We have been living in this “social distanced” world for most of 2020. While we have been diligent to follow the mandates and regulations, we are also eager to begin training with others again. Some of you reading this might already be back into your pre-COVID routine. Many others are likely easing slowly back to group activities we know and love.

With the race season uncertain, our traditional training plans have been tossed out the window. The evolving and changing race date targets provide additional challenges to our typical build cycle leading up to peak performance we strive for on race day. This year, coaches and athletes have been encouraged to continue to work on their base fitness since sustaining a build and peak performance is not ideal for long-term health and can lead to increased injury. But, when can we get back to our build cycle and our support system?

When it comes to jumping back into a pre-COVID routine, what you decide to do is your decision. This blog is intended to help give my perspective on some of the common questions and concerns I am hearing. The situation is evolving and with the changing situation, this blog might very well be out of date within a couple of days of writing it. Perhaps it will be helpful for some of you reading who are contemplating what to do. If you have additional thoughts, feel free to comment and provide your perspective.

Covid safety working out in groups

Re-joining the group workout

The biggest question I have been hearing is “Should I join a group workout?” There have been different organizations hosting different types of small gatherings for workouts. Anything from group bike rides to open water swim practices have been organized. The activities that I have noticed are within the guidance of the region where they are being offered. Which is great! In pre-COVID times, there was very little concern about the particulars of how the practice was going to be conducted and our decision to join had to do with balancing it in our busy schedules or if the level of effort or pace was aligned with the workout intensity we are striving for. During this pandemic, our focus turns to more nitty gritty details. So what are some suggested things to consider?

Questions to ask yourself…

Triathletes swimming in wetsuits

How many individuals will be at the activity? Will there be space to spread out?

So far, the best thing we can do to prevent the spread of COVID is to space out. If the event you are considering going to is a run or a bike on a narrow, crowded trail, it doesn’t take a lot of attendees to make that small space crowded. If, however, you are going to ride on country roads or run in an open park, there is plenty of room for people to spread out.

Consider the type of activity.

Swimming has been especially challenging to practice during the pandemic with pools being closed or restricted for much of the spring and early summer. There are some groups meeting at lakes and other open water swim options which provide a safer environment than a pool with recycled air and close contact with others. If you do choose to join a group for open water swim practice, this is not the time to be practicing swimming in a crowd like you would in a typical triathlon. Use this as an opportunity to focus on your form and speed.

What about pools now that they are open?

Now that some pools have opened with limited capacity, you can consider to safely return to the pool. When you do, be mindful of the surfaces you touch. Consider wearing a facemask for the locker rooms or getting to the pool. Be diligent about sanitization and follow any additional rules that the pool owner has published.

Should I wear a mask…

There are some regions that are mandating that masks be worn at all times when in public places, including when you’re working out. In this case, yes, you should definitely wear a mask.

Other regions have not mandated a mask for exercise but they either mandate or suggest masks be worn in public places. This becomes tricky because while you are on your way to work out, you’re not working out. In this case, make the wise decision. If you are in an area where you can maintain more than 6 feet of distance, you might be able to do without a mask. If you will be in a crowded area, consider a different location or wear a mask.

What to consider when wearing a mask

When you are wearing a mask while working out, there are two main differences to be aware of that might affect your health and quality of workout. First, your breathing will be obstructed. This will impact your ability for your body to get the oxygen it needs to operate efficiently. When working out with a mask, tone down the intensity of your workout and be kind to yourself if you’re not performing where you would normally when you workout with out a mask. Second, heat will affect you more. You have cloth over your face obstructing your body from releasing heat. If you choose to work out with a mask, don’t work out in the hottest times of the day and make sure you are staying hydrated.

When choosing a mask, an N95 mask is probably more than you need. The current recommendation is a mask that has at least 2 layers of fabric and fits securely around your face. You might choose one that ties around the head instead of loops around the ears. Another alternative that is less effective of preventing the spread but might be a good alternative for working out is a neck-gator. Companies have come out with wicking fabric options that are far superior than the fleece options that were popular in the 90’s.

Other tips for safety:

Swimmers in a lake

  • Keep your distance when gathering and working out
  • Avoid “snot rockets” and spitting… I think this should be a general rule especially if you’re in a peloton.
  • Considering bringing hand sanitizer and using it often.
  • After the workout, use hand sanitizer or wipes to wipe down yourself and the equipment.
  • Wash your clothing right away when you return home.
  • If you’re unsure of how a group activity will be conducted, contact the organizer and ask your questions.

Additional warning:

I have heard some comments of individuals opting to swim in open waters alone instead of having a buddy or a group. This is not a safe option in any pandemic or non-pandemic situation. Please consider finding a buddy who can swim to at least stand on shore and watch you. If you both swim, make sure you sight and keep watch on each other. Even the most skillful swimmers may encounter risks during the swim.

I hope you enjoy the holiday weekend and are motivated to keep up the great work maintaining or improving your fitness. Hopefully this article helps you think through your decisions and you are comfortable and confident with whatever you choose to do. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article and let me know how your workouts are going!

Written by Kristin Janacek, USAT Level 1 Triathlon Coach


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