Whether you’ve been taken down by COVID, flu, a chronic illness or an acute case of the blahs, follow these five steps to return to fitness.

As if the darker mornings, cold weather and persistent sniffles weren’t enough to put you off your training regime, getting sick can be the final nail in your motivational coffin. While you shouldn’t train while ill (and definitely do not attend the gym, group fitness classes, the yoga studio or anywhere you might pass on your germs), gentle movement can be one of the first steps to regaining your fitness mojo.

If you’ve been wiped out for a few days or more, or you’ve taken a longer break due to illness or injury, here’s how to return to exercise safely and sustainably – keeping your muscles and your mojo intact!


Whether you’ve actually lost strength and muscle tone from a sustained break from training, or you’re struggling with low energy after COVID, starting slow is the very best way to start. If you were running before, take it down to walk-jog intervals. If you were lifting weights, start back at your warm-up set weights and add longer rest breaks. If returning to netball has you gasping for breath at quarter-time, sit the next quarter out. Your fitness will come back, but pushing it before you’re ready will leave you exhausted and possibly derail your return.


If cardio was your thang pre-illness, try resistance training on your return. Slower, controlled movements that prioritise deep breathing, mind-muscle connection and a focus on posture can deliver powerful results without depleting your energy. You don’t have to hit the squat rack – resistance bands, tempo holds, bodyweight movements like push ups, planks and walking lunges can all deliver benefits and help restore your enthusiasm for exercise.


With every session, push your body that little bit further. You don’t need to dive right back to where you left off. Start slow, let your body guide you and don’t be afraid to challenge yourself to push that little bit harder. If you’re a runner or swimmer, try to increase your duration each session to rebuild your endurance. If you’re training with weights, aim to increase the weight progressively each time. If yoga is your thing, start with easier modifications and stretch your abilities every class.


Give your body time to recover – if you were training five days a week before, try starting with three sessions to add in extra recovery days. Add in dynamic stretching, foam rolling and extra sleep to restore your energy and combat muscle soreness. If you’ve spent days slumped in bed, try chest opening yoga moves such as cat-cow, cobra and downward dog to upward-facing dog flows to release the tension in your back, neck, shoulders and chest.


Illness can also wreak havoc with your appetite. When you can’t smell for a blocked nose and your mouth tastes gross from a sore throat,  nothing really appeals. But quality protein, carbs and fats are important to your recovery (and your general health!). Try warming soul-foods like slow cooked beef, oven roasted veggies with tahini yoghurt dressing, spicy burrito bowls (amp up the veggies!) or even a simple omelette stuffed with delish veg and a side of quality sourdough toast smeared with avo.

Courtney Robinson

Courtney Robinson  

Courtney Robinson is a Gold Coast mum, passionate foodie, whole foods recipe creator and personal trainer certified in holistic digestive health and nutrition. Follow @athletist_ or visit athletist.com.au for recipes, workout tips and training hacks.