Consider how you can diffuse some of your workout time and intensity throughout the day. That might look like taking your regular hour-long workout and breaking it up into three 20-minute workouts spread throughout the day. Even though your total workout will be the same, spacing things out will allow for lower levels of total stress on your body.
A simple, foundational way of balancing intensity and recovery is to use the high-low approach: If you do a high-intensity workout today, follow up with a lower-intensity day tomorrow, Tenney says. If you’re a runner, for instance, that may mean you do a tempo run one day and follow it up with a slow, easy recovery run the next.
If you strength train, you can also consider alternating muscle groups worked, especially if you work out more than three or four times per week. Common splits include going back and forth between upper- and lower-body days as well as cycling between push, pull, and lower-body days. Training the same muscle groups back-to-back doesn’t allow for adequate recovery.
If you’re into multiple types of workouts, it’s still important to vary intensity, even if you’re alternating between activities like online workout classes and cycling. So if you do a high-intensity circuit one day, the next day your cycling workout should be on the light side.
Focus on workouts you enjoy.
By spending your workout time engaged in activities that you find the most enjoyable, you’re automatically more likely to approach your workouts with a feel-good rather than a negate-comfort-foods mentality, Thomas says.
Unfortunately, though, with many of our gyms closed right now, a lot of us don’t have access to the equipment or space that we usually have for our workouts. It’s natural to feel some frustration, but try to focus on how you can get the greatest enjoyment out of what you do have available, she says. Do you prefer cardio? Strength? Plyometrics? Yoga? Circuits or long rest periods of rest between sets? Use that to guide your at-home workouts to get the greatest enjoyment.
Adjust your expectations.
Intense, long, or otherwise challenging workouts can definitely have a place in your quarantine workout routine. But right now, your 100% is not going to be the same as it was a few months ago, Beitzel says. That may be because, yes, you’ve lost some strength or endurance. It could also just be because you’re stressed, not sleeping well, or struggling with your mental health.
Whatever the reason, it’s okay. If there’s ever been a time to practice self-compassion, this is it, Thomas says. When you notice your thoughts getting down on yourself, remind yourself that the ultimate goal in exercise is to take care of yourself, and that’s what you’re doing. The benefits you stand to gain from exercise are not dependent on your current fitness or ability levels.
Pay attention to malaise.
If you feel fatigue or malaise as you begin your workout, don’t ignore it. It’s fine to reevaluate how you feel after 10 minutes to see whether the feeling persists. You might experience a perk in energy and may want to keep going. If so, cool. If you still feel tired, weak, and like you want to curl back up on the couch, that’s a sign that today’s best spent on recovery, Thomas says.
Factor in straight recovery days.
Speaking of recovery, yes, even though we spend most of our nonworkout time right now sitting on our keisters, we still need to incorporate intentional recovery into our routines, Tenney says.
Dedicate at least one day per week into pure recovery activities such as foam rolling, performing gentle mobility exercises, doing some yoga flows, or simply stretching.
Focus on processes over outcomes.
Process goals are things like “Do X minutes of yoga in the morning” or “Do Y push-ups every day,” while outcome goals are things like “Lose Z pounds” or “Master a handstand.” The former are far more conducive to a balanced relationship with your workouts and their intensity, L. Kevin Chapman, Ph.D., a Kentucky psychologist and member of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, tells SELF.