Training Through a Health Crisis


Given that there is significant uncertainty about the implications of the coronavirus and COVID-19, the following advice is given recognizing that the current situation may change, so please stay alert and take all recommended precautions to keep yourself and your community healthy.

Keep moving. 

At this moment, cities and states throughout the country are asking people to stay home, to avoid unnecessary travel, and to maintain social distance.  Still, there is compelling evidence that moderate exercise keeps you physically and emotionally healthy.  While following all the guidelines by the CDC and local authorities, if you can get outside for a run, walk or hike, that’s great.  If you’re worried about exercising near others, try getting out early in the morning or at dusk during standard dinner hour.  

Go Back to Base

As races and events cancel, you may lose your motivation to train.  Remember, this is a great time to cycle into a phase of Base Training.  Easy conversational pace running has proven mental health benefits and proven cardiorespiratory benefit, so spend this time doing easy running at a low heart rate.   Depending on your fitness, a base program of 1-2 runs of 25-35 minutes, 1-2 runs of 45-60 minutes, and a longer run of 75-90 minutes will keep you in excellent aerobic shape (more running for those who run more and less for those who run less.)  Add in a 10-20 minute protocol of standard body-weight strength work and any of the standard flexibility/mobility routines and you’ll be strong and fit heading into your next race training cycle . 

Sprinkle in Some Effort

On the other hand, the good news is that you can also continue with high intensity training if you are motivated.   As Dr. Jeff Messer, an exercise physiologist and 2017 US Girls High School Coach of the Year writes in an email, “Two (2) such vigorous sessions per week, for example, interspersed with multiple recovery sessions might be highly conducive to both a progressive enhancement of aerobic fitness and a corresponding enhancement of immunocompetency.”  Thus, you may feel comfortable doing  20-30 minutes of Lactate Threshold Running or 1-3 miles of  Track Tuesday-style higher intensity sessions. 

Dr. Messer writes that this sort of training, “presupposes, of course, that an individual has no physician-imposed limitations to aerobic exercise/ training and no substantially or potentially limiting health issues (such as a prior myocardial infarction, for instance).”  In sum, Dr. Messer indicates that consistent mild-to-moderate intensity interspersed with periodic vigorous intensity bouts “can collectively yield improved immunological health.”


We’re advocating moderate effort, while reducing the physical and mental stress of holding yourself to a focused training cycle.   However, if you continue to train, consider managing your effort spikes and planning a recovery or adaptation week every couple of weeks.  Evidence indicates that this is a time to incorporate hard/easy training more than cumulative fatigue.  That is, give yourself a gentle spike of effort followed by enough rest to recover – as opposed to doing consistent bouts of effort that leave you fatigued on an ongoing basis.  Remember: in contrast to training for peak performance, the goal in this phase is to maintain your current fitness.  In this public health crisis, you want to provide time for rest and recovery so that you are not feeling lethargic.

Add in Run-Specific Cross Training and Indoor Exercise

We love activities that mimic the running motion and increase our ability to bring in and process oxygen.  Due to many of the community restrictions, this is a great time to include run-specific cross training activities outside of the gym such as walking, hiking, elliptigo, cross-country skiing, snow-shoeing, bike riding, and swimming.

Swimming is, of course, an excellent form of exercise.  While many beaches and public swimming facilities are currently closed, swimming may continue to provide mental and physical health benefits to those who can access water.  In terms of swimming in pools, the CDC writes, “There is no evidence that COVID-19 can be spread to humans through the use of pools and hot tubs.  Proper operation, maintenance, and disinfection (e.g., with chlorine and bromine) of pools and hot tubs should remove or inactivate the virus that causes COVID-19” (retrieved March 14, 2020 from

If you can’t leave your house, there are still multiple ways to exercise:

  • do body-weight exercises for muscle strength & stability
  • stretch for flexibility and mobility
  • do modified cardiorespiratory workouts such as walking up and down flights of stairs, jumping rope, and burpees.
  • set up a gym in your home with just a chair, bags of potatoes, and dish towels.

True story: we once watched a middle-aged man do a whole fitness routine on a California beach using nothing but an empty green garbage can and the 2 ft. retaining wall alongside the walking path.  All you’re trying to do is get your heart rate up and have a bit of fun, so be creative and enjoy the pleasure of moving.


Be mindful of your diet and continue to eat healthy food.  It is easy to stockpile processed foods but you can also stockpile healthier foods, whether frozen, in a jar, or in a can.  Frozen fruits and vegetables will add variety and nutrients, while canned beets, carrots, and other root foods will add texture and color to your meals. So far, fresh foods are still in abundance at the grocery store so prepping some healthy meals for freezer storage until you need them is a good option.  Tofu, nuts, and nut-butters can offer protein and healthy fats.  

You can also reach out to registered dieticians to get professional advice to share with your athletes.  The Walsh article cited below offers general advice that may be useful for many runners in their efforts to maintain immune health:

  • Match energy intake to expenditure
  • Avoid crash dieting
  • Eat a well-balanced diet
  • Consume >50% daily energy intake as carbohydrate
  • Ensure adequate protein intake (1.2−1.6 g/kg body mass/day)
  • Consider including 1000 IU/day of vitamin D3
  • At the onset of a cold take zinc acetate lozenges (75 mg/day)
  • Consider probiotics (≥ 1010 live bacteria/day) for illness prone/traveling athlete

As always, we stress that you reach out to professionals in the nutritional health field with any questions about specific dietary needs.

As an athlete, understand your own body, be mindful of your intake and understand that stress is normal . . . allow yourself the gift of comforting yourself in a healthy manner.  A little dish of ice cream or a glass of wine after a long day in quarantine might be a necessity.

Share this post