If you’ve always been an avid gym-goer, the COVID-19 pandemic may have significantly disrupted your fitness routine as gyms, health clubs and exercise classes were unavailable for months. Getting active again is not only good for your physical health, but it’s also beneficial for mental health and can help you manage the symptoms of depression and anxiety, which a larger than ever number of people report experiencing during the pandemic.
But trying to jump back into your workout at the same level of intensity you were used to in the past can increase your risk of injuries. A better approach is to gradually build up both the intensity and duration of your workout, rebuilding your strength, endurance, and flexibility. These six strategies can help you develop a personalized plan to restart your exercise routine safely.
Assess your starting point. The first step is to make an honest assessment of your current physical activity level. Have you been working out at home or replacing your gym-based workouts with other activities like walking, jogging, hiking, or biking? How often have you been taking part in these activities, and how long are activity sessions? Have you primarily been sedentary? It’s also wise to consult your primary care physician, especially if you haven’t been exercising, to check that the level of physical activity you want to achieve is safe and that you don’t have any health problems, like cardiovascular disease, asthma or joint problems that require management before ramping up your physical activity level.
Set a goal to keep you motivated. While getting active again is rewarding, it can also be difficult, especially if progress towards your old fitness level is slower than you’d like. Setting a series of smaller, specific, attainable goals can help keep you motivated. For example, make a plan to be active for 30 minutes three times a week or to increase your daily walk by five minutes a day. A little friendly competition can also be a motivator. Choose an exercise ally who’s also trying to get back into his or her workout routine and hold each other accountable for completing each week’s workouts.
Build your core strength safely. A strong core decreases your risk of a range of injuries, including back and joint injuries and muscle strains. Some good basic core strengthening exercises include planks, crunches, and bridges, but it’s important that you perform these moves with the proper form. If you’re working out at home and practicing social distancing, consider contacting a trainer or physical therapist for a video assessment of your form and recommendations on other core-strengthening moves that are appropriate for your current fitness and flexibility level.
Check your technique. If returning to a sport like tennis, soccer, or swimming, your technique may not be as precise as it was after a period away from the sport. Weak technique can increase the risk of several types of injuries to the joints and muscles. Instead of starting by playing a set or tennis or a soccer match, first focus on practicing key techniques to get your joints and muscles used to these repeated motions.
Be aware of your rate of perceived exertion. While exercising, it’s important to track how your level of activity is affecting your body. One way to do that is to check the rate of perceived exertion, a 1 to 10 scale that measures how hard you feel your body is working. You can also monitor heart rate using a smartwatch or manually checking your pulse and assess the intensity of your activity using the talk test (during moderate activity, you can hold a steady conversation; during vigorous activity, you can only speak a few words at a time).
Include rest days in your routine. To reduce the risk of overuse injuries, include rest days in your regimen. Keep in mind, however, that a rest day doesn’t mean a sedentary day. Consider stretching, a slow-paced walk, or tai chi on non-workout days to keep your muscles limber.
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