Life After COVID From a Strength Athlete’s Perspective

Written by: Brittany Kohnke

As a lifelong athlete there is one thing I know and that’s my physical body so when I just didn’t feel right in late June of 2020 I had to to get to the bottom of it. What I didn’t know is how a virus would forever change me in more ways than one.

In my post “Why 2020 Was Actually My Best Year Ever” I spoke about some of the internal reflections and transformations I experienced.  I switch gears and take a moment to discuss some of the physical symptoms I experienced with and even long after contracting the virus and how they continue to affect my training.

Before diving in I must put out the following disclaimer: this article is to serve as a narrative of my personal experience with COVID-19. In no way am I giving medical advice or attempting to summarize what the virus may do (or not do) to an athlete.

I was fortunate to experience fairly mild symptoms while sick with the virus. I never lost my smell or taste, my body aches and chills lasted about a day and a half, and the fatigue I experienced wasn’t debilitating like others have reported. So after my 21 day quarantine, I was anxious to return to my training as I felt I was able to take a solid deload and rest. I was fortunate to have trained through  the first round of closures and pretty much right up until I contracted the virus so I was hungry to attack my original goal for 2020 which was to qualify for the Arnold, a prestigious event I always wanted to be a part of. 2018 and 2019 were spent training hard for USAPL Nationals so this little break was actually probably well needed (and in my mind deserved) 

Obviously starting out slow, I was fortunate to work with a qualified competent coach Christopher Fudge, who eased me back into training. As a coach myself I knew taking that element of programming out of the equation is invaluable, especially for someone who likes to come back “guns blazing” after any sort of lay off.  Beginning to execute his program I immediately noticed how deconditioned I was. Obviously frustrated, but not surprised, I had been through this before. I have taken months (even years) off from training so this wasn’t my first experience with feeling like I was back at square 1. What was surprising though is just how brutal those sessions were making me feel. I was only 3-4 weeks removed from training, but my body felt like I had taken years off.  I couldn’t catch my breath and felt winded on the simplest things such as walking up stairs or doing short 5-10 minute conditioning mini series.

Then some of the more  eye-opening effects of COVID started to surface.  My strength had plummeted, especially in the Big 3.  Warm up weights were now working sets and hard sets at that. I felt very “off” too during my lifting. Proud to say I spent years focusing and honing in on my form and technique, I now felt I was in someone else's body. Joints felt misaligned, I was achy, and just overall not myself.  This lasted a solid 6-8 weeks post COVID. Then about 3-4 weeks into training I experienced abnormally high inflammation and swelling, especially in my legs.  Let’s be honest, pants were already hard for me to wear cause you know, #quadproblems, but now they were impossible at times.  Not only were they swollen, but they felt heavy and uncomfortable all the time.  Going back to the beginning of this narrative, I know my body and I knew this wasn’t normal, but I hoped things would just normalize on their own and go back to normal.

Mid-September, about 3 months post COVID, it was time to take matters into my own hands and I called my doctor to explain the weird swelling. Immediately he had me come in for blood work and and sure enough my CRP, or C-Reactive Protein, levels were through the roof.  There are a variety of reasons why this marker could be elevated, but given the fact I had COVID he was not taking any chances. I was having some sort of inflammatory response and the concern was my heart given I had COVID months earlier. Therefore, we started on a peptide therapy protocol to get it under control. As a life-long “clean” athlete and one who competes in a drug tested federation, I was very hesitant to start the protocol. So many questions went through my mind from the physical effects of the peptide, but how that would fair once I actually did return to the platform. This was the turning point for me though; my health needed to come first and any aspirations of competing at the Arnold needed to wait.  Eventually the swelling did subside and my markers returned to normal after about 6 weeks of treatment.

Now in January 2021, nearly 6 months post COVID and I can tell you I’m not fully back to where I was. My grip strength and endurance is still sub par. If I had to guess, I would say I’m probably set myself back 1-2 years in this arena. COVID is not all to blame for this though. There was a lot of “screw it’s” that started to happen around 3-4 months after COVID.

I think it is safe to say 2020 left almost all of us with some disappointments or set backs in one way or another. For the first time in almost 6 years I did not step on the platform and I don’t know when I will again. Although the time away has given me a chance to do other things outside of training, I can’t sugar coat it, the journey has been trying at times. But that is life. Just like training nothing is linear and with that nothing is absolute. I know the time will come where I feel that fire to get back on the platform. And I will work just as hard as I did in 2018 but for now, I’m enjoying to do something I haven’t done in a very long time. I’m training to train. And having fun doing it!

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