Six Tips for Getting Back into Your Exercise Routine Safely

September 15, 2020 in Preventive Care  •  By Miles Varn, MD
exercise routine

With gyms, health clubs, and fitness classes closed for months, the COVID-19 pandemic may have significantly disrupted your exercise routine. Getting active again is not only good for your physical health, it’s also important for your mental health and can help you manage the symptoms of depression and anxiety, which a growing number of people report experiencing during the pandemic.

But don’t just jump back into your workout at the same level of intensity you were used to in the past. Restarting your exercise routine too quickly and intensely can significantly increase your risk of injuries. A smarter and safer approach is to gradually build up both the intensity and duration of your workout, rebuilding your strength, endurance, and flexibility. These six tips can help you create a personalized plan to restart your exercise routine safely, whether your workouts have been put on pause because of the pandemic or an injury.

  • Evaluate your starting point. The first step is to take stock and make an honest assessment of your current 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 exercising and how long are your activity sessions? Have you mostly been sedentary? It’s also wise to talk to 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 you ramp up your physical activity level.
  • Set a goal that motivates you. While getting active again is rewarding, it can also be difficult, especially if you feel like your progress is slower than you’d like. Set a series of smaller, specific, attainable goals to 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 help. Choose an exercise ally who’s also trying to get back into his or her exercise routine and hold each other accountable for completing each week’s workouts.
  • Strengthen your core safely. A strong core lowers your risk of many types 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.
  • Refine your technique. If you’re getting back into a sport like tennis, soccer, or swimming, your technique may not be as precise as it was. Weak technique can increase your risk of a range of 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 again.
  • Track your rate of perceived exertion. While you’re exercising, it’s important to track how your activity is affecting your body. One way to do that is to check your rate of perceived exertion, a 1 to 10 scale that measures how hard you feel your body is working. You can also monitor your heart rate using a smart watch 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 exercise routine. To reduce the risk of overuse injuries, include rest days in your regimen. Keep in mind that a rest day doesn’t mean a sedentary day. Try stretching, a slow-paced walk, or tai chi on your non-workout days to keep your muscles limber.