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What COVID-19 Taught me about Exercise

I got COVID-19 in November of 2020, when it peaked in Montana.

On November 19th, life was normal. I went to work, completed a grueling 1 hour workout, drank a protein shake and felt fine.

November 20th, I could hardly function I was so achy, and by 9am I left work and went to bed.

I was hit somewhat hard by COVID. I wasn’t hospitalized, but I wasn’t exactly ok either. Aches, chills, a mild fever, a deep cough, breathlessness, complete lost of taste and smell, brain fog and extreme fatigue lasted about 20 days, and I returned to work in a gradual fashion – starting with half days for my first 8 days back before I had the strength to last a full day at my desk job. I wasn’t perfect by day 21, but the major effects subsided. I was left with fatigue, joint pain, occasional breathlessness, brain fog, and lasting taste and smell damage – but I was able to return to work at the very least.

I was devastated to become so physically ill from this sickness.

Working out is a huge part of how I physically process stress in my body (a good cardio session, weights and yoga are my jam!) It’s how I learned to process my emotions, produce those feel good endorphins and keep my body feeling amazing.

I lost that completely with COVID, and in that first 80 days I struggled immensely to return to working out. I tried 10 min barre videos, 10 minutes of yoga, mild weights, mild cardio and all of it (and I mean f***ing all of it) took a massive toll of my body and it’s recovery.

The first time I tried yoga I could hardly move for the next 2 days. Same with barre, same with weights. I was devastated. And stressed. And worn out. And fatigued. And the list goes on and on.

I was desperate to get back into a routine but COVID had other lessons for me and my body.

So here’s what I learned from COVID and I hope it’s something you can learn from as well:

1.) You need to take care of your body.

For a fitness junkie this should’ve been a no brainer, but before COVID I wasn’t actually always listening to what I needed. I took my body’s ability to recover for granted and didn’t always give my muscles and joints the care they deserved.

Before COVID, I’d just push my sore muscles so I could keep getting stronger.

But when I tried that after COVID, I found that not only would they hurt worse, they weren’t able to recover like they used to.

So I foam rolled (self myofascial release), took epsom salt baths, bought essential oils to rub on them (shoutout to Deep Blue), and really allowed myself to rest in between workouts. It worked wonders and to be honest, felt amazing. Self care has become a new part of my routine and a tool in my toolbox to help relieve stress.

2.) It’s not always a good idea to push yourself.

I thought that if I pushed harder I’d recover faster. It’s not uncommon to hear the advice, “the harder you push the stronger you’ll get.”

Never have I ever experienced such a deep version of the opposite. The harder I pushed, the harder I hurt. The harder the recovery was. I didn’t make any progress when I pushed myself and in fact, I ended up setting myself back a few times from pushing too hard and then having to wait twice as long to recover.

The biggest lesson I learned and can hope to share is your body knows when it’s time to quit. You have the power to override this mentally, and there’s a time and place when it’s ok to do so. But there is a time and place when it’s horrible to do so, and recovering from an illness falls into that category.

COVID long haulers – there’s a time and place to push your limits and your body will tell you when it is ready to do so. And also your doctor can help you with this. Even though I was struggling with fatigue, my doc green lighted me to keep going and encouraged me to push along – at my own pace.

3.) Modify, Modify, Modify.

The last major lesson I learned from COVID is to f***ing modify harder workout moves until your strong enough to do them properly. I cannot stress this enough, hence the cursing. 

This is also another no brainer – but I struggled with it too. I never realized how much my ego equated perfection with success. I felt like an impostor if I did a workout and modified – had I even really done the workout if I couldn’t do it perfectly??? Did push-ups on my knees even count??

Oh man.

COVID taught me that there is glory in modifying a move to your abilities. You can gain so much strength by just showing up and doing what you can. I think people often turn away from fitness because they think, “I can’t do what they do!”

Well of course you can’t, you’re just starting out. And believe it or not everyone else started somewhere too. They just have a little more time and effort under their belt, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t start somewhere and make progress too.

I’m amazed at how much faster I’ve been able to grow and gain strength back by simply dialing it down, doing what I can do and allowing that to be enough.

Celebrating where I’m at

COVID hasn’t been an easy hurdle to face, but it really has taught me some amazing lessons.

I’m thankful I’m recovering and am able to move the way I am nearly 120 days later. I’m thankful for the lessons in patience, self care, and modification. I truly think this illness made me a better person. 

Now if only I could get my full smell back…

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