Have you shed your Covid-15 yet? Those fifteen pounds just about everybody has put on; have you started burning it or are you waiting for the new year? Whether you go back to the mat at home or take it to the gym, whether to slay the Covid-15 or to grunt out knee rehab, the way you return to working out matters. Easing back into the groove smoothly will be the difference between a solid, strong-run into summer or giving up in a month. I find the biggest obstacle to maintaining a workout routine is coming on too strong when starting out. Whether with a trainer or on one’s own, I see many clients go balls to the wall right away, only to peter out and begin another long layoff.
The first thing to mind is, if you lift weights, you really should decrease your last remembered routine by one half to two-thirds intensity. That’s right – the first few sessions shouldn’t even feel like workouts at all while you are doing them. But you will definitely feel it within the next two days as soreness; you just do not want to feel ass-kicked those first few sessions. Building to a more intense workout over time is wiser in the long run as the risk of injury is highest when one fully exerts oneself on poorly conditioned muscles. Just as you have got to train for an athletic event, you really should train to train. Build up in layers – that’ll prevent injury, make you stronger faster, and almost guarantee you going much longer than a couple of months.
Next is cardio: I think returning lighter is also warranted here, although I do not think as much caution is needed as with weights (resistance training). The reason is that your lungs will guide you. Returning to aerobic exercise will always include a decrease in lung capacity. When we are active, our cardiopulmonary system accommodates our increased oxygen need by opening the alveoli and increasing cardiac muscle. When sedentary, we no longer have that need; the alveoli decrease in surface area, and in their number of capillaries, as less space is required for gas exchange.
Study: Effect of aerobic fitness on capillary blood volume and diffusing membrane capacity responses to exercise, J Physiol. 2016 Aug 1; 594(15): 4359–4370.
Upon returning to aerobic activity, there is always a build-up period, but your heart muscle and alveoli will have to adapt to the new stress of increased oxygen need. Saying that, I do recommend taking the intensity-settings down a few notches; it doesn’t have to be half or even three quarters, but just a bit lower than your last remembered level. You can realistically raise the level incrementally at each or every other session.
Finally is stretching. I would do it. Every time. You must avoid going balls to the wall here too. It really is the quickest way to getting injured. I see lots and lots of people after they hurt themselves in yoga class. You won’t hurt yourself if you start slowly. Just take it to the point where you initially feel the stretch. Hold it there. Thirty seconds. Does it hurt like a mofo? Then hold it shorter – less time holding a stretch is okay when you start.
While I generally discourage stretchers from bouncing in the stretch, here is where I think it’s good and useful. A light bounce on your first two return sessions will help ease the muscle into lengthening; it’ll be less painful, and it’ll prepare the tendons for more intense stretching. But you will have to graduate to no bouncing. However, you should incrementally increase how far you stretch each time. What I mean is, if you could touch the floor your last time on the mat, then take it just to your shins this time, maybe ease down to the tops of your feet. Let the muscles flow smoothly, and let the blood have a chance to gorge the tissue gradually. You can apply this principle to any muscle – take it to the point you feel the stretch, and then just a little farther each time.
This is how you should approach yoga classes as well. If you cannot do a particular posture completely, then only go part of the way. Trying to hit the pose in full on your return from a layoff is a higher risk for injury. You may injure yourself or you may not, but the risk is always higher going to the max on the first few sessions.
The general routine I would recommend if working out on your own is starting with three-day weeks for the first two weeks. Warm-up with cardio taken down a few notches only, but do it for the same general time you are used to, 20-30 minutes, whatever you normally do. Then lift light weights, half (or two-thirds) of the weight you would normally do, as two sets, eight reps only (something like that; again cut by half to two-thirds). But do a full body workout the first two weeks, meaning don’t isolate arms and legs, chest, abs, back or butt. Just get all your muscle groups moving. Obviously you can incrementally increase both weight and reps, but at least the first two sessions I’d keep things the same. Then do mat work (abs, legs, butt), still at half max (reps, sets), and stretch as I described above. Your workout should not last as long as your regular workouts – just in-and-out in the beginning.
By returning to exercise gradually, you will condition your athletic body for the long-haul. You will feel better, believe it or not, than if you go all out immediately. I like to feel sore too, every lactic acid junkie does, but you have to go easy or you can really hurt yourself. This also goes for seasoned athletes. A client of mine, a former college football linebacker who is still in incredible shape, tried coming off a layoff too quickly and ended up herniating a disk in his low back. He could not walk for several days following his injury. Chiropractic helped him feel better, but then he jumped too quickly into push-ups and immediately re-injured himself. Everybody has to go slowly, even conditioned athletes, and even more slowly if you’ve had a relatively recent injury.
If you’ve put on the Covid-15, it’s alright…really, you are not alone. But when it’s time to ditch that sucker you’ll need to start slowly. Get your body ready for the eustress of increased activity. Going back smoothly and gradually will allow your body to adapt to the increased stress at a healthy pace, making sure your physiology can prepare for the coming onslaught. Do it right and you’ll be working out for months to come. Do it wrong and you might be laid up for another few months, and that Covid-15 becomes Covid-25. Seriously, go back slowly.