A how-to guide for reintroducing fitness after quarantine. Read this article to ensure you minimize risk of injury as you return to the gym!
Fitness After Quarantine
Yes, finally, most gyms here in Ohio have reopened! Our goal with this article is to share knowledge and tips on how to safely get back into your workout routine while trying to minimize the risk of injury.
If you are like most of us and have been “working out at home 4 times a week”, but in reality you’ve just been doing some twelve ounce curls and debating if Carol Baskin really killed her husband then this is the article for you!
We all know that we should ease back into our workout routine but this often gets overlooked! We end up thinking we can just jump back in where we left off, thus putting us at an increased risk for injury.
So, how do we determine the appropriate rate at which to increase our workload while minimizing the risk for injury?
The answer is to determine the Acute:Chronic Workload Ratio (ACWR). This article will lay exactly how to do that!
What is Acute:Chronic Workload Ratio?
ACWR is a very scientific sounding term, but has a simple meaning. ACWR compares how much exercise your body is accustomed to vs how much you are currently doing.
First let us define acute workload. This is the amount of exercise and intensity we have done in the last week.
As an example let us say the gym just opened, you’re excited to get back, and you crush the workout 3 days a week. Day one was a 45-minute workout, day two you did an hour workout and day three you did another one-hour workout. In total you worked out 165 minutes in the past week.
As a result, the total workout time is the first part to determine your acute workload. The second part is measuring the intensity at which you worked out.
Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE)
This is where it can get a little fuzzy because it is all subjective. It’s totally up to you to rate how hard you felt you worked. So, to determine this we will use a 1-10 scale with 1 being extremely low intensity and 10 being extremely high intensity. This scale is the rate of perceived exertion (RPE).
Going back to our example:
- Day 1: 45 minutes at a 7 RPE
- Day 2: 60 minutes at a 6 RPE
- Day 3 was 60 minutes at 7 RPE
Multiply the minutes by the RPE to get your daily workload then simply add all the days together to get your workload for the week.
In our example we would take 45 mins x 7 RPE = 315 units then add that to the 60 minutes x 6 RPE = 360 units and finally add in day 3 which is 60 mins x 7 RPE = 420. In total for the week we had (315+360+420) 1095 units for your acute workload.
The chronic workload, or long term, is calculated the exact same way. The only difference is that you will just take the average of the last 3-4 weeks.
- Week 1: 650 units
- Week 2: 720 units
- Week 3: 535 units
The average would be (650+720+535 / 3) 635 units.
Quick Math: Daily workload = minutes of exercises X RPE of workout — Acute workload = average of daily workloads — Chronic workload = 3-4 week average of daily workloads
Getting the final ACWR
To recap so far, we calculated our acute workload and we calcuated our average workload done over the past 3 weeks. Now it is time to calculate the ratio. We do this by dividing the acute workload by the chronic workload.
So, going back to our example, our acute was 1095 units and our chronic was 635 units. Dividing 1095/635 gives us a 1.72 ACWR.
Cool, but what the heck does that mean? That means for the first week back in the gym we increased our workload by 172%.
What is the point of all these calculations?
By now you probably feel like your back in high school math class with all these calculations but what is the point? Using that final ACWR number gives us a great frame of reference to determine if we are safely increasing our workload capacity.
In a study done by the British Journal of Sports Medicine (click the link or see reference at end of article) there were zones identified with ideal training loads and zones where training loads increase too quickly and put us a relative increase to injury.
In the research mentioned above they determined that a ACWR between 0.8 – 1.3 seems to be the sweet zone, where the injury risk is minimized. Any ACWR greater than 1.5 puts us at an increased risk for injury.
Going back to the example where our ACWR was 1.72 this would put us well into the increased injury risk zone.
What we recommend
If, before quarantine, you worked out 5-6 times a week but now it’s closer to 1-3 and the RPE is way lower, do not go back full force.
It will take a few weeks to get back to your level of fitness before the quarantine and it’s okay. You will get there.
Take your time and be safe. Don’t forget delayed onset muscle soreness can take a day or two to show up.
Be Smart About Your Fitness After Quarantine
If you participate in fitness classes such as CrossFit, Orange Theory, or cycling, listen to your body. If you need to scale the workout or cut it short go for it! Your coaches should understand and be able to help you get a good workout in without going overboard.
Take Home Message
Ease back into working out post quarantine! We don’t expect everyone to start keeping a daily log of all of these things, but we would really like people to use the guidelines laid out in this article to help guide your decision making while trying to catch up on all the lost gains and while working off all of those quarantine calories.
Written by: Jake Pfleghaar DPT
Are you having issues returning to fitness after quarantine? Click HERE to fill out our contact form and someone will respond to you ASAP. We are doing appointments in person and telehealth; we’re excited to get you back to 100%!
Source: Gabbett, T., 2016. The training—injury prevention paradox: should athletes be training smarter and harder?.British Journal of Sports Medicine, 50(5), pp.273-280.