How to make home workouts effective during self isolation – by a top sports doctor

-Apr 20, Jenny Paul , Fitness -

Whilst everyone embracing at home workouts at the moment is generally a positive thing, not having a trainer on hand to ensure you’re not overdoing it could leave you open to injury while also hampering your immune system says Dr Matthew Jackson, a lecturer in Sport and Health Science at Liverpool Hope University. 

Physical activity can provide a timely boost to the body’s ability to fight viruses and infections, but Dr Jackson says anyone taking up sports like running for the first time, or after a long break, needs to be mindful about painful injuries. 

And he also warns enthusiasts NOT to go hell for leather with their training – as that stress potentially leaves the body open to invasive pathogens. 

He explains: “We don’t want to tell people not to exercise during this crisis – it’s really important that you do. 

“But if you’re finding yourself doing more of it because you’ve got more time on your hands, you just need to be mindful about not doing too much.”

Improve immune function and provide a defence against viruses

“For the majority of people, doing regular exercise is actually a really good way to improve immune function, providing a defence against viruses,” he continues. 

“But you do need to be careful that you don’t go into that overtraining category where you might compromise your immunity.”

When it comes to injury prevention, rest days are crucial, says Dr Jackson, a specialist in sport and exercise physiology. 

Don’t fall into the trap of training all out, every single day – be sure to leave a 48 hour break between each vigorous session – and rest in between or reduce the intensity of effort. 

He adds: “Lower intensity moderate exercise is usually okay. But if you’re doing something more vigorous, you’re more exposed to injury.

“You might think, ‘Right, I’ve got an hour each day, I need to make the most of it with a hard workout’. But there’s a danger of overtraining.  

“If you’re just starting out running, for example, stick to three times a week, with sessions of 30-45 minutes at first, and go from there. 

“Low-level activity like walking can be done more frequently, five or six days a week – but again be sure to factor in at least one full rest day.”

Here Dr Jackson outlines some other key tips for safe exercise during the Covid crisis: 

How exercise can help – or potentially hamper – immunity

Dr Jackson explains: “The key message here is that moderate exercise can boost the immune system, but doing too much can potentially compromise it.

“The science behind exercise and immunity involves the complex interaction of a number of different cells, including immunoglobulins, also known as antibodies, which can help identify an infection causing pathogen like a virus, alongside other more specific cells known as white blood cells or lymphocytes, which engulf and destroy the foreign cells in the body. Your expression of these cells – produced in the bone marrow – is improved through exercise. It’s essentially like a muscle – the more you work it the more efficient it becomes.

“But prolonged bouts of vigorous aerobic activity could actually lead to immunosuppression, as these cells are redistributed and diverted to key tissues and organs active during exercise, rather than elsewhere in the body. In recent research, levels of different immunoglobulins and lymphocytes were found to be lower after vigorous exercise. In the current climate of Coronavirus, you shouldn’t really be going over an hour’s exercise per session. Stay active to maintain your fitness but don’t risk going beyond that and compromising your immune system – at the same time as potentially coming into contact with more people who may be carrying the virus.”

Watch your ‘load’

Dr Jackson says: “There’s a well-established general rule that you shouldn’t increase your training ‘load’ by more than 10 per cent each week. That could be in terms of miles run, or the number of minutes spent doing something. And by going above that 10 percent, you increase the likelihood of becoming injured. If it’s a new routine you’re getting into, start with two or three sessions per week and make sure you stick with the 10 percent rule.”

Frequency, intensity, time and type

Always bear in mind the interplay between frequency, intensity, time spent and type of exercise. Dr Jackson explains: “You want all of these elements in a training programme to try and get fitter and develop. But you only want to work on those elements one at a time. If you’re starting a new regime, you might want to do an extra session one week, but don’t make that session harder as well. You might want to have the same amount of sessions per week, but on one of those sessions you could go a little bit harder. And remember that 80-90 per cent of the exercise you’re doing should be moderate, as opposed to high intensity.”

Beware tendonitis

The most common sorts of injuries you might pick up are muscular stains, joint issues and tendonitis – which is a painful inflammation of a tendon usually triggered by overuse. 

Dr Jackson reveals: “People pick up tendonitis quite regularly when they’ve increased their training. And it can be pretty debilitating, sometimes even needing surgery to remove the damaged tissue. Look out for pain around the knee, hips, elbows, ankles and shoulder in particular. So if you’re thinking about going running every day, you need to be sensible.”

Keep an eye out for foot pain

“If you’re throwing yourself into a new running regime, beware issues with the achilles tendon and also ‘Plantar fasciitis’, a searing pain on the underside of the foot and which often rears its head when people start doing more walking or running, when they start exercising on hard surfaces for the first time, or if they wear shoes without proper support.”

Target the glutes

Moderating your exercise regime could also ward off Iliotibial band syndrome, or ‘ITBS’. 

Dr Jackson says: “This is really common among runners starting a new routine. There’s a long tendon that stretches from the outside of the hip all the way down to the outside of the knee. If you strain it, pain will be concentrated around the outside edge of the knee, where the tendon is rubbing over the bone. That’s usually down to a weakness in the glute muscles. So it’s prevalent among people who might typically spend a lot of time sitting down. The glute muscles – the ‘hip extensor’ and ‘hip abductor’ – can experience atrophy. And if they’re weaker, you’re more likely to pick up ITBS. People simply aren’t aware of the atrophy until they start to exercise properly.”

Remember that DIY is exercise, too

Dr Jackson: “If you’ve thrown yourself into a DIY project, you need to be careful about repetitive strain injuries, too! You might spend the whole weekend decorating, and then find yourself with ‘tennis elbow’ a few days later. It’s usually down to an imbalance of the ‘flexor’ and ‘extensor’ muscles, which work in pairs. If you do a particularly repetitive activity where you’re just using the one set of muscles, you’re pulling the tendon over those bones and it’s rubbing all the time. That’s what causes the inflammation – and it can be really painful.”

Moderate home workouts

“You’re not immune to injury if you’re doing home workouts in front of a screen either – as squats performed with inadequate technique can cause lower back or knee pain. Again, it’s about moderation, if you are new to exercise, I’d be wary of doing a home workout every day. By including sufficient rest, you are more likely to make consistent progress and achieve your long term goals.”

Did you love this? Find out what Pilates guru Erika Bloom has to say about wellness. Here’s the one type of exercise women over 35 should embrace, and here’s the workout trend that will fill you with joy.

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