COVID-19 is on the rise, again, with the surge of the omicron variant. And, unfortunately, many of my fellow runners and athletes are contracting the virus and asking me the question, when can I start running after Covid?
To be honest, I’ve vacillated on whether I should write this article since how to return to running after covid is so individual, based on the severity of your symptoms and the fact that I AM NOT A MEDICAL DOCTOR. But I’ve had so many ask and many tell me it would be helpful. Therefore, I feel compelled to share my research-backed advice as a running coach.
This article features the return to running after Covid guidelines I use for my athletes. And, always first and foremost, you must be cleared by your doctor to resume exercise after Covid. If your case is milder, such as you had the Omicron variant and are fully vaccinated, you can likely resume physical activity after Covid sooner. If you had a more severe case of Covid and/or suffering Long-Hauler’s symptoms, you must follow—to a T—your doctor’s recommendations.
Related: Running with an Elevated Heart Rate after COVID
Return to running after Covid must be done with the utmost of caution as we, even two years in, are still confused and mystified by this virus.
In this article I will cover:
- Should I still run if I have been exposed to Covid?
- Can I go for a run if I have Covid?
- Can I run if I am asymptomatic with Covid?
- When can I resume running after Covid?
- Science-backed consideration and recommendations for returning to run after Covid
- When should I stop running after Covid?
- How do I return to running after having Covid?
- The Return to Running after Covid Plan
- How do I return to running after COVID if I’ve taken a long break?
So here we go.
Should I still run if I have been exposed to COVID?
Yes, you can still run if you have been exposed to Covid, in my opinion. Currently, I have several athletes with children who have Covid.
Related: How to Return to Running After COVID Reinfection
With these athletes, we are prioritizing rest and proper nutrition more than ever (even though it is ALWAYS A PRIORITY). And we are focusing on easy running—no workouts, just miles.
Your energy is focused on getting your child well and keeping yourself well.
Research shows that physical activity can boost your immune system. However, if the activity is too strenuous, you can suppress your immune system. We don’t want that!
Thus, speedwork and long runs are withdrawn from the running schedule if you have been exposed to Covid until everyone in your household is well and you are past your quarantine timeline.
The good news is it takes a long time of inactivity (two weeks for a 2.7 percent change) to lose fitness and you can easily maintain it with just a few cardio sessions per week, based on famed running coach Jack Daniels’ Ease of Maintenance Principle.
Related: How long does it take to lose running fitness?
Can I go for a run if I have Covid?
No. If you have Covid, even mild, do not run. Allow your body the strength to fight the infection which can affect the cardiac, pulmonary, hematologic, musculoskeletal, and gastrointestinal systems.
If your symptoms are above the neck, you can go for a walk outside. Light physical activity outdoors can be an immune booster, studies show.
Related: Benefits of an easy running pace
Can I run if I am asymptomatic with Covid?
A new report from the American Academy of Cardiology recommends a three-day break from exercise if you have COVID but are asymptomatic. (This is a downgrade from the previously recommended 7 days.)
When can I resume running after Covid?
In most cases, you can resume running after Covid when you’ve been asymptomatic several days, unless you’ve experienced cardiopulmonary symptoms.
There have been several studies, such as in the BMJ and the HSS Journal, with recommendations on when you should resume exercise after having Covid, noting 7 days. The consensus on the most recent studies recommends:
- An otherwise healthy patient can resume physical activity after 7 days of no symptoms.
- Even if you are asymptomatic, you can resume activity after resting for 7 days from the date of diagnosis.
- The new AAC report downgrades this number to 3 days in both cases if symptoms are mild and do not involve the chest. In these cases, it’s then recommended to resume a progressive return to running when you’re asymptomatic for about three days. Try a walk or two first.
- If you’ve experienced cardiopulmonary symptoms such as chest pain or tightness, dyspnea, palpitations, lightheadedness, or syncope, you should receive further testing before returning to exercise after COVID.
Here are important considerations for returning to running after having COVID-19 as outlined in the HSS Journal:
- Each patient with COVID-19 is unique. Although general patterns in COVID-19 have been reported, there is a wide variance of disease expression.
- Each patient with COVID-19 recovers at a unique rate. There is currently no algorithm guiding a patient’s stepwise return to activity.
- The severity of the disease appears to affect the duration of recovery, although this has yet to be proven.
- Return to activity after COVID-19 should be guided by a body-system approach that includes the cardiac, pulmonary, hematologic, musculoskeletal, and gastrointestinal systems.
- Clinicians should advise patients to return to activity in a slow, gradual, stepwise manner.
- Patients should be given instructions to speak with their health care provider should they develop symptoms in the body systems listed above.
Here are important recommendations for returning to running after having COVID-19 as outlined in the HSS Journal:
- Exercise should not resume if a patient with COVID-19 has a persistent fever, dyspnea at rest, cough, chest pain, or palpitations. Get further testing before resuming running.
- Any COVID-19 patient with an underlying cardiovascular or pulmonary condition should consult a physician prior to resumption of exercise, even if asymptomatic.
- An otherwise healthy patient with a self-limited course of COVID-19 who has been asymptomatic for several days may begin resuming physical activity at 50% of normal intensity and volume.
- Consultation with a physician is recommended if patients who have had COVID-19 develop chest pain, fever, palpitations, or dyspnea on the resumption of exercise.
When should I stop running after Covid?
You should stop running after having COVID if you experience cardiac symptoms such as
- chest tightness
- excessive shortness of breath
- feeling fatigued
- feeling winded during a workout that is normally easy
- feeling lightheaded or passing out
Instead, rest and make an appointment with your doctor. Your body is not ready to return to running after Covid yet.
How do I return to running after having Covid?
Runners who have had COVID-19 need to gradually return to running. This is due to two main factors:
- Your body is still recovering from the virus. Indeed, a study in the Journal of Bone and Joint Health found cases of secondary inflammation in the musculoskeletal system causing pain and fatigue.
- A recent study in Sports Health shows the incidence of injury is higher in runners who have had Covid.
The BMJ confirms that you can return to running after having COVID as long as you take a progressive approach.
Below is the recommended return to run after COVID plan as long as you are healthy and symptom-free for a minimum of 7 days.
The Return to Running Plan after COVID
This plan is informed from the recent BMJ and HSS studies for recreational athletes. This progression is appropriate for runners who have taken up to 2 weeks off. Bear in mind, the progression assumes you are feeling good and have no symptoms.
- In your first week back, reduce your normal training load by 50 percent.
- In the second week, you can increase mileage up to 70 percent of your previous volume.
- If still feeling good, in the third week, you can resume 80 percent of your weekly volume.
- Then, in week four, resume up to 90 percent of your previous volume.
- In the fifth week, you can resume 100 percent of your previous running volume.
How do I return to running after COVID if I’ve taken a long break?
If you have taken more than 2 weeks off running due to COVID, you will need a more gradual progression in your return to run than stated above.
In general, I use Jack Daniels’ return-to-running guidelines for my athletes. However, the return to running journey is very individual and can be progressed at a slower or faster rate depending on how the runner feels.
- 14-28 days off: 14 days easy running at 50 percent volume; then 14 days easy running at 75 percent volume
- 29+ days off:9 days easy running at 33 percent volume; 10 days easy running at 50 percent volume; then 10 days at 75 percent volume with strides
- 8 weeks off running:18 days easy running at 33 percent volume; 19 days easy running at 50 percent volume; then 19 days at 75 percent volume with strides
- 8+ weeks off running:3 weeks each at 33 percent, 50 percent, 70 percent, 85 percent, 100 percent with strides.
- 72 days off running: A runner is almost completely detrained.
I cannot emphasize enough that returning to physical exercise after having COVID-19 is incredibly individual and it’s paramount you talk to your doctor before resuming running and that you listen to your body.
If anything at all feels not right, rest and allow your body to fight the virus at full strength.
Having a running coach can help you return to running at the right pace. If you’re interested in my run coaching, check out my services.