Getting Back into Shape – Carefully – After a Year of Covid
In 2019, routine exercise accounted for about 468,000 injuries. And that was before a worldwide pandemic forced us to suspend our gym memberships and spend a year binge-watching Netflix. So, it’s understandable you’re pumped to hit the pavement or gym like you never left, especially if you’ve put on a few pounds or lost muscle definition – and who hasn’t?
But after a long hiatus from regular exercise, it’s more important than ever to pace yourself when getting back into shape. It can take just four months of a sedentary lifestyle to put someone back at the beginner level of their workout routine. If that describes you, then a proper mindset will be more important to getting into shape, and staying there, than setting ambitious workout goals.
Build Up Strength Gradually
In the excitement of getting back to normal, be sure to follow precautions that can protect you from strained muscles or worse. The biggest precaution you can take is to build strength and endurance gradually. Strength training combined with a running routine is often a good way to keep the body aligned, but everyone’s body is different. You’re more likely to maintain a routine if you choose exercises that you also enjoy.
Whether you’re about to hit the weight stations or just joined a cycling group, set smaller goals than before. As a general rule, the body loses strength at about half the rate it was gained. In other words, it may take a while to get back into shape, so proceed with patience. In addition, you’ll want to consider your age, past injuries, and what your routine has included more recently. Then plan accordingly, with your health and safety in mind.
Develop a Stretching and Cool Down Routine
Never rush into a workout on cold muscles, tendons, or joints. Sticking to a routine that includes warming up and stretching is a great way to prevent injuries. Exercise injuries often stem from one of two things: either a sudden movement your body wasn’t prepared for or the overuse of muscles or joints following multiple workouts.
Your new routine should include a warmup, cool down, and stretching, with recovery time between workouts. Start with a light activity to warm up your muscles – like jumping jacks or a short walk to get the blood flowing to your muscles. Stretching is especially helpful after a workout when muscle fibers are more limber. Gentle range-of-motion stretches will build up joint flexibility and prevent strains from occurring.
Reignite Your Running Routine
It’s no surprise so many people have started jogging to lose their Covid pounds. Jogging was already a popular way to get in shape and build cardiovascular fitness, particularly if you’re returning to a sport that involves running. But you’ll still need to build up slowly to avoid injuries. If you’ve been more sedentary than usual, take your time! Trying too hard to keep up with a running group is a sure way to pull a muscle or tendon.
Cardio fitness tends to fade quicker than muscle strength, so you may feel fatigued at first. Start with whatever distance is comfortable – perhaps a mile – and build up from there. And be sure to take these extra precautions to avoid painful injuries:
- Begin with a warmup and some stretching. Afterward, stretch your hamstrings and calf muscles, which are prone to running injuries.
- Start slowly; then gradually pick up speed with discretion.
- Schedule breaks and downtime to recover from workouts.
- Wear appropriate shoes to prevent a loss of balance or sprained ankle.
- Avoid shin splints by jogging on flat, level surfaces.
If you have concerns about your cardiovascular or musculoskeletal health, using a treadmill will allow you to gauge your progress and provide more overall control of your run.
Resume Physical Therapy Exercises
Even without pandemic-induced atrophy, sports injuries can result from weakness in the muscles surrounding the joints. If you’ve ever had an injury that required physical therapy, then you know how effective those exercises can be. Perhaps it’s a good time to get back in the habit, particularly if you’re concerned about reinjury as you get into shape.
You know your physical strengths and limitations more than anyone. Whatever your goal is, keep in mind your general health, fitness level, and enjoyment as you define your routine.
If you have any concerns about getting into shape due to a past injury or musculoskeletal condition, contact MidAmerica Orthopaedics online to find out more. Call 708-237-7200 any time to set up an appointment with one of our specialists.