Returning to Exercise

Gyms and workout classes have started opening back up in Texas, which means you can start using the weights and machines again!  Some people may have been able to keep up their work-out or exercise regimen at home, while others may have had more difficulty – weights and machines that we normally have access to at the gym can be pricey and/or take up too much space in your house.  If you haven’t been able to keep up with your previous gym workouts, follow these guidelines below to prevent injury as you return to your pre-COVID routine.  And if you haven’t been working out at all and want to start, these tips will be useful for you as well.

Make sure to hydrate before, during, and after your work-out.  If you don’t drink enough water, you can get dehydrated, which can decrease your physical performance and adversely affect your health.  When you exercise, your body heats up.  To cool yourself back down, your body sweats, which means you are losing water.  It’s important to replace lost water to prevent dehydration.

 Dehydration can cause headaches, dry mouth, constipation, and a feeling of being weak and tired.  How much water will vary based on your body weight, what kind of work out you’re doing, and how warm your environment is.  The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 17 to 20 ounces a couple of hours before your workout and then drink regularly during your workout.1  If you are aren’t sure if you’re drinking enough water, monitor your urine output.  Urine output should be frequent and the color of your urine should be pale yellow.  If your urine is dark yellow, you are not drinking enough water. 

While working out, you also lose electrolytes such as potassium and sodium.  If you are working out for more than an hour, it’s important to drink a sports drink to replace these electrolytes.  If your workout is less than an hour, a sports drink is not necessary, and water is your best source of hydration.

"The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 17 to 20 ounces a couple of hours before your workout and then drink regularly during your workout".1

Start with a warm-up.  A warm-up helps to prepare your body for exercise.  A proper warm-up will increase blood flow to your muscles and joints to help lubricate them, increase your heart rate and body temperature, improve circulation, and improve flexibility.  This helps your body to handle higher intensity exercise and prevent injury during your work-out.   You should warm-up for at least 5-10 minutes with a low-intensity exercise such as jogging, biking, rowing on an ergometer, or getting on the elliptical.  If you plan on working out your upper body, make sure to do something that involves your arms such as an arm bike.  If you plan on working out your lower body, make sure to involve your legs, such as biking.  If you plan on doing a full-body work-out, an elliptical with arm attachments or a rowing machine is a perfect way to warm up. 

Remember that this is just a warm-up, so the exercise does not need to be as intense.  Some people like to warm-up with stretches.  It is best to do dynamic stretching instead of static stretching.  Static stretching consists of staying in one position as you stretch, while dynamic stretching allows you to move while stretching.  Dynamic stretching is better during a warm-up because it helps to increase blood flow more than static stretching.

Benefits to   a Warmup

  • Increase Blood Flow to Muscles

  • Increase Heart Rate

  • Improve Flexibility

  • Increase Blood Flow to Joints

  • Improve Circulation

  • Increase Body Temp

 

Start slow and light to prevent injury.  If you were lifting relatively heavy weights prior to your exercise hiatus and haven’t been doing much lifting since then, you definitely want to start with lighter weights.  Start with 20% of the amount of weight and do fewer reps and sets of what you were doing previously.  Pay attention to your body.  If your form starts to deteriorate or you start feeling shaky, take a break.  Gradually increase your weights, reps, and sets as you get stronger. 

Use the same advice for any cardiovascular exercise you were doing previously, such as running, biking, swimming, etc.  Start with 20% of the distance you were doing previously and take more breaks.  As long as your body feels good, try increasing the time of your cardio  exercise by 5 minutes each session.  You may also need to take more days off in between workout sessions as well. 

It may be discouraging to see that you aren’t lifting or running as much as you used to, but eventually you will get there again.  Remember, slow and steady, wins the race – without injury.

Reduce your intensity by 20% to decrease the risk of injury

Ensure proper nutrition.  Make sure to get a good balance of carbohydrates and protein two to three hours before a workout, so that most of it is digested.  You definitely don’t want your body to do most of your food digestion during your workout.  If you’re just going for a short walk or doing an easy or light workout, you don’t have to worry too much about your meal or waiting too long after a meal before you start. 

Carbohydrates are going to give you the energy to get you through your workout so definitely don’t go low-carb prior to working out.  Protein will help to build muscle and repair body tissues after your work-out.  Most Americans get twice the amount of protein that we need, so don’t feel like you have to drink protein shakes or eat extra protein.  You also want your meal to have a little bit of fat as well.  We always recommend eating whole-food plant-based meals and snacks for optimal nutrition.

Fruits and Nuts
Pre-Workout
Image by Harshil Gudka
Post Workout

Hover over the boxes to see ideas for some pre and post workout nutrition

End with a cool-down.  A cool-down helps get your breathing rate and heartrate back down slowly.  The cool-down should be 3 – 10 minutes of a less- intense activity.  If you were jogging, you can do some brisk walking.  Stretches are a great way to cool down as well as improve your flexibility.  Try some yoga moves to improve flexibility while also helping you relax.

We hope that these tips help you and your loved ones return to your normal activities and hobbies safely and without injury. Of course, injuries do still happen, so when those inevitably occur, we are here to get you back to health. 

Convertino, Victor & Armstrong, Lawrence & Coyle, Edward & Mack, Gary & Sawka, Michael & Senay, Leo & Sherman, W.. (1996). ACSM Position Stand: Exercise and Fluid Replacement. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 28. i-ix. 10.1097/00005768-199610000-00045.

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