Covid-19 infection affects each person differently, and the recovery journey is no different. While you may want to get down to business after an infection, it’s important to listen and adapt to your body’s needs. Consult your GP to find out what measures are appropriate or can improve your recovery.
Resistance training has been shown to be beneficial and is a potentially worthwhile activity to consider. When done correctly, strength training improves mental and functional abilities in all age groups. Below I highlight the existing literature describing the benefits of strength training when performed alone or in combination with aerobic exercise.
What we already know
A canon of literature has demonstrated the health benefits of strength training, especially resistance exercise. In a meta-analysis of healthy, “non-athletic” participants ages 18 and older, researchers found resistance training to be helpful in reducing resting blood pressure, improving mediated dilation by flow (reducing the risk of poor cardiovascular outcomes), improved cardiorespiratory fitness and favorable blood biomarkers (especially in the elderly). In a separate literature review focusing on the mental health benefits associated with strength training, researchers highlight how these exercises have consistently been associated with reduced symptoms of anxiety, mild to moderate improvements in cognition, positive changes in overall self-esteem, and aspects of quality of life and mental health in healthy adults.
When done alone or in combination with aerobic exercise, resistance exercise has also been shown to benefit muscle performance and overall quality of life. In a study investigating the effectiveness of implementing a primary care telerehabilitation exercise program in patients previously infected with Covid-19, researchers found significant improvements in fatigue and dyspnoea, as well as an increase in muscle growth and grip strength when participants performed mixed cycle low- or high-intensity aerobic exercise with resistance training.
No need for fancy equipment or a gym membership
Resistance training can be done in the comfort of your home or on the grass of a nearby park. A separate literature review has highlighted how such exercises can be well adapted in many different settings! While single-joint exercises like quad extensions or bicep curls don’t have a significant impact on health, multi-joint exercises like squats and push-ups produce sufficient muscle gain. Additionally, stationary bike training, using resistance bands, and plyometric training work well.
Listen to your body; No one size fits all exercise programs
Unlike aerobic exercise, resistance training requires less cardiovascular demand, which is a great advantage when resuming (or starting) exercise following an infection or having to be performed with a mask. When done correctly, strength training is safe and accessible to everyone.
Short intervals of training periods can induce significant fitness improvements in post-covid-19 patients. A growing number of studies have shown that exercise intensity ranging from 30-80% of 1RM for resistance exercise and 3-5 on the Modified Borg Scale for aerobic exercise is well suited to post covid patients. Specifically, exercise programs based on a combination of low-volume resistance exercise (eg, 1 to 2 sets of 8 to 10 repetitions at 30 to 80% of 1RM) and aerobic exercise (eg, eg, 5-30 min at moderate intensity) can help on the road to recovery for post-COVID-19 patients. The combination increases muscle strength, reduces activity-induced breathlessness and fatigue, and perceived quality of life.
No individual is the same, however, especially when it comes to exercise. It’s important to listen to your body’s needs and work at a steady pace. It may be a good idea to avoid high-intensity aerobic exercise and resistance training, or long exercise sessions; such activities can induce immunosuppression and increase susceptibility to reinfection. Consult your primary care provider for next steps on your Covid-19 recovery journey.