How to Plan Your Workout Schedule Around Your COVID-19 Vaccine

How to Plan Your Workout Schedule Around Your COVID-19 Vaccine
Photo: ravipat, Shutterstock
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The COVID vaccines are notorious for causing fatigue, sore arms, and sometimes headachy or feverish reactions. So if you have a vaccine appointment coming up, should you plan on skipping a workout or two? Maybe, but ultimately you’ll have to play it by ear.

Lots of people don’t experience significant side effects

If you’re dreading the fatigue and fevers that sometimes follow the vaccine, remember that not everybody gets them. A recent study that included the Pfizer vaccine, for example, found that only 14% of people had any systemic side effects like headache, fever, or fatigue after their first dose, and 22% after their second. (“Systemic” means something that affects parts of your body other than the injection site itself.) The study included people vaccinated after the vaccine was authorised in the UK, and found this rate was better than what the clinical trial data suggested.

Sore arms are common, though

Local reactions to the vaccines are more common than systemic reactions, with about 80% of Pfizer and 90% of Moderna recipients reporting a sore arm.

Timing is hard to predict

So if you do have one of those systemic side effects, when can you expect to feel the worst? Unfortunately, it’s not possible to predict that, even to the day. You might start to feel unwell the night of your vaccine, or the next day, or possibly the day after that. I was fine for the first few days after my first dose of Moderna, only to suddenly feel crummy on day 3.

Fortunately, symptoms tend to clear up within a day, or sometimes a couple days. So whatever happens, you can count on knowing your life won’t be disrupted for very long.

What to do about your exercise routine

Having just been through this experience myself, here’s how I approached it, and what I’d advise for others.

First, remember the facts above, and accept that the side effects can’t be precisely predicted. On the bright side, you may not get any at all.

Second, leave some space in your workout program. You’ll most likely miss one day if you miss any; maybe two. I got my vaccine on a Wednesday, so I actually did my Wednesday workout on Tuesday just to make sure I would get it in.

Third, for the next few days after your vaccination, follow your gut. I showed up to the gym on Thursday thinking my arm soreness would mean I couldn’t do any upper body lifts. But I warmed up anyway, and pretty soon I realised I was able to do my planned workout without any modifications. I didn’t feel quite as strong as usual, but that’s fine; our abilities in the gym fluctuate from day to day anyway. This is what listening to your body really means: allowing your body to tell you that it can do something, even if you doubted it.

Finally, ease up if needed, and do so without guilt. When I got hit with that surprise fatigue on day 3 — a Saturday, in my case — I ditched my workout plans for the day. I usually try to make up missed workouts, but in this case I knew it would be better for my mental and physical health to simply let that one not happen. I know I’m consistent about my workouts in general, and skipping one day — or even two or three, if I had had to — won’t change who I am or the progress I’m making.

(Note: The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are currently unavailable in Australia).

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