Shedding pandemic pounds

It is common for the physical activity one engages in to take a step back during the colder months. Not getting outdoors as frequently to run, walk, bike or otherwise get moving can reduce the amount of time spent burning calories and maintain muscle tone.

Add to that the tendency for some people to indulge more frequently than usual in rich foods, sweets and alcohol during the winter, and it is understandable why many emerge a few pounds heavier. The COVID-19 pandemic and its associated fallout — closed gyms and fitness centers, people being isolated in their homes for long periods, and others simply being altogether less than active than usual — may have further exacerbated this collective weight gain.

But spring is here and summer is approaching, so it is time to get back into a healthy fitness routine. Just be sure to ease into ramping up that activity to avoid injuries that can be setbacks when trying to shed those pandemic pounds.

Feel the burn

The most effective way to lose weight or get back into shape is to start by incorporating movement into a daily schedule and make it consistent, says Mohammed Iqbal, the Washington, D.C.-based CEO of SweatWorks, a technology company in the fitness industry.

“In general, anything that will get your heart rate up will be effective in improving your cardiovascular system, which is an important component of getting back in shape,” Iqbal says. “As you improve your cardio, you will find that you are able to do a higher-intensity workout in the same amount of time, which results in faster progress to achieve your goal. The activity itself isn’t as important as getting your heart rate up; do what you are comfortable with and feel best.”

According to Karina Krepp, a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor and run coach based in New York City, the most effective exercise to lose weight is to lift weights.

“More muscle mass means more energy burning,” Krepp says. “Cardiovascular health is one component of overall health. It allows us to make changes to our bodies, like running for the bus, hiking up the subway stairs or walking the dog.

“The beauty of running and walking is they often bring us outdoors. Time spent in the open air and nature helps heal and tune the body to a state of calm. When we are calm, we are physiologically able to lose weight. In a state of high anxiety, we send the body signals for potential catastrophe. The body starts storing more energy for this impending doom, like a squirrel at the first sign of snow.”

Whatever your movement of choice — biking outside, running outside, walking, rock climbing, parkour, kayaking, dancing in the rain — it will bring you more than just cardiovascular tuning, Krepp adds. It will realign you with your natural state of well-being.

Rachel Prairie, a manager of fitness exercise at Anytime Fitness in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, says training three to four times per week is the most optimal way to build muscle and lose fat simultaneously.

“This means full-body strength workouts and some conditioning, either at the end of your session or on a different day,” she says. “Training three to four times a week allows for high-intensity and volume, optimal recovery and signals our bodies to grow muscle more frequently. Prioritizing strength burns more calories per session, which is going to result in shedding body fat quicker.”

While strength training is a biological must, so is play, Prairie says. All movement matters, whether it’s like hiking or yoga, or something more intensive. The more you move, the more the body will respond.

Prairie says an optimal training schedule might look like this:

  • Monday — Full-body strength
  • (3-4 sets, 6-12 reps)
  • Tuesday — Cardio/conditioning
  • (30 minutes HIIT)
  • Wednesday — Full-body strength
  • (3-4 sets, 6-12 reps)
  • Thursday — Family walk
  • (30 minutes)
  • Friday — Full-body strength
  • (3-4 sets, 6-12 reps)
  • Saturday — Full-body strength and conditioning (2-3 sets, 12-20 reps)
  • Sunday — Active recovery
  • (15-20 minutes)

Dressed to sweat

According to Iqbal, workout apparel has come a long way in the last few years, and he says he encourages people to feel good about their workout apparel — not just wearing old joggers and a shirt.

“Invest in your workout wardrobe as you would for your going-out clothes,” he says. “A large part of getting excited for a night out is getting ready. Treat your workout apparel the same way. I recommend selecting your workout apparel like your workout — something that you enjoy that always makes you feel great.”

Prairie says comfortability should be a top priority for workout gear.

“Personally, I’m very active, so I tend to invest in brands I know will last longer and fit well for the type of workout I’m doing,” she says. “For higher-impact workouts that require more movement, look for clothes made with nylon or spandex — they’re stretchy enough to allow a full range of motion while also providing support. There’s nothing more distracting than constantly fidgeting with your clothes while you’re trying to move.”

When it comes to shoes, sports bras and other types of workout clothing while running, lifting, biking, walking and doing yoga, cotton performs well during low-intensity activities like walking, Prairie explains. However, moisture-wicking fabrics have the edge during moderate- to high-intensity workouts during which sweating can be an issue.

“Regardless of what material comprises your clothing, don’t compromise fit for style,” Prairie says. “Both your top and bottom should be fitted enough to allow freedom of movement, but not so tight as to restrict range of motion. And remember, it’s not just about the top layer. A properly fitting sports bra and moisture-wicking underwear and socks are also key for staying comfortable as you sweat. Fortunately, finding just the right clothing for your body and workout type is easier than ever, thanks to the ever-growing number of companies offering budget-friendly performance apparel — Amazon, Target, Old Navy, TJ Maxx and more.”

In chilly or rainy weather, a good rule of thumb is to always dress for 10 to 15 degrees warmer than what the weather actually is, and wear layers, Iqbal says.

“I love to train outdoors as often as possible,” he says. “You will find that you will warm up quickly once you start moving. In the colder months, I like to layer, which keeps me warm and dry.”

Prairie adds that the most important layer is the one closest to the body.

“Make sure it’s a technical fabric, such as polypropylene or CoolMax, which wick water and sweat away from your skin,” she says, adding that the outer layer should be a wind- and water-resistant vest or jacket. “Don’t wear a waterproof rain slicker because it will trap moisture and heat. Also, stay away from cotton, including your socks, because it tends to absorb water. Add a hat with a brim to keep water and sweat out of your face and eyes.”

Some yoga pants and socks even have copper woven into the fabric.

“Copper has an antibacterial component,” Krepp says. “It is a lovely addition to your favorite workout clothing to keep the stink from building up. The same can be done with a vinegar and water prewash soaking for your much-used, sweaty clothing items. Some people don’t have the time or are seeking other magnetic qualities of wearing copper next to their skin. If you’re attracted to it, it might be serving a greater good for you and your energy.”

Digital and physical

Wearable devices such as Fitbit, Garmin and Amazfit — which measure pulse, heart rate, sleep, steps and other biometrics — have also come a long way in the last 10 years, Iqbal says.

“Today’s wearable technology is so accurate that some are even able to identify COVID symptoms up to a week before registering a positive test from a nasal swab,” he says. “Not only do wearables provide some great insight into your workouts, they can also track your activity, sleep patterns and other behavior throughout the day. The Apple Watch is currently my favorite wearable and can be less than $200.”

Krepp says she’s a fan of the Whoop strap and app.

“I love the Whoop strap, as it has very useful data,” Krepp says. “It most importantly tracks the wearer’s HRV, sleep, resting HR, personal HR averages for specific exercise and uses an algorithm to compute your recovery and readiness for today’s activities. If you like data, get yourself a wearable. If it stresses you out to have all those numbers and push notifications, head out without even a watch on at all. These are all in service to your health. When you know yourself, you can use devices to help keep you motivated and engaged. My favorite device is still my cell phone. I call a friend or family member and we work out together.”

Set reasonable goals

To set and maintain realistic goals, the best way to approach fitness is to incorporate it into everyday life, Iqbal advises.

“That is why I have not been a fan of ‘quick fixes’ but would much rather see incremental changes over a long period of time,” he says. “You will also get to know how your body responds to the additional stress. Too often, people set very aggressive goals with good intentions, but find themselves burning out or getting injured in the first few weeks. Fitness is a more than just working out — long-lasting fitness incorporates working out, recovery, sleep, nutrition and mindfulness. A great way to keep you motivated is to have your partner or friend join the journey with you.”

While many gyms and fitness centers have now incorporated COVID-19 safety protocols, shedding winter weight can also easily be done from home and in the outdoors, Prairie says.

“I would encourage everyone to include going outside and getting fresh air as part of their routine,” she says. “Taking some time throughout your day to take a deep breath and relax can be very beneficial to your overall wellness and productivity. A quick walk, getting some fresh air and stretching are just a few great options. Be mindful of your screen time, and set timers to remind you to move.”

Krepp suggests to also establish a steady routine to set the circadian rhythm and clock, which helps with sleep at night and rising every day.

“Health is your greatest weapon,” she says. “It does not come from a bottle but from the small actions you take every day to move yourself toward wellness.”