Summer body loading: How to get back to your peak fitness level

The ongoing pandemic has shone a spotlight on the importance of health and how exercise can be used as not only medicine but also as the antidote to the stressors of modern-day life.

It is important to acknowledge that fitness and performance levels may have declined during the lockdown.

This is called detraining and happens when an individual’s training volume and intensity is reduced significantly. The degree of detraining depends on a range of factors such as age, training history, genetics and sport type.

Research suggests that total rest (i.e. not training) causes, on average, 3% fitness loss per week. So, over the 12 weeks of lockdown, this detraining effect means you may have lost about 30% of your original fitness level if you did not continue to work out with the same frequency and intensity at home. You may have been able to reduce these losses by approximately 50% if you maintained your training at a low level.

“Detraining’’ has become a buzz word and refers to how much fitness an individual has lost during the lockdown period. Based on age, training history, genetics and sport type, it’s important to manage your expectations when detraining, and understand the impact it has on your fitness and how you can safely get your body back on track.

Virgin Active says for most people, lockdown will have changed the type, volume and intensity of training they have been able to do so they should expect that it will take some time to adapt and regain that specific fitness, strength and power. The health centre shares tips to help you through your journey.

Returning from detraining (the retraining process)

It’s important that the body is given the time it needs to regain fitness levels and physiological adaptations – this process is called retraining. As a rule of thumb, allow 1 week of retraining time for every 2 weeks of complete detraining (for those who did no exercise). For people who managed to maintain their training to some degree, they will be able to retrain faster at a rate of 1 week of retraining for every 3-4 weeks of reduced training. It will typically take 3-6 weeks to return to your pre-lockdown level of training so it is important to be patient in order to avoid the risk of injury or illness.

Training for optimal immune function

There’s no doubt about it… regular exercise improves immune function. It increases the capacity and function of your immune system for a healthier body that’s less prone to infections. However, excessive exercise can impair the immune system, shifting the body into an anti-inflammatory state, suppressing immune cells, and making the body vulnerable to infections.

The key to exercise for immune health is balance. It is important to avoid excessive and repeated long, high-intensity bouts of training and to take extra precautions to recover after a particularly hard exercise training session. This means focusing on hygiene (hand washing, social distancing, avoiding closed spaces with crowds), sleep and nutrition, particularly on the high-intensity days of training. There is thought to be a period after exercise when you are more vulnerable to infection so when training harder, respect this window and be especially vigilant about the risk of exposure to viruses.

Training after Covid-19

The most persistent symptoms of Covid-19 that have been documented are fatigue and a total loss of energy. Do not fight this by trying to train through it. Instead, let the body rest and resume training very gradually. Numerous cases have been reported where people feel fully recovered and try to return to normal, however, this triggers a relapse and they regress to the same feelings of fatigue and lethargy. Do not experiment with drugs such as anti-inflammatories to enable you to exercise at this time and only increase training in consultation with a health-care professional. This may include tests of inflammatory markers and lung function, depending on the severity of any previous symptoms. If your health changes at any time, consult a doctor before returning to training. It important to remain vigilant and aware of how the body feels at all times.

If you need a push to kick-start your fitness journey, Virgin Active clubs across the country are open again and they’re offering members a free 30-day training programme.