Returning to Exercise Post-COVID

Returning to Exercise Post-COVID


Returning to exercise after experiencing COVID-19 can be challenging. For those recovering from the Coronavirus, it is important to advance physical activity gradually and understand when it is appropriate to progress. Below, Professional’s Anthony Walsh, PT, DPT, will discuss when is a good time to start resuming exercise, a convenient method to help establish you capacity for exercise activities, when it is appropriate to progress, and tips for resuming activity safely.


When to Resume Exercise

COVID-19 can leave some pesky residual effects despite primary symptoms being nonexistent. Per the CDC, individuals may still experience:

  • Shortness of breath (SOB)
  • Lightheadedness
  • Muscle aches & weakness
  • Chest & joint pain

It is important to be able resume everyday activities without experiencing these symptoms prior to resuming higher intensity exercise. Activities of daily living (i.e., cleaning, walking, stairs, cooking, etc.) are generally those of light physical demands. These activities should not be challenging! If you notice any of these symptoms during or immediately after than it is not appropriate to resume higher levels of exercise as your body is already expending a lot of energy to keep up with simple tasks. As this is no longer an issue, it is safe to gradually progress in physical activity.

Identifying Exercise Capacity & Progression Made Simple

One way to distinguish your ability to increase exercise intensities is to find your maximum heart rate (HR). Maximum HR identifies peak exercise intensity relative to the individual. Note: aerobic capacity declines with age, so older adults will generally experience quicker increases in HR with lower-level activities. When beginning exercise activity post-COVID-19 it is NOT recommended an individual begins exercising at their maximum HR right away as cardiovascular and respiratory responses may not be the same immediately after. Reaching maximum HR within every exercise is not necessary but knowing yours and taking percentages of that value can guide activity selection. To calculate your maximum HR, subtract your age from 220. If you are a 55-year-old, maximum HR would be 220 – 55 years = 165 beats per minute (bpm). If while checking your pulse, you notice you’re HR is at 165 bpm, then you have reached your maximum exercise intensity.

Exercising Immediately After COVID-19

As discussed, we do not necessarily want to exercise within our max HR immediately upon resuming exercise. However, this value is important as we want to begin exercising at a moderate level which is approximately 50-70% of our established maximum HR. Start by performing 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity at least five days a week, per the American College of Sports Medicine (ASCM) and CDC’s guidelines for healthy adults. Some good exercises to start with include but are not limited to:

  • Squats
  • Lunges
  • Pushups
  • Bicep curls
  • Walking
  • Step ups
  • Mountain climbers
  • Planks
  • Rows
  • Shoulder press
  • Jumping jacks

There are tons of exercises to choose from. However, how the exercise routine is performed is more important than the exercise selected. Start out performing some of these total body movements with just your body weight, resistance bands or light hand-held weights prior to progressing to heavier weight. Heavy weight is not always necessary. Even in healthy adults, it is safer and more effective to increase frequency (reps) or duration (time) prior to increasing weight. More importantly, listen to your body. If you experience symptoms, break your sets into intervals of smaller repetition schemes. Give yourself rest and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. If symptoms persist, call your doctor. Be sure to perform a routine without complications more than once prior to increasing intensity and have fun doing so!

For additional guidance and safe return to physical activity while recovering from COVID-19 or any injury, schedule an appointment with a Professional Physical Therapist at


  • Long-Term Effects of COVID-19:
  • American College of Sports Medicine, Riebe, D., Ehrman, J. K., Liguori, G., & Magal, M.(2018).  ACSM’s guidelines for exercise testing and prescription (Tenth edition.). Philadelphia: Wolters; Kluwer
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