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How to get back in shape after lockdown with Apple Watch

If you’ve let your fitness slide during the lockdown, you’re not alone. The Activity app’s constant nagging to close your rings is not very helpful when all the gyms are closed and you’re stuck at home.

Skipping workouts for a few months is understandable under the circumstances, but you don’t want to become a permanent couch potato. So now that we’re all adjusting to the “new normal,” it’s the ideal time to dust off your Apple Watch and get back in shape.

From setback to comeback

If you used to be a reliable ring-closer before lockdown, checking the Activity app right now could be a disheartening experience. Where once your Activity calendar was filled with brightly colored rings, now it looks like a wasteland. Your Move streak is probably broken and you’ve missed the last few Monthly Challenges.

Don’t be disheartened — this is just a temporary setback. You got this! When you’re in the clutch, think like Tom Brady during Super Bowl LI, who famously led the Patriots from a 25-point deficit in the third quarter to a seemingly impossible victory.

Don’t put it off any longer! Today’s the day to strap your Apple Watch back on and start closing those rings again.

Lower your Move goal to avoid injury

The first thing you should do is lower your Move goal. Why? The sad fact is that you’re probably less fit than you were a few months back. That’s just an inevitable consequence of being less active. So you can’t immediately return to the same training volume as before. You need to build up to it slowly and steadily to avoid injury.

For example, let’s say you used to go for a 4-mile run a couple times a week, but you haven’t been running since March. If you suddenly ran 4 miles now, chances are you’d get a cramp, strain a muscle or worse.

As a general rule, when you’re returning to exercise after a break, you should halve your usual training volume. So instead of that 4-mile run, start off with a 2-mile brisk walk. And if your Move goal was 800 calories, take that down to 400 right now.

Then let your Apple Watch advise you on when it’s time to increase your Move goal. You’ll get a notification every Monday with a recommended increase based on what you did the previous week.

Time to plan your fitness goals

As you’re thinking about how to set your Move goal, it’s also worth considering your overall fitness goals. Are you just aiming for general health benefits, or do you have something more specific in mind, like weight loss?

Many of us have put on a bit of weight during the COVID-19 lockdown, thanks to snacking and comfort food, which are a constant temptation when you’re working from home.

Luckily, burning calories with your Move goal can help with weight loss. But you will probably also need to go on a calorie-controlled diet as well. Lose It! is an excellent app for this. It saves the calories you eat each day to the Health app. Then, the companion watch app shows at a glance how many more calories you have left to stick to your weight-loss plan.

Which workout should you choose?

Depending on the pandemic situation in your area, you might not be able to resume exactly the same exercise activity as before.

Running is a great way to burn calories, and you can do it pretty much anywhere — without a gym membership or any special equipment. But if you live in a densely populated area where social distancing is not possible, you might need to wear a face mask. (You should check your local lockdown rules first.)

If you normally prefer to go to exercise classes, but your gym is still closed, you could try working out in front of your TV instead, using an Apple TV fitness app. Alternatively, there are plenty of other Apple Watch lockdown workout options to choose from, like dance, kickboxing and yoga.

Track your comeback with the Apple Health app

Apple provides handy charts so you can track your comeback over time. You’ll find them in the Health app in the Browse tab under Health Categories.

  • Activity: To see your activity as bar charts instead of rings, tap on Activity > Activity > Month
  • Workouts: To see how long you’ve spent working out, tap on Activity > Workouts > Month
  • Distance: If you’re a runner, distance is a key metric to track in your progress. Tap on Activity > Walking + Running Distance >Month

Manage your expectations to make sure you go the distance

The biggest challenge in your return to fitness is not the quarantine rules. Nor is it the broken streaks in the Activity app. It’s you!

Most people who decide to get in shape give up within the first two weeks of their new fitness regime. Why? Because gains don’t come immediately and adjusting to a new routine can be tough.

The way to address this is by managing your expectations right now. Whichever chart you are looking at (Activity/Workouts/Distance), your comeback will usually follow the same distinctive curved shape. See example chart below:

Ready to get back in shape post-lockdown? Here’s what you can expect your comeback will look like.
Here’s what you can expect your comeback will look like.
Illustration: Graham Bower/Cult of Mac

There are three crunch points to prepare yourself for mentally, so you’re ready for them and you keep on going:

  1. The initial setback: As soon as you get started, you’ll realize just how much fitness you’ve lost. Remind yourself this is just temporary. You’ll get back to your original level of fitness soon — and even exceed it. The sooner you get started, the sooner that will happen.
  2. The slow start: In the first few weeks, you might not see much progress. Prepare yourself for this now, so you’re not disappointed. Remind yourself that the changes are happening in your body — you just can’t see them yet.
  3. The plateau: After a slow start, you’ll probably move into a period of rapid gains as your body responds to your training and starts to get back to where it was. But that can’t go on forever. Sooner or later, those gains will tail off. That’s what’s known as “the plateau.” So don’t get too hooked on short-term gains. Focus on the long term instead.

Start your post-lockdown comeback today

Every great comeback starts somewhere. Do a workout right now, and today will be a day you remember for the rest of your life. Your Apple Watch is waiting for you — those rings ain’t gonna close themselves.

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