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Olympic skier Gus Kenworthy said bodyweight exercise helped him get back in shape despite persistent long COVID symptoms

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Olympic freestyle skiing Gus Kenworthy competing in Halfpipe Qualifications in Aspen Colorado
Mar 10, 2021; Aspen, Colorado, USA; Gus Kenworthy of Great Britain during Freeski Halfpipe qualifications
  • Freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy is on track to compete at the Winter Olympics even as he deals  with long COVID.
  • He said gradually adding intensity and listening to his body helped him resume exercise. 
  • He also did bodyweight squats instead of weights to get back in shape during recovery. 

Two weeks after recovering from a mild case of COVID-19, Gus Kenworthy was hitting the gym when a sudden bout of lightheadedness left him unable to stand up, let alone finish the workout. 

In another workout two days later, his nausea became so extreme Kenworthy vomited. He felt ill the rest of the afternoon.

For most people, this might have been a sign the workout was too intense. But Kenworthy, a two-time Olympic freestyle skier known for pushing through injuries and grueling conditions, he knew something was clearly wrong.

Persistent symptoms of COVID-19, known as long COVID, are rare in competitive athletes, research suggests.

But some seasoned athletes struggle to return to workouts even with a clean bill of health, said Dr. Irina Petrache, chief of the Division of Pulmonary at National Jewish Health and co-author of a new study on the phenomenon.

"Even at very early stages in exercise, they looked like patients with diabetes or patients who were sedentary, when they were previously extremely fit," Petrache said. 

For Kenworthy, the process of recovery has been slow, but steady. He's heading to the X Games in Colorado in late January, and is on track to compete at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. 

"I don't feel 100% yet but I see the light at the end of the tunnel," he told Insider.

To get back in Olympic shape, he scaled his workout intensity, swapped out weight-lifting for bodyweight workouts, and listened to his body. 

While research on long COVID is ongoing, existing evidence supports a similar approach for easing into exercise, according to Petrache. 

Even mild cases are linked to long COVID

COVID-19 didn't initially feel like much of a setback for Kenworthy, a 2014 Olympic silver medalist.

In the midst of training last fall, Kenworthy was briefly sidelined by a concussion. Two days after he was cleared to ski again, he had a fever, spent the night tossing and turning, and woke up unable to smell or taste. A COVID-19 test turned up positive, though he was fully vaccinated. 

"That was the worst of it. I had one really really bad night, but those were my only symptoms," he said. 

Some evidence suggests people with more severe infection have a greater risk of long COVID, but even mild cases can lead to ongoing issues.

His medical team said his concussion may have exacerbated the symptoms, but the link between the two is unclear. 

He eased back into exercise with gradual intensity and bodyweight work

Kenworthy previously did heavy weighted exercises in training, but switched to bodyweight as he was recovering. 

"There are so many good exercises that are just bodyweight and that's what I've been focused on," he said. Kenworthy's detailed training plans and approach are available via the fitness app Masters, which connects users with pro athletes. 

To increase a bodyweight challenge, add volume (more repetitions) or exercises like single leg deadlift or step-ups. Bodyweight moves like planks, mountain climbers, Russian twists, and deadbugs can also build a strong core.

"Core work is ultimately the foundation for everything," he said. 

Olympian Gus Kenworthy working out with dumbbell weights
Gradually adding weight and intensity has been key for Olympian Gus Kenworthy to get back in shape after long COVID. His workout program is available via the fitness app Masters.

To get back to skiing shape, Kenworthy has also been working on upping his heart rate with an exercise bike.

Petrache said her team found evidence that long COVID may affect the mitochondria, which power cells, and aerobic exercise may help keep them healthy to facilitate recovery. 

She recommends zone 2 aerobic exercise, working at a steady pace just above easy for a prolonged period of time. 

Read the original article on Insider
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