How to Improve your Fitness during the COVID-19 Pandemic
By: James Williams
As the Coronavirus pandemic continues, numerous races have been canceled, and as a result, many athletes have cut back on training. Staying fit during this difficult time is really important, both for your physical and mental health. It may seem like there aren’t many options for keeping your fitness up during this time, but that’s not the case. There are lots of ways in which you can exercise at home.
That’s not to say this is going to be easy. Working out at home over such a long period of time will require greater disciple, flexibility, and more focus than ever before. If you do it right, you could use this difficult time in a positive way, and you just might come out of this global problem a better runner than ever before!
Should I exercise during the Coronavirus pandemic?
Before we go into detail of the options available, it’s worth looking at whether you should be exercising at all.
Dr. Megan Roche is a running coach, medical doctor, and epidemiology researcher. So, she’s one of the most qualified people out there! She gave her thoughts to Strava recently. On the one hand, exercise is good for a number of reasons - “It can help manage stress, boost the immune system, and improve energy levels." And, in normal circumstances, performing some of your workouts at a high level of intensity would help you get some significant performance improvements too. But, on the other hand, Dr. Roche suggests being a bit more cautious at the moment. That’s because “overtraining and/or rapid increases in training volume can burden the immune system."
That means there is a "sweet spot" in terms of the intensity of exercise that you do and whether you’re helping or harming your immune system. Too little is bad, and so is too much.
Moderate intensity at the moment is probably "just right". This is termed by some people as the "J-Curve", which Podium Runner explains in more detail in an article that also includes practical advice on how to train and eat to boost your immunity from Coronavirus.
In summary, exercise should be good for you during this time, but it’s worth being more cautious than usual with the intensity that you’re training at.
If deciding that you can exercise, there are some basic rules that you should abide by during this time:
Don’t socialize if you have any symptoms - In the situation we’re in right now, there’s no need to risk socializing if you have even the slightest of symptoms. As people who exercise regularly, we’re probably not the ones in the most danger, but our relatives and friends are. Don’t be the person who could pass it on to someone who is in an at-risk group.
Stick to the rules in your country/region/state/county - If the law is saying that you shouldn’t go out at all, then don’t go out. If it’s saying don’t go out in groups, then go for a run alone.
Avoid gyms - This is at your own discretion, but it seems like a very basic, sensible thing to do at the moment. Places where people come together in groups, sweating, and panting over each other indoors probably isn’t the best place to be right now.
Avoid all bodily contact - High fives, hugs, or anybody contact can probably be skipped for the time being.
The general advice seems to be to stay as far away from people as possible, if outside. At this point, nobody is going to be offended if you swerve them when running past. And if they are offended, who cares! If you need to celebrate, it’s a better time than ever to give a virtual Kudos.
Have higher-than-usual hygiene standards - Wipe down your equipment, even if it’s your own home gear. Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly, especially when preparing food (although I can’t believe we’re having to give that advice! Weren’t people washing hands properly before this all happened?!?!)
How to mentally approach your training during the Coronavirus pandemic.
So, as long as you’re not sick, it’s probably a good idea to exercise, but where should you start, especially if you are forced to work out indoors?
The temptation will be to just throw yourself into anything, and while it’s true that something is better than nothing, it’s worth taking the time to think about the best approach.
1) CREATE A VISION AND GOALS
What progress would you like to make during this time? Normal goals, like completing a new race distance or setting a PB, probably won’t be what you’re looking to achieve. But what about improving your strength? Improving your speed? Improving flexibility? Or focusing on the psychological or nutritional side of things? A lot of these aspects of training get neglected in the panic and intensity of training for an event. So now is a great time to think about them.
Once you’ve decided what you want to improve on, set yourself a goal, just like you would with a race or event. It is very important to have a goal that is realistic. You might not be able to exercise as much as usual. A goal to set a new PB quickly or to lose a significant amount of weight, might not be the most realistic at this point.
2) HAVE SOME STRUCTURE
Next, it’s time to create a plan. Just like you would when you’re training for a race or event. Set aside specific times during the day and week when you can train. And, just like a normal training plan, make sure that each session has a specific goal. If you were planning for an event that got canceled or postponed, you can treat the next few weeks like an off-season. Then start a new training cycle.
3) TRACK YOURSELF
Us runners love data, but it’s probably going to be harder than
usual to upload our latest run segment. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t track how you’re improving over time. Whether that’s how many repetitions you’re doing, tracking your nutrition, or measuring how effective you are at mastering the psychological techniques you’re learning about. Tracking yourself will allow you to see how well you’re doing.
4) PREPARE TO BE FLEXIBLE
As we’ve experienced so far, the situation with Coronavirus is changing rapidly. As regulations and advice evolve over the next few days, weeks, and months, you too will have to be ready to change and evolve your goals and your plan. Not everything is going to go perfectly, and you will have to be comfortable with that. This is going to be a great lesson for racing because nothing ever goes perfectly to plan in races either. It’s also remembering that you won’t lose all of your fitness, just from a few weeks, or even months, of not training at your normal levels. And, of course, it’s absolutely fine if you end up putting on a little weight or anything else during this time. Nobody is going to judge you. So don’t judge yourself.
5) GET OTHERS INVOLVED
With schools canceled in the UK and me working from home for the foreseeable future, I will be with my two young daughters and wife more than usual, and I can’t wait for it! This is going to be an opportunity to be together as a family. And it’s an opportunity that we might never get again. I’ll be thinking about how I’ll be getting our daughters involved in keeping fit and healthy too. We already have plans to try new things, like children’s yoga and running. If you live on your own or with people who can’t exercise, try to find a community online who can help you stay motivated, connected, and on track. There are lots of Personal Trainers now on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube who are giving free fitness classes and routines at regular times during the day.
For specific ideas on working out at home, check out James's other article here.
About the Author
James Williams is a father of two, husband, and runner with race victories at 100 miles, 100km, marathons, half-marathons, 10k's and 5k's. Most recently, he attempted to break a world record by running more than 800 miles in 9 days from the bottom of the UK to the top. He writes informative articles to help other runners improve their own performances and achieve their dreams on www.JamesRunsFar.com