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COVID-19: Exercise may protect against deadly complication

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COVID-19: Exercise may protect against deadly complication

The Link Between Activity and Immunity

Strict social distancing measures have been in place around the world for a month or longer now. This means that large gatherings of people have been cancelled and gyms have closed their doors to fitness enthusiasts indefinitely. 

Gym closures may well have destroyed your motivation to say active. The gyms are closed, you have little to no equipment, space is limited… now what? We all know that exercise releases endorphins, allows us to funnel frustrations of daily life, burns calories and increases lean mass. But did you know that exercise may also prevent complications that occur when fighting infections such as Covid-19?

Now, more than ever, we should be looking closely at what we are doing to support and strengthen our immune systems. We have already explored in some depth how to do this with supplementation, but this is only one piece of the puzzle.

The Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that between 3-17% of Covid-19 patients struggle with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). This is increased to somewhere in the region of 20-42% of patients hospitalised and 67-85% of those in intensive care. Research conducted prior to the pandemic found that pproximately 45% of patients with severe ARDS will die.

These chilling figures prompt the question what can we, the public, do to make ourselves more resilient against this?

A review by Zhen Yan, PhD, of the University of Viginia School of Medicine looked to identify the links between Covid-19 complications and exercise. 

His findings couldn't have been clearer. Levels of the antioxidant "extracellular superoxide dismutase" (EcSOD) have been tied to several diseases including acute long disease. Produced by muscles when we exercise, EcSOD hunts down harmful free radicals, protects tissues and prevents disease. Research has confirmed that even a single session of exercise increases production of the antioxidant, prompting Yan to urge people to find ways to exercise even while maintaining social distancing. "We cannot live in isolation forever," he said. "Regular exercise has far more health benefits than we know. The protection against this severe respiratory disease condition is just one of the many examples."

"We often say that exercise is medicine. EcSOD set a perfect example that we can learn from the biological process of exercise to advance medicine," Yan said. "While we strive to learn more about the mysteries about the superb benefits of regular exercise, we do not have to wait until we know everything."

In addition to raising levels of this vital antioxidant, exercise also helps shift energy balance so that we can maintain healthy body fat levels. Read more about how high body fat can further exacerbate complications when fighting Covid-19.

Working Out from Home

This is why we’ve put together some simple workout plans that can be done with limited equipment or even just bodyweight – from the comfort of your home!

The Split

We'd suggest starting with a one on, one off split while you find your feet. This could be all full body workouts, upper/lower, or push/pull/legs. Central nervous system fatigue will be less than when training with heavy weights, so arguably less rest is needed, but training with higher volume than you are probably used to in order to generate the same intensity could leave you pretty sore!

  • Monday – 30 minute brisk walk
  • Tuesday – home workout
  • Wednesday – 30 minute brisk walk
  • Thursday – home workout
  • Friday – 30 minute brisk walk
  • Saturday – 30 minute brisk walk
  • Sunday – home workout 

If in a fat loss phase and wanting to do something more challenging for cardio on non-training days, you could use a skipping rope or stepper to really challenge yourself! Cardio can be increased or decreased as needed based on whether your weight increases or decreases week to week and how this alligns with your goals.

It seems simple, but trust us, it’s going to be very effective. If you have a fitbit, or an app on your phone that tracks steps here are your aims:

  • 10,000 steps a day on days where you perform the home workout
  • 14,000 steps a day on a non-home workout day

Increasing your steps during the day increases what we call NEAT. This is Non-Exercise-Induced-Thermogenesis – a fancy term that basically means all calories burned when you aren’t doing exercise. This can be walking upstairs, fidgeting, picking things up etc. So if you increase NEAT you increase overall calories expended.

Equipment

For these home workouts, most of them only require your bodyweight. But if you want to add some load then you can.

  • Towel / something slippery (if you have a wooden floor)
  • Small dumbbells or cuff weights (not essential but good to add extra resistance)
  • a bench or mat

For each exercise, we are going to explain what muscles are going to be worked along with how to do the exercise; each also has pictures to show you exactly what you’re supposed to be doing. Additionally, we've included both a beginning and more advanced version of many of the exercises.

Basic Weight Training Terminology

Repetition (rep): the raising and lowering of the resistance once is referred to as one rep (or repetition).

Set: A set is a series of repetitions. So if you lifted a weight 8 times and then stopped, you would have done one set of 8 repetitions.

Rest interval (RI): Between sets of the same exercise, you typically rest (doing nothing), and this rest may last anywhere from 15-30 seconds up to several minutes, depending on the specifics of the training program.

Frequency: This is simply how often you exercise, typically individuals will perform resistance training anywhere from two to seven days per week (some very advanced or simply very obsessed athletes will lift more than once per day).

Muscle group: This simply refers to the muscle or muscles that are targeted by a given exercise. A biceps curl may work only the biceps (the muscle on the front of the arms) while a squat may work the glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps (muscles of the lower body).

Failure: There is more than one way to go to failure and it can look different for different people. Essentially, hitting failure is the point during a set that you cannot perform any more reps. Intensity techniques such as drop sets, forced reps and rest pause can be done here. 

Progression

One factor we haven’t talked about yet is progression. To get stronger (or build bigger muscles), you have to overload them by making them work harder. For beginners, this usually means adding more weight to the exercise to make it more difficult. So once you can do 15 repetitions easily with say, 10 pounds, you would move to 12 or 15 pounds. This might bring you back down to 12 repetitions, then you’d build back up to 15 repetitions, once that got easy, you’d add weight again. Beginners can generally use this type of approach for quite some time before needing anything more complicated.

Full Body Workout

These exercises can be performed individually if you are a beginner or as a circuit if you are a more advanced fitness individual. If you know additional movements, you can add them in to make it harder by doing plyometric work, or supersetting with abdominal exercises.

1. The squat - Perform 4 x 15-20 reps

If there were a single exercise that you could do for the lower body, it would be the squat. Almost nothing works the glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps (the three biggest muscles in your lower body) as well. And the best part is that everybody knows how to squat. When you sit down in a chair, or sit down to use the toilet, you’re squatting. Only now we’re going to make it an exercise. If you have some dumbbells, you can hold these by your side. You can also stand with both feet on the bottom of a long band with the top looped around your neck. 

1A. Advanced – Split squat

To perform the split squat, step out with one leg (the back leg should be on the toe) so that, when you bend your knees, both end up at a 90 degree angle as shown on the right. Inhale as you lower and exhale as you stand back up. Resistance can be added in the same way, only this time with the band you will stand on the band with the front facing foot only, while the back leg is elevated.

2. Glute bridge - Perform 3 x 20 reps

To begin the glute bridge, lie on your back with your feet out away from your butt, arms go by your sides. From this position, press through your heels to raise your rear-end off the floor. Only raise up until your body is in a straight line (as shown below) before lowering. That constitutes one repetition, and you should perform 12-15 repetitions. Exhale as you bridge up and inhale as you lower. As with the squat, resistance can be added by lightly holding weight on the hips. Metal weights can be uncomfortable so you might want to use something like a slam ball.

2A. Advanced – 1 legged glute bridge

It is the same method as above, but you are going to raise one leg off the floor as you perform the movement.

NOTE: Use a resistance band (booty band) if you have one, above the knees to add extra pressure on the glutes

3. Press ups - Perform 3 x 10 times with as little rest as possible

These depend if you have the strength to do a full press up, or the modified one on your knees. On either, start in an upright plank position, bend your elbows until your chest is just above the floor and then push until you have extended your body back up fully. As you get stronger, you’ll be able to lower yourself more, do more reps or move onto full press ups. If these become too easy, add a plate to your back to increase the weight you are having to press. 

3A. Advanced – You can elevate your feet onto a chair or sofa

4. Stair climb into mountain climbers

Nice and simple, if you have stairs in your house, walk up and down them 10 times (up and down = 1). Carry weight for extra resistance, or add a squat on each step. As soon as you have done 1 stairs then place your hands on the bottom step, feet out onto the floor and perform 20 mountain climbers by kicking each knee in towards the chest individually.

5. Crunch - Perform 3 x 20 reps

To perform the crunch exercise, lie back on the floor with your knees bent (this helps to keep stress off the low back). Probably the biggest mistake people make when they do crunches is yanking their head up off the floor with their hands, giving themselves neck strain. Instead, put your hands beside your head or by your temples (you can also cross them across your chest to make the exercise a bit easier). From that position, exhale as you try to curl your shoulders and upper back up off the floor to the position shown in the second picture. Please note that this is very small range of motion movement, you don’t have to rise up very far to work the abdominals.

6O. OPTIONAL Hamstring curl - Perform 2 x 15 reps

If you have a wooden floor Lie down on the floor in a glute bridge position with your feet placed on the towel in front of you. Stretch your legs out, lowering your hips down but stopping before they hit the floor. Pull the legs back under by bending (flexing) your knee. Perform this 3 x 15 times to work on your hamstring.

6O. Advanced - banded hamstring curl. Tie the band to an immoavable object. Hook the other end around your ankle or use an ankle cuff and carabiner if possible for a more secure set up.

Upper Body Pump (Dumbbells) 

If you have dumbbells are home you will be able to do upper body work such as lateral raises, front raises, shoulder press, lying chest press, dumbbell rows. The workout below includes these exercises if you have access to them.

1. Lateral raise – 2 x 12, then 1 x 15

The king of medial delt exercises. Raise the arms to around parallel to the floor with weight in each hand. You may find the cue of leading with the elbows helpful. If arms are too straight or end too high, you risk recruiting more of the trapezius muscles. Ideally, this will be a drop set, meaning you exhaust the muscles with heavier weight before dropping to a lighter weight for the final set and hitting failure again.

2. Lying chest press from floor – 4 x 10 

The only difference between this and a regular dumbbell press is that the rep starts and finishes as the elbows make contact with the floor. Drive hard from here, recruiting the chest to move the weight.

3. Single arm dumbbell row – Muscle round

So do 4 reps, rest 10 seconds, 4 reps, rest 10 seconds until you have done 6 rounds on each arm. If you can do more reps on the final set, take it to failure.

4. Standing shoulder press – 3 x 12

For a more advanced move perform a thruster. So you squat down and then as you rise you press the dumbbells above your head. 3 x 12 on this exercise will be sufficient.

Advanced Upper Body (Basic Equipment) 

For this session, you will need the following basic items:

  • a pull up bar (optional extra: weight belt and weights)
  • bands 
  • light weights

1. Pull Ups 3x failure

Forget pull downs. These are the ultimate lat builder. Choose your desired grip and pull bodyweight up so that the chest almost touches the bar. Open the back and avoid pulling with your biceps (unless opting for a chin up variation).

2. Upright Row with resistance band 4x15-20

Stand on the bottom of the band and pull upwards so that elbows are around in line with the shoulders. You should feel this in the mid delt and possibly some trap.

3. Dual bent over DB row 3x10-15

Lean over and set yourself to be nice and stable. With a dumbbell in each hand, row the weight up.

4. Dips against a box or chair

With hands behind you on a stable surface and weight lightly supported on the backs of your feet, lower body weight towards the ground then press back up. 

5. Alternate arm DB curls

One arm at a time, curl the weight up until you feel a squeeze in the biceps.

6. Lying DB skullcrushers 

Lay on your back with the dumbbells in hand and arms extended directly above your head. Keeping the elbows and tops of the arms in position, allow the elbow to bend, lowering the weight to the forehead or slightly behind until you feel a gentle pull in the triceps. Return to start position slowly and repeat.

6. Dumbbell Skullcrushers

Advanced Lower Body (Basic Equipment)

1. Pistol Squat (with resistance if possible) 3xfailure (each leg)

These can be tricky! With one leg held out in front of you, complete a single legged squat with your standing leg. These really work balance and help to iron out and imbalances. Working on these will show when you get back under a heavy barbell!

2. walking lunge 3x20 (each leg)

A simple exercise that is incredibly challenging. These can be done to hit more glute or quad depending how wide your stance is and how upright your torso is. Play around to find a technique that suits your biomechanics and feels best.

3. jump squats 3x12-15

Using as much power from the legs as possible, sink into a squat then explode out. If the force on joints is too much, you could try pause squats instead where you hold the bottom of the squat for a few seconds before controlling the way up.

4. lying DB hamstring curl 3x12-15

You might need a training partner for this one as the set up can be tricky! Start laying on your front on a bench or mat (the bench will provide a greater range of motion). Position a dumbbell between your feet and bring the weight up to your glutes using the strength in your hamstrings. Return to start position with hamstrings fully lengthened. 

5. banded good mornings 3x15-20

Stand with both feet on the bottom of the band around shoulder width apart and the top of the band looped around your neck. Lightly hold onto either side of the band and push your hips back until you feel a stretch in the hamstrings. Return to the top, adding a flex of the glutes at the top for added benefit. 

6. donkey kicks 3x15-20 (per leg)

Kneel on the floor and kick one leg back and out, you should feel a burn in your glute at the top. Return to start. This is one rep. Complete reps on each leg. 

4. Lying DB Hamstring Curl

 


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