The Post-Pandemic Workout: How to Get Back in Shape

Editor’s note: Throughout the last year, as this country battled Covid 19, quarantines and loss of amenities, fitness routines fell by the wayside. Sure, a privileged few had the time, motivation and money to equip their homes, but most didn’t. As a result, more sedentary lifestyles led to weight gain. As we all start to come out of a pandemic haze, many are wondering how to regain their pre-pandemic fitness routines, motivation, and shed “pandemic weight.” We turned to certified NYC fitness trainer Jessica Mazzucco, for some tips:

Take It Easy

Don’t overdo it when you return to the gym, your trainer, or wherever you exercise. You can’t expect to snap back to your pre-pandemic level of fitness right away. It takes time and must be done gradually. Doing too much too soon will overwhelm you, you will risk injury and possibly burnout.

One of the safest ways to get started is to try brisk walking (or some other low-impact activity) for 10 minutes.  Aim for a pace where your breathing and heart rate are elevated but you can still speak in sentences. This is called moderate intensity.

Then try building up from one round of 10 minutes a day to two rounds of 10 minutes. You can do it all at once or break it into two sessions during the day.  Start doing this every other day and work your way up. If 10 minutes a day seems too easy, start with longer, but you should still move up gradually. You can increase the time, intensity or both if you’re up to it.  Ultimately your goal should be to do 150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity exercise every week, unless you were doing more than that pre-pandemic.  If you can include some higher intensity exercise once you have increased your endurance, you will reap even more health benefits.

As always, before starting a routine, check with your doctor about what level of exercise is right for you, especially if you haven’t been exercising for the past year.


Schedule Your Workout

Not everyone is a morning person who can be up and exercising at 6 A.M. If that’s not your rhythm, attempting that schedule as a lifestyle will fail. Perhaps your workouts need to be scheduled at a lunch hour or post-work. Maybe it’s not practical for you to do 4 days a week. but 3 is doable. Think about your life and the free time it realistically affords, and schedule in the frequency and times of day/evening that best suit your life.  Keep in mind that the body responds to consistency over time.  Results will be achieved more rapidly if you keep a regular frequency and pattern.

Know Your Exercises

It’s also always a wise idea to make sure you have the basics down before easing back into a regular workout routine. Basic strength training exercises like planks, lunges and squats have many different variations.  Make sure you know the fundamentals of these exercises. If you don’t have a personal trainer, you can google how to do them properly with illustrations, watch Youtube videos, learn them from fitness apps, or ask a trainer on duty in your gym to show you proper form.

Yoga is a great way to start an exercise program, and you can perform it at various levels of intensity.  Stretching and other moves improve flexibility and strength. Yoga is also a great form of stress relief.

Keep Your Weight in Mind

Many of us have put on weight due to the pandemic and that is nothing to feel ashamed of.  If you are resuming exercise with added pounds, be mindful of the fact that depending on the amount you have gained, this can place greater strain on joints, especially the knees, back, and ankles.  At first, it might be best to include exercise that reduces weight-bearing, such as stationary bikes, water exercise, or rowing machines. Once you’ve lost some weight and improved your cardio function, then you can add more walking or jogging to your exercise routine. Again, don’t rush yourself. Getting back to your pre-pandemic fitness level is a goal that you’ll reach with moderation and consistency

Warm-up, Stretching and Cool Down Are Key

Your body can’t go from a full stop to a sprint. It must be “loosened” and warmed up. Proper warm-up and cool down are vital for your workout in order to prevent injury and delayed muscle soreness. A good warm-up should include the entire body, even if the actual workout is going to focus on one area, such as legs or shoulders. The idea is to get the entire body warmed up and loose, and to get the blood flowing to all areas.  A five- to 10-minute cool down, consisting of light aerobic activity, helps the heart gradually return to its resting rate and the body return to its resting temperature. The lack of a cool-down period can lead to lightheadedness and dizziness, which is caused by blood pooling in the lower extremities. You don’t want to abruptly end a workout. You need to stay in motion while gradually winding down. Stretching is more beneficial after the workout than it is before because the muscles are warm and more pliable, which offers the best chance for maintaining and improving flexibility.

Mistakes to Avoid

The biggest thing to keep in mind is to take it slow.  For people who were in peak condition before the pandemic, it is human nature to want to “get back there” right away.  This impatience and tendency to overdo it, will cause injury. A year with little to no exercise is a long time and it’s going to take time to get back to where you were before the pandemic. After a week or two of consistent exercise, you can bump up the intensity provided you’re not losing form or feeling serious pain. Be patient with yourself in the process.

Finally, many facilities will still have COVID-19 precautions in place. Be sure you follow them, not only to keep yourself safe, but to protect others.

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