Getting back to exercise after Covid-19: what you need to know

Covid-19 is a complex virus that can affect your whole body and force you to change your daily life.  

Those who were leading an active lifestyle before getting sick with the virus, need to take a long break from their training and concentrate on fighting the disease, often losing muscle strength, endurance, and overall fitness.

While that can be very frustrating, it’s not irreversible, and you just need to be patient and attentive to your body while you’re gradually resuming your exercise program after the full recovery.

It can also be beneficial to keep at least some level of activity while you’re still fighting the virus – like breathing exercises, walking around the room, or other light forms of exercise – of course, with permission from your doctor.

But moderate- or high-intensity workouts is a whole nother story, and there are important things you need to know before getting back to your pre-Covid exercise routine even when you finally got that negative test result.

1. Wait for the full recovery & get a green light from your doctor

First things first – you need to get a negative Covid-19 test result and consult your healthcare provider before returning to physical activity.

Covid-19 is a tricky virus that can leave behind certain health risks even after you’ve fully recovered. And even if all symptoms are gone and you’re feeling well again, you still may need to take additional tests to check how your heart, lungs, and other organs are doing before challenging them with training.

It’s especially important to avoid any vigorous exercise if you’re still not feeling your best – getting back to pre-Covid physical activity level while you’re having some residual symptoms can make your condition worse and prolong your recovery period.

Talk with your physician and other doctors if needed. They will assess your health state and help you develop an optimal plan for returning to your pre-Covid fitness level and exercise routine.  

Photo by Tim Chow on Unsplash

2. Return to physical activity slowly & gradually

Every person is different, and your getting-back-into-fitness plan will depend on your initial symptoms and current health state – your doctor will help you choose the right types and intensity of exercise.

The general recommendation though is to go back to physical activity slowly and gradually, without rushing into your regular workout routine even if all symptoms are gone.

Cardiovascular, respiratory, gastrointestinal, and musculoskeletal systems can all get affected by Covid-19, and the last thing you’d want to do is to put additional pressure on your body’s vital systems while they’re still recovering.

Don’t push too hard and allow your heart, lungs, and muscles to restore their proper function before making them operate in full mode.

Start with low-intensity exercise like walking, carefully and slowly re-introducing physical activity in your daily routine. Rest whenever you feel tired and gradually increase the intensity and duration of exercise, closely monitoring how your body reacts along the way.

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

3. Listen to your body & stay patient

All possible long-term effects of Covid-19 are still unknown and can bring individual challenges for every recovered person.

Some people are able to jump back to training right after all symptoms disappear, while others may face months of lingering symptoms even after they’ve defeated the virus. In the latter case, those persistent symptoms may indicate that there’s some additional damage to certain organs which would need more attention and time to recover.

That’s why it’s very important to constantly monitor how your body reacts to exercise and adjust your physical recovery plan together with your doctor when needed.

For example, if you experience recurring symptoms like shortness of breath, low stamina, persistent fatigue, lingering muscle aches or weakness after getting back to exercise, that can signal that your training routine is too much for your body at the moment, and that you need to take it slower or even postpone regaining your activity level for later.

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We prepared a set of exercises that you can start integrating into your physical activity routine after you’ve fully recovered from Covid-19 and got permission from your doctor to resume your training.

Get back in shape after Covid-19

Remember to do a warm-up – 10-min light jogging – before switching to the main routine.

At the beginning, start with 30-second work, 30-second rest for all exercises. As you’re getting stronger, switch to 45-second work, 15-second rest for all exercises. The only exception is sprints – for them, run 100m as fast as possible.

Do the whole round at once without breaks. Depending on your fitness level, you can start doing just 1 round per day, then 2 rounds with 60-90 seconds break between them. As you’re regaining your strengths and endurance, you can switch to 3-4 rounds/day.

If you feel discomfort – for example, shortness of breath or chest pain, stop doing the exercise and consult your doctor before proceeding with any training.

Losing progress is always discouraging, and starting over with your fitness routine after recovering from Covid-19 may feel daunting. However, by listening to your doctor and gradually getting back to your pre-Covid physical activity level, you will eventually return in your best shape and continue hitting new fitness goals.

Just remember to stay patient and always listen to your body to ensure complete recovery and minimize the risk for long-term effects and lingering symptoms.

Cover photo by Matthew Sichkaruk on Unsplash

Julia Stecher is an award-winning fitness model, professional nutritionist, and certified personal trainer who provides personal training services in Zurich and online.

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