It is day 6 of your quarantine. You’re adjusting to working from home, trying to avoid the tide of Netflix pulling you from spreadsheets, emails, and virtual meetings. The kids are home and have about a 5 minute attention span during their virtual education. The dog is delighted that you are home and wants to go outside and play every hour.
All of our schedules have been blown apart over the past two weeks, and of course that includes workout routines. While many races are canceled, postponed, or remain in uncertainty, many endurance athletes are adopting the philosophy that they’ll be race-ready when the time comes. Finally enjoying some solo time running or on the bike trainer not only maintains some rhythm of physical activity, but also helps to relieve stress.
With gyms, pools, and all group activities unavailable, running seems like the safest, sanest, and most impactful mode of movement. While I’m not one to argue with that logic, it is important to consider your previous weekly mileage and avoid the pitfall of “too much, too soon”. Track your mileage and avoid increasing greater than 10% of the previous week’s miles. For example, if you ran 20 miles last week, don’t run more than 22 miles this week. This also applies to all of those body weight and virtual strength workouts that are so kindly being offered by fitness and wellness organizations! I’ve already had some first-hand experience and am finding it difficult to reach into cabinets after matching my total number of push ups of 2019 in one day this week. Now is a great time to focus on strength, but be sure to monitor soreness and give your body time to adapt to the new stimulus.
Physical activity has a positive effect on the immune system, increasing the number of fighter T cells and encouraging mobilization of immune cells during elevated heart and respiratory rates, as well as activating a mild inflammatory response due to exercise-induced muscle damage. However, this is true for moderate exercise, and for endurance athletes, very few workouts can be considered moderate due to intensity and/or duration. There is a no known threshold where a workout crosses from immune-boosting to immunocompromising. However, as a general rule, workouts >60 mins in duration and at a rating of perceived exertion (RPE) >6/10 activate a stress response that exponentially increases with duration and/or intensity.
URTI=Upper Respiratory Tract Infection
What does this mean for your training?
Decrease the duration of your intense workouts and minimize them to 1-2 per week, depending on your prior level of training. This allows for adequate recovery of the immune system.
Limit long workouts to 1.5-2hrs, and be sure to adequately hydrate and fuel with carbohydrates during and after. Carbohydrate consumption attenuates post exercise inflammation and can aid in faster recovery.
Take rest days. You should be doing this already, but do not be tempted to skip them just because the training is different or not as intense.
If you were in the throes of Marathon, Half Ironman, or Ironman training prior to the COVID-19 surge it is very likely that you are either slightly overtrained or on the verge of overtraining. Take extra precautions to boost your immune system: improve the quantity and quality of sleep, drink plenty of water, focus on the fruits/vegetables in your diet, and minimize alcohol intake. This is particularly important if you’ve recently experienced overtraining symptoms, such as digestive disturbance, fatigue, mental fog/difficulty concentrating, mood swings, diminished performance, or an elevated heart rate upon waking. Keep in mind that fitness levels can be maintained for several weeks, even with less training stimulus. Trust your body to hold on to your training gains.
You may have heard the quote “stress is stress”, and there is no better mantra to carry with you as you navigate these uncertain and unprecedented times. Be gentle on yourself, move when it feels good to move, and get outside when you can. Take this extra time to learn other forms of stress relief such as meditation, yoga, reading non-fiction, and connecting often with your training partners via Zoom or FaceTime.
If you need guidance in staying healthy during your quarantine, Precision is offering Telehealth appointments to help prevent or manage injuries while maintaining the CDC’s recommendations of social distancing. Call us at 770-842-1418 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule!
Nieman DC, Wentz LM. The compelling link between physical activity and the body's defense system. J Sport Health Sci. 2019;8(3):201–217. doi:10.1016/j.jshs.2018.09.009