. This is not a guarantee, but it can help.
EASING BACK INTO IT
Whether you were a competitive athlete, recreational runner, or just hit your occasional workouts, your body’s abilities have changed during this pandemic if you took time off. Your previous personal record lifts are most likely unattainable currently and now is not the time to test it out. If you are doing anything that involves weightlifting, it is important to ease back into it. Start with 70% of what you would normally do for a given workout prior to the pandemic. If you are someone that was used to deadlifting 5×5 reps at 250#, start at 175# and work your way up each week by 5-10%. This goes the same for any CrossFit style workout with weightlifting or any form of lifting. If you traditionally did a workout with 85# overhead squats, it would be in your best interest to scale it down to maybe 60-65# and working back up.
In terms of running, most people were able to keep up with running if they were blessed with good weather! I know a lot of people who took up running during their quarantine due to the gyms being closed. However, if you took time off you should start by easing back into this as well. Running often goes unappreciated for the amount of load it places on your body. Although it is a form of cardio, it is not different from other ways we load the joints and muscles. A good running regimen should have some form of strength training involved at least 2-3 times a week, however that is a post for another day. If your pre-Covid long distance run was 5 miles, start with an easy paced 2-3 mile run and see how you feel. Increase your mileage each week by 5-10% as tolerated until you are at your pre-pandemic level of running.
Remember that during this time the goal is NOT to perform as you did pre-pandemic, but to build back into it. Your goal is to not make yourself so sore that you feel discomfort for 3 days. Your goal is to be able to show up, move, and prevent injuries. A lot of the pre-pandemic performance will come back quickly if you are progressing appropriately. If you are progressing too quickly and not easing into your routine, you may start to have an overload that will decrease your performance and most likely lead to injuries.
I am not a huge fan of rest days, as I am sure many of you can agree with. Most of us like to get workouts in 3-6 days a week. I think it’s fine to do this so long as you’re not overdoing it in your workouts. If every single workout is of high intensity and/or high load, it is probably better to start off with 2-3 days per week to allow for adequate body recovery. If you are able to take it slow, go light, modify, and listen to your body then I don’t see anything wrong with going 5 days as long as you aren’t feeling super sore. Rest days are important, but the type of “rest” you do is important as well. If you are very sore, take a day off. If you feel like you still want to exercise maybe go for a walk, bike, kayak, hike, stretch, do yoga, or a low intensity bodyweight only workout. Rest can absolutely be active. Taking a 2 or more recovery days each week during your first month back will help to prevent injuries by allowing optimal recovery between each session.
I think this is important. What I mean by “be kind” is that we all need to “be kind” to ourselves. We went through a pandemic, had our world flipped, and our schedules changed. Our norms looked a lot different. You are most likely going to feel that during your first workouts back and THAT IS OK. Fitness, in my opinion, is situational. Athletes in sports go through preseason, full season, postseason, and offseason phases- all of which look very different in terms of fitness level. Think of the pandemic as your “off season”. Taking some time off probably did your body some good. Injuries had time to heal that may have been lingering for a while. The important thing to remember is that we are now in more of a “preseason” training phase as we ease back in and up to our normal “season” fitness levels. We have to be kind to ourselves with the mental self-talk we use. If you are stating negative things like “I’m so out of shape” or “I’m so weak” (whether outloud or in your head) it will not help you return to your pre-pandemic levels quicker. It will most likely drive you to do stupid things like push too hard in a workout or show up on days you should have recovered. Try to remind yourself of your goals. If you want to be injury free and participating at a good performance capacity 3 months from now, you have to be smart about what your are doing right now. Remind yourself of how long it took of consistent training to get to the level you were at prior, and consistent SMART training now will get you back to it. Three months off anything can create a set back but if you had a good foundation built you aren’t starting at ground zero right now.
Keep pushing, keep showing up, keep your smarts.
-Katie PT, DPT