​​​​Returning to Exercise after Covid: A 4-stage guide


Over the past two years Covid has impacted us all.


Whether it’s been with lockdown restrictions, having to self-isolate or contracting the virus itself, it’s had an affect on everyone in some way.


The new omicron variant has spread like wildfire in recent months and it is more than likely you or someone you know has contracted Covid recently. Symptoms such as fatigue, difficulty breathing and muscle/joint pain have been reported for weeks and even months after contracting the virus. This can make it difficult for a return to exercise.


With exercise being such an integral part of good health and wellbeing it’s important to have a plan for a safe return to physical activity. So, we’ve constructed a simple 4-stage guide for a return to exercise to get you back living your healthiest and happiest life.

Please note that the timeframes suggested below are guidelines only, people recover from covid at varying rates, and individual factors such as pre-covid health status, exercise routine, and other health conditions need to be taken into account.



Stage 1: Recovery – 10 – 12 days


Now it may seem obvious, but it is important to let our bodies recover from the virus and let those antibodies do their thing! Getting back to exercise too early can leave us feeling discouraged about where we are physically and can also create even higher levels of fatigue, hindering us from completing our day to day tasks. We recommend avoiding exercise for a minimum of 10 days after testing positive. This will allow adequate recovery and assist you in easing back into your routine.


Stage 2: Return to light exercise – 5 – 7 days


During this stage we recommend not exceeding 30 minutes of exercise per session for 5 days. Activities can include walking, cycling, light jogging, and light strength training. The intensity of these sessions should be monitored using either heart rate (if you have a watch that can tell you) or a RPE scale (rated perceived exertion). Your heart rate should not exceed 60-70% of your max. Your max heart rate can be easily worked out by taking your age in years from 220. For example, I am 27 years old. So I would use 220 – 27 = 193. My max heart rate is 193bpm. If I was to work at 60% of my max heart rate I would use this equation 193 x 0.60 = 116bpm. Therefore, my heart rate should not go over 116bpm when exercising at this stage. If you don’t have a watch that’s ok, you can use something called an RPE scale. It’s a guide of how intense you perceive your effort to complete the exercise to be and is used by grading difficulty from 1 to 10. 1 being the least amount of effort exerted, and 10 being your absolute max effort. We suggest that you work at a 5 – 6 RPE during this stage of your return from Covid. Likewise, strength training should be completed in a reduced capacity by decreasing the load and repetitions you would usually use. We advise that you reduce both load and repetitions by 50% to ease back into things.


Stage 3: Increase of intensity and duration – 5 – 7 days


Stage 3 in this guide is all about slowly increasing how intense and long you are exercising. Increasing your heart rate limit to 70-80% of your max and increasing your RPE to a 6-7 is the next recommended step. After 2-3 sessions of this you are then able to increase the duration of your exercise routine to a maximum of 40 minutes. It is important to first increase intensity and then progress to longer periods of exercise, so that your body can become accustomed to the added levels of effort. Similarly, the same concept is used with strength training. Increase the load and repetitions used in your sessions to 70-80% of what you did pre-covid.


Stage 4: Return to normal routine


This phase returns you to your normal exercise routine you completed before contracting Covid. Symptoms may still be noticeable at this stage and it is recommended that you potentially reduce exercise intensity and duration as needed. However, following these 4 stages should have you primed and in a better position to return to a similar level of performance you were pre-covid.


Pacing strategies are critical when returning from injuries or illness, and done right, can significantly help you get back to a level of ‘normal’ training much faster. I hope this has helped any of you experiencing any uncertainty and wish you all a safe return to living your happiest and healthiest lives!


Final thoughts:

Please note that the timeframes suggested in the above stages are guidelines only, people recover from covid at varying rates, and individual factors such as pre-covid health status, exercise routine, and other health conditions need to be taken into account.

Our Exercise Physiologists are experts at tailoring exercise to individual health needs, working closely with you to develop the right treatment plan to help you return to exercise, sport and daily life activities. If you need guidance and support in recovering from covid, please do not hesitate to reach out or book an appointment online. 

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